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HB 296: Axing Citizen Initiatives V2 — 2019

Summary: HB 296 would dramatically limit the ability of Idahoans to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot.

ICL's position: Oppose

Current Bill Status: Vetoed

Issue Areas: State Issues

Official Legislative Site

Citizen initiatives and referendums allow the citizens of a state to effectively craft their own laws (initiatives), or repeal laws (referendums) enacted by the legislature.  In 1889, the participants in the Idaho Constitutional Convention agreed that “[a]ll political power is inherent in the people.” In 1912, an amendment was ratified to clarify this power: “[t]he people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws … independent of the legislature.” Despite these constitutional provisions, Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay) hastily introduced a bill (in apparent violation of House Rules) that would severely limit the power of Idahoans to exercise this power.

Originally this bill was introduced as Senate Bill 1159 and ran into significant opposition, including from a former Idaho Secretary of State and five of Idaho’s former Attorneys General. HB 296 is a slightly modified version, but would still dramatically limit the ability of Idahoans to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot. HB 296 would raise the bar to qualify an initiative or referendum on the ballot. It would require signatures from 10 percent of all registered voters in 24 out of 35 legislative districts across the state, and it would require these signatures be gathered over a period of only 9 months. If enacted, Idaho would have the strictest citizen initiative requirements in the nation.

Currently, citizen initiatives can only qualify once supporters gather signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, over the course of 18 months. The current rules are already very restrictive and only the most popular, well-funded and well-organized efforts realistically can qualify for a ballot.

In the past, citizen initiatives led to the establishment of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in 1938 to try to remove wildlife-related decisions from political interference, and to approve the Dredge and Placer Mining Act in 1954, which regulated commercial dredge mining operations that were wreaking havoc on rivers and streams. The fact is that since 1912, only 15 initiatives have been successful. That’s an average of only one every 7 years. Idahoans have been judicious with their use of initiatives, and it remains an important part of our democratic framework.

After all, the Idaho Constitution does say, “All political power is inherent in the people.”