The organizers of a petition seeking to increase income taxes in order to provide funding for education filed suit against Gov. Brad Little and another state official, saying their First Amendment rights have been infringed upon.
Founders of Reclaim Idaho said Little’s stay-home order made it impossible for them to meet requirements to get an initiative on November’s ballot. The group filed a federal lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court of Idaho to modify in-person signature gathering requirements and extend the deadline for gathering signatures, co-founder Luke Mayville announced Monday.
Reclaim Idaho advocates and volunteers had been collecting signatures in hopes of getting their “Invest in Idaho” initiative on the November ballot. On March 18, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Reclaim Idaho officials announced they suspended their signature gathering effort. The deadline for collecting signatures was April 30.
“State officials refused to allow an alternative path,” Reclaim Idaho wrote in a court filing supporting the lawsuit. “After that, it was impossible to comply with Idaho law that required in-person signature gathering.”
Efforts to reach Little for comment on the suit were not immediately successful Monday.
In its suit, Reclaim Idaho asked “that the court modify Idaho’s in-person signature collection requirement and the deadlines required for the gathering and presentation of collected signatures for this initiative in light of the current public health emergency caused by COVID-19 and Defendant Little’s ensuing emergency orders effectively shutting down the state.”
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is also named as a defendant in Reclaim’s lawsuit.
Petition organizers are asking for a 48-day extension of the signature collecting deadline, and for the court to issue an injunction allowing Reclaim Idaho to collect signatures electronically. According to the lawsuit, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office told Reclaim organizers there is no statue allowing for the electronic collection of signatures for Idaho ballot initiatives.
The initiative aimed to increase corporate income taxes and individual income taxes for Idahoans making more than $250,000 a year. Reclaim Idaho estimated the initiative would have generated $170 million annually for a new state account that would be used to increase teachers’ salaries, provide funding for all-day kindergarten or reduce class sizes.
Prior to suspending the signature gathering effort, Reclaim said it had obtained about 30,000 of the 55,000-plus signatures it would have needed to get the initiative on the ballot. Reclaim would have needed to gather signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in at least 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts to meet state requirements.
The suit notes that COVID-19 is dangerous for adults 65 and older. Reclaim says retirees in that age group make up their most active volunteers.
Reclaim Idaho is the same group that was behind the successful Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which passed in November 2018.