An Idaho lawmaker has introduced legislation that would ask voters to change the state’s constitution to make it harder to get initiatives on the ballot.
Republican Sen. Doug Okuniewicz introduced the joint resolution Wednesday in the Senate State Affairs Committee. If approved, it would ask voters to change the Idaho Constitution so that lawmakers could reenact tougher ballot initiative rules that were thrown out by the Idaho Supreme Court in 2021.
"Two years ago, we passed a law that was Senate Bill 1110, passed it overwhelmingly," Okuniewicz, of Hayden, told the committee. "And the Supreme Court overturned it largely because ... they felt the Legislature was not in a position to impose that change on the people."
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If voters approve the change to the Idaho Constitution, "that should inoculate it from any legal trouble," Okuniewicz told the committee.
The tougher ballot initiative rules would require signature gatherers to get 6% of voters in each of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts within a short timespan. The current law requires signatures from 6% of registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 districts for an initiative to get on the ballot.
Lawmakers had enacted a similar law two years ago that included the stricter signature-gathering rules, but they didn’t first ask voters to amend the Constitution. At the time, opponents of the law said it made Idaho’s initiative process the toughest in the nation, but supporters said it would protect residents with less popular political opinions from being overrun by the majority.
Two groups sued: An organization that had previous success with a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid, and a group of attorneys committed to defending Idaho's Constitution. Reclaim Idaho and the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution said the law was unconstitutional because it made the ballot initiative process impossible.
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The Idaho Supreme Court unanimously agreed.
"The ability of the legislature to make laws related to a fundamental right arises from the reality that, in an ordered society, few rights are absolute," Justice Gregory Moeller wrote in the opinion. "However, the legislature’s duty to give effect to the people’s rights is not a free pass to override constitutional constraints and legislate a right into non-existence, even if the legislature believes doing so is in the people’s best interest."
During the Senate committee hearing, Okuniewicz said his legislation would let Idaho voters decide if the state constitution should be altered to allow the stricter requirements. He said his joint resolution, "puts the question to the people and allows them to make that decision and decide if it is something in their best interest."
The joint resolution must still undergo a committee hearing and then pass by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House before it can be placed on the ballot.