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SB 1159: Axing Citizen Initiatives — 2019

Summary: Senate Bill 1159 would 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, freshman Sen. C. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) has introduced a bill that would severely limit the power of Idahoans to exercise this power.

Senate Bill 1159 would limit the ability of Idahoans to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot. Specifically, the bill 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 32 out of 35 legislative districts across the state, and it would require these signatures be gathered over a period of only 180 days. If enacted, Idaho would have the strictest citizen initiative requirements in the nation.

Currently, citizen initiatives can only qualify for the ballot once supporters gather signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, over the course of 18 months. These current rules were adopted in 2013, following the successful citizen referendum that repealed the so-called Luna Laws that dealt with public education. More recently, Idahoans adopted Proposition 2 with 61 percent support. The current rules are already very restrictive and only the most popular, well-funded and well-organized efforts are realistic to qualify for a vote.

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 the Idaho Constitution was amended, only 15 initiatives have been successful. That’s an average of only one every 7 years.

Sen. Grow testified that he wanted to fix the process before there is a problem, but it’s clear his bill is a solution in search of a problem.