Idaho Governor Brad Little (R) vetoes legislation to increase ballot initiative requirements

The Idaho State Legislature approved a pair of bills last week designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, reduce the allowed circulation period for initiative petitions, enact a single-subject rule, and require a fiscal impact statement.
On Friday, Governor Brad Little (R) vetoed one bill—Senate Bill 1159—and announced he would veto the second—House Bill 296. SB 1159 contained the more significant changes to the initiative process, while House bill 296 was a trailer bill reducing the magnitude of some of the provisions of SB 1159.
Both bills were approved with a majority of Republican legislators in favor and opposition from all voting Democrats. Neither bill was passed, however, with veto-proof supermajorities in each chamber. Idaho is a Republican state government trifecta.
Little announced his vetoes despite agreeing “with the goals and the vision of S 1159 and H 296.” He said, “I reluctantly vetoed S 1159 and plan to veto H 296 because I question the constitutional sufficiency of the bills and the unintended consequences of their passage. The bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the same Circuit that recently decided Idaho should pay for gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate serving time for molesting a child. We need to do all we can to control the rules of our initiative process.”
Little also said that he supported giving rural Idahoans “a voice in the initiative process” and limiting the initiative process so it does not interfere with representative government and that he would work with the legislature to examine the state’s initiative process in the future. He said, “Idaho cannot become like California and other states that have adopted liberal initiative rules that result in excessive regulation and often conflicting laws.”
Senate Bill 1159 would have made the following changes to Idaho’s initiative process:
  • increased the signature requirement for initiatives and veto referendums from 6 percent to 10 percent of votes cast at the last general election;
  • increased 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 have made 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.
All 21 legislative Democrats opposed SB 1159, while Republicans were split 58 to 26. HB 296 was also opposed by all voting Democrats. SB 1159 was approved 40 to 30 in the House and 18 to 17 in the Senate. HB 296 was approved 47 to 22 in the House and 20 to 15 in the Senate. Neither bill received the two-thirds supermajority vote (47 votes in the House and 24 votes in the Senate) required in both chambers to override a veto.
2018 initiatives
In 2018, voters in Idaho approved a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid coverage according to the Affordable Care Act.
Other 2019 initiative process legislation
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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