Lawmakers Delay Vote on Proposed Tougher Initiative Bill
(KLIX) – Lawmakers on Monday postponed a vote on a controversial bill aimed to change Idaho’s ballot initiative process.
A crowd had gathered before the state Senate panel, many of them opponents to Senate Bill 1159, but only a few had the chance to speak.
The bill would create significant citizen ballot initiative hurdles, according to Democratic lawmakers, who oppose the measure, calling it an attack on the constitutional right of Idaho voters. Specifically, they say it's an effort to repeal an initiative voters passed last November to expand Medicaid coverage in the Gem State.
The initiative passed with 61 percent of the vote after years of inaction by the Idaho Legislature. But many Republican lawmakers still oppose Medicaid expansion.
But Republican Sen. Scott Grow of Eagle, the sponsor of the bill, said it is not intended to attack the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, noting that it wouldn't be affected because it had already passed, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Democrats say otherwise, calling the Senate bill the "Revenge on Voters Act."
“Idaho voters deserve to have a say in the laws that affect their families, friends, and neighbors,” Michelle Stennett, D-Sun Valley, said in a statement on Monday. “When the legislature isn’t doing their job, like with Medicaid Expansion, Idahoans need a way to keep us in check. The Revenge on Voters Act would make sure that voters can’t do anything when the legislature is dragging their feet on important issues.”
If passed, SB1159 would increase the signature requirements for an initiative from 6 percent of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts to 10 percent of voters in 32 of the 35 districts. It would also shorten the timeline for collecting signatures from 18 months to six months.
“This is a blatant power-grab by the politicians at the expense of the people of Idaho,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville, who testified at Monday’s hearing, said in a separate statement sent to News Radio 1310. “They are attacking Idaho’s Constitution, taking away the vote of Idahoans, and consolidating power from the top-down. This is a direct assault on a right of the people of Idaho that has existed for 100 years.”
The proposed legislation is not the first time that lawmakers have attempted to change the initiative process immediately after citizens passed a ballot initiative. In 2013, Idaho voters scrapped the controversial Luna Laws by ballot initiative. In the subsequent legislative session, the legislature passed a bill to make it more difficult for in all 44 counties voters to replicate this process.
“Idahoans did something amazing by passing Medicaid Expansion with 6 percent of the vote,” said Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, noting he is disgusted at the legislature’s response to the voter-approved initiative. “They were fed up with the legislature refusing to prioritize getting people the healthcare they need and deserve. If you gut people’s ability to take action, then politicians in change give their constituents less choice, less ability, and less power.”