Appeals court sides with Reclaim Idaho on K-12 initiative

(UPDATED, 4:07 p.m., to reflect state’s intention to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.)

A federal court Thursday gave the green light to Reclaim Idaho’s online signature-gathering efforts.

A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel said Reclaim Idaho can resume campaigning for its $170 million K-12 funding initiative, rejecting a motion from the state to put the campaign on hold.

Reclaim Idaho says it plans to begin gathering signatures early next week.

“After today’s decision, it’s off to the races for our drive to collect 30,000 signatures online and give Idaho a chance to invest in education,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said Thursday afternoon. “Those in power have failed to save our schools from deep budget cuts. It is thrilling to know that Idahoans are now one step closer to taking this issue into their own hands.”

If the Circuit Court decision stands, Reclaim Idaho would have 48 days to gather signatures in an attempt to qualify its “Invest In Idaho” initiative on the November ballot. But the state has one more avenue of appeal, and it will seek a stay through the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We will continue our efforts to preserve the integrity of Idaho’s duly enacted laws and to prevent the disruption to our upcoming elections that this decision will cause,” Gov. Brad Little said Thursday afternoon.

The Circuit Court’s ruling is the latest development in the ongoing dispute over the Reclaim Idaho initiative.

Reclaim Idaho suspended its face-to-face signature gathering efforts in March, days after Idaho reported its first confirmed coronavirus case. The group says it approached Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to discuss alternatives, but was rebuffed. In a June 8 lawsuit, Reclaim Idaho said the state’s inaction violated the group’s First Amendment rights.

In a pair of rulings, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sided with Reclaim Idaho. On June 30, Winmill ordered the state to accommodate a digital signature-gathering effort, allowing Reclaim Idaho to begin campaigning on July 9.

Instead, the state took its case to Circuit Court — appealing Winmill’s ruling on constitutional grounds, and asking the Circuit Court to put Winmill’s June 30 order on hold pending the appeal.

Thursday’s ruling — a 2-1 decision from a Circuit Court panel — leaves Winmill’s order intact.

The state’s Circuit Court appeal on the First Amendment dispute remains in play, however, and Circuit Court judges put that appeal on an accelerated schedule, with a hearing expected in August.

The state’s brief is due July 17. Reclaim Idaho’s reply is due July 29, and the state would have until Aug. 3 to file any followup reply.

Reclaim Idaho’s initiative would increase corporate tax rates and income tax rates for Idahoans making more than $250,000, generating about $170 million a year. The new taxes would go into a special fund for K-12 — which the state could use for several purposes, such as teacher pay raises, hiring additional teachers or offering all-day kindergarten.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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