Citizen initiative process restrictions advanced in Idaho and signed into law in Utah

On Friday, the Idaho House of Representatives approved two bills changing the state’s initiative process. On Monday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed five bills into law making significant changes to the state’s initiative process.
 
Here’s what each piece of legislation would do:
 
Idaho
 
Senate Bill 1159 would make the following changes to Idaho’s initiative process:
  • increase the signature requirement for initiatives and veto referendums from 6 percent to 10 percent of votes cast at the last general election;
  • increase the state’s distribution requirement to require initiative and referendum petitioners to meet the 10 percent requirement in 32 legislative districts;
  • going into 2019 the requirement was to meet the 6 percent signature requirement in 18 legislative districts;
  • reduce the amount of time allowed for signature gathering from 18 months to 180 days (about six months);
  • enact a single-subject rule for initiatives;
  • require a fiscal impact statement for each initiative certified for the ballot.
House Bill 296 would make the distribution requirement apply in two-thirds (24) of legislative districts instead of 32 of them and would allow nine months for signature gathering instead of 180 days.
 
The state House approved SB 1159 along party lines in a vote of 40 to 30, with all 14 Democrats voting against it and Republicans split 40 to 16. House Bill 296 was also opposed by all voting Democrats (one was absent). It was approved 47 to 22. Both bills now go to the state Senate. The Senate previously approved SB 1159 on March 22 by a vote of 18 to 17, with all seven Democrats opposed and Republicans split 18 to 10.
 
Utah
 
In Utah, Gov. Herbert signed five bills into law on Monday: House Bill 195, Senate Bill 151, House Bill 145, House Bill 133, and House Bill 119. The most significant changes made by the bills are below:
  • change the signature requirement for initiatives and referendums from 10 percent (5 percent for indirect initiatives) of votes cast at the last presidential election to 8 percent (4 percent for indirect initiatives) of active voters in the state as of January 1 of even-numbered years;
  • change the signature submission deadline and the deadline for signature removal requests to February 15 before the election;
  • require initiative petitions to contain a summary of all funding sources (with percentages) for the costs associated with the proposed law and to include this information in the fiscal impact statement;
  • require the fiscal impact statement for an initiative to be prepared by the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst instead of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget;
  • require county clerks to post the names of registered voters who sign initiative and referendum petitions on the county website;
  • require signatures to be submitted and verified on a rolling basis as they are collected instead of all at once before the deadline; and
  • delay the effective date for approved citizen initiatives, allowing the legislature to consider them prior to enactment.
 
In 2018, voters in both states approved citizen initiatives to expand Medicaid coverage according to the Affordable Care Act. Utah voters also approved medical marijuana and redistricting commission initiatives. Idaho and Utah are Republican state government trifectas.
 
Ballotpedia is tracking nearly 150 changes to laws governing ballot measures and recall in 31 states proposed in 2019, including changes to distribution requirements, signature requirements, subject restrictions, ballot language rules, supermajority requirements, and bills proposing to establish initiative or referendum processes in states without them. So far, significant changes have been approved in Arkansas and Utah.
 
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About the author

Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia and can be reached at josh.altic@ballotpedia.org

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