A federal judge put the state back on the clock Tuesday — and it means Reclaim Idaho could begin gathering electronic signatures for its $170 million K-12 funding initiative next week.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered state officials to work out details for an online signature drive, allowing Reclaim Idaho to begin circulating petitions on July 9. The group would have 48 days to collect the signatures it needs to get its “Invest in Idaho” initiative on the November ballot. That translates to an Aug. 26 deadline.
Winmill’s four-page order is the latest twist in the rapid-fire legal dispute over the Invest in Idaho initiative. Reclaim Idaho’s initiative would increase corporate tax rates and income tax rates for Idahoans making more than $250,000. The proceeds, some $170 million, would go into a special fund for K-12 — which the state could use for several purposes, including teacher pay raises, hiring additional teachers or offering all-day kindergarten.
But during the past 22 days, Reclaim Idaho and attorneys for the state have been locked in a legal battle over the signature-gathering process.
Here’s how we got to where we are Tuesday:
June 8. Reclaim Idaho sues Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, saying state officials had violated the group’s First Amendment rights by failing to accommodate an initiative process during the coronavirus pandemic. Reclaim Idaho suspended face-to-face signature-gathering in March, and says state leaders rebuffed the group’s requests to collect signatures through other means. In the lawsuit, Reclaim Idaho requests a 48-day window to collect signatures electronically.
June 23. Ruling from the bench, Winmill sides with Reclaim Idaho. He orders the state to place the initiative on the ballot, or allow Reclaim Idaho 48 days for online signature gathering. He tells the state to decide by 5 p.m. on June 26.
June 26. The state picks neither option. Instead, the state’s lawyers say they will appeal, and request Winmill place his June 23 order on hold.
June 29. Winmill rejects the state’s request, leaving his order intact. In a separate filing, Reclaim Idaho requests that Winmill simply place the initiative on the November ballot, saying the state has shown it is unwilling to work with the group.
In his ruling Tuesday, Winmill stopped short of agreeing with Reclaim Idaho’s argument. “It is not clear that the state is unwilling to work with Reclaim Idaho in fashioning an online solicitation process if ordered to do so by the court.”
Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said Winmill’s decision struck a balance between protecting his group’s rights and working within existing initiative rules.
“Today’s ruling protects the constitutional right of every Idaho citizen to participate in the initiative process,” he said. “We look forward to working with the state to get systems in place to make this happen.”
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office declined comment Tuesday.
Since Winmill’s initial ruling, state officials have made clear that they will take the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s unknown when the state will file an appeal, but attorneys for the state filed a notice of appeal in Winmill’s court Tuesday.