Referendum rewrite heads to House floor

Before the House State Affairs Committee gave party-line support to a bill tightening the initiative and referendum process Monday, the Idaho Farm Bureau’s Russ Hendricks made an interesting remark about the timing.

The Farm Bureau is the lead supporter of Senate Bill 1108, which would require supporters of an initiative or referendum to collect signatures from 6 percent of registered voters — and 6 percent from voters in 18 of 35 legislative districts. The fact that this bill is in the works this session, four months after the Students Come First repeal, has prompted questions about timing, and grumbling about retribution.

Hendricks asserted that the idea has been in the works for at least a year. He said the Farm Bureau had a bill ready to go in 2012. But at the request of a member of House leadership, the Farm Bureau held back — to avoid the appearance of trying to interfere with the Students Come First repeal process. (Propositions 1, 2 and 3 had long since qualified for the ballot by the time the 2012 session convened, but the $6 million campaign over the repeal hadn’t begun in earnest.)

The Farm Bureau has said this bill has nothing to do with Propositions 1, 2 and 3. The bureau says it fears animal rights groups will be able to get initiatives on the Idaho ballot with little need to seek support in rural Idaho.

Another timing sidelight: Supporters of SB 1108 pointed out that they are not pushing a new idea. In 1997, legislators passed a law establishing county requirements in the initiative process. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill struck down the county guidelines, as a violation of one-person, one-vote protections, but suggested a guideline based on legislative districts could pass constitutional muster.

Next up: SB 1108 goes to the House floor, probably later this week. It has already passed the Senate, so if the House passes SB 1108, it heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.

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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