Lawmakers Speak Out Against Bill Aimed at Ballot Initiatives
(KLIX) – As a bill that seeks to make it more difficult for volunteer-driven initiatives to get off the ground moves closer to the Senate floor, Idaho democrats are speaking out.
The Senate Affairs Committee in a hearing on Wednesday voted 6-3 to send Senate Bill 1159 to the Amending Order.
“Most of the amendments are cosmetic updates, and they will not fix this bill’s rotten foundation,” Rep. Mat Erpelding said in a statement on Wednesday, noting that in his opinion the intent of the bill is to retaliate and suppress voters. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig.”
Some lawmakers say the legislation is an attempt to limit Medicaid expansion in Idaho, which voters approved 61 percent last November. The ballot initiative would provide access to some 91,000 low-income residents, according to a report by the Associated Press, with the federal government picking up about 90 percent of the estimated $400 million cost.
Republican Sen. Scott Grow of Eagle, sponsor of SB1159, said his measure is not intended to attack the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, and that it wouldn't be affected anyway because it already passed.
Democrats say otherwise, calling the Senate bill the "Revenge on Voters Act."
Eperlding and two other Democrat senators issued a joint statement on Wednesday, saying that hours of opposing testimony and thousands of emails did not appeal to the majority’s conscious and that the only testimony in favor of the bill came from lobbyists.
Michelle Stennett, a senator from Sun Valley, said she fears the bill would allow companies and big money will take over the process and peddle initiatives from a national platform.
Stennett said that it was unfair for the legislature to hold ballot initiative volunteer groups to a higher standard than the legislature itself. Notably, requiring volunteers to provide a fiscal note and know the costs of a ballot initiative before beginning the process.
“They will bring initiatives that are not an upwelling from our own politics, our own people,” she said. “Amendment or not, this bill will have the same dangerous, undemocratic outcome.”
Also on Wednesday, House Bill 277 sponsored by Rep. John Vander Woude, a Medicaid expansion restrictions bill, was voted out of the House Health and Welfare Committee, 10-3.
Burley Sen. Fred Martin introduced a compromise bill in Senate State Affairs, which includes minimal restrictions and access to a voluntary work-training program.
SB1159 will now undergo edits before hitting the Senate floor.