Election bill: Retooling or retribution?

Idaho Education Association public policy director Bert Marley called it “the spirit of retribution” — raising a few objections and causing Marley to back off his words a bit.

But Marley said many members of his group believed legislators are looking at tightening initiative and referendum laws because voters had succeeded in overturning the Students Come First laws in November. “I do have to say the timing’s curious,” Marley told Senate State Affairs Committee members Wednesday. “Many in our organization feel this is a direct attack on them.”

But after a hearing that started Friday and ended Wednesday, the committee voted on party lines to send Senate Bill 1108 to the floor for a vote.

In a nutshell, SB 1108 would require groups to collect signatures from 6 percent of registered voters, if they want to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot. But it adds a twist: They must also meet that 6 percent threshold in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton

The Idaho Farm Bureau has proposed the bill, saying it would ensure rural Idaho has a voice in the ballot process — an argument that held sway with several Republican committee members. “This has nothing to do with Propositions 1,2, 3,” said Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton. “This has to do with me with treating all people in this state equally.”

But Wednesday’s discussion had much to do with Propositions 1, 2 and 3 — and whether SB 1108 would make it impossible to get ballot measure before voters.

In 2011, Students Come First opponents collected the required signatures in 40 days, well within the 60-day timeframe under existing state law.

And Marley said organizers met the 6 percent threshold in 31 or 32 legislative districts, meaning the referendums would have qualified for the ballot, even with SB 1108 on the books.

But Marley said that success would be difficult to replicate, because SB 1108 would be a “total nightmare” for signature-gatherers and country clerks alike. In Ada County, organizers would have to carry nine sets of petitions, one for each district, and make sure voters sign the right document.

SB 1108 supporters countered that signature gatherers can quickly and easily use a laptop or smartphone app to check a voter’s legislative district.

How they voted:

Yes (7 Republicans, 0 Democrats): Davis, Fulcher, Hill, Lodge, McKenzie, Siddoway, Winder.

No: (2 Democrats, 0 Republicans): Stennett, Werk.


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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