Idaho Capitol

The Idaho Farm Bureau is backing a bill that would change how a voter initiative qualifies for the ballot.

Under current law, an initiative can qualify for the ballot if it gets signatures from 6% of registered voters in 18 legislative districts 18 months before the election.

Senate Bill 1159 would require 10% of registered voters’ signatures in 32 of the state’s 35 districts within six months of an election.

Opponents contend the bill would make it too difficult for initiatives to secure enough signatures to qualify, especially in rural areas.

They also contend the bill is in response to voters in 2018 passing a costly Medicaid-expansion measure the Republican-dominated Legislature now must enact.

Supporters say the reforms under SB 1159 would ensure input from a much broader geographic area; under current law, it is possible to qualify an initiative based solely on input from the four most urban counties.

A Farm Bureau-commissioned survey conducted March 19-21 found 61% of voters believe changes are needed. Some 22% believe the current process works well and does not need to be changed. And 83% said rural communities should have an equal voice to more populous cities and counties. Support of 59% each was shown for requiring that petitions are signed by at least 10% of registered voters as well as for signatures to be collected in at least 32 legislative districts.

“This survey of Idaho voters confirms that they want changes to the initiative process to ensure all Idahoans from across the entire state have a voice in the process,” IFB President Bryan Searle said in a news release. “The survey also shows that the reforms being considered by the Legislature to make sure that rural areas are on an equal footing with the urban areas have widespread support from voters.”

The state Senate on March 22 passed the bill 18-17. It has been amended since its March 5 introduction. The House State Affairs Committee on March 26 approved it 10-5 with a do-pass recommendation.

Amendments require the sponsor to propose a funding source and notify petition signers of the fiscal impact on the state if an initiative becomes law. Other amendments specify that a petition can cover only one subject and that a voter-approved initiative would take effect at the start of the fiscal year July 1 unless specified otherwise.

Moore Information conducted the survey of 500 registered voters. Its margin of error is 4%.

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