By Rep. Priscilla Giddings/R-White Bird
When Idaho’s founders drafted our state’s Constitution, they went to great pains not to forget the source of their authority—the people. While Idaho is set up like most other republican forms of government with three co-equal branches, it also provides a system of checks and balances by the people through the initiative process granted by the Constitution.
By constitutional mandate, the men and women of Idaho have been equal partners in our government for more than a century. Article III, Section I of our Constitution (entitled “Legislative Power”) reserves to the people the power to pass legislation through the citizen initiative process. That power, which resides in every one of us, is under attack in the Idaho State Legislature.
Senate Bill 1159, which narrowly passed the Senate 18-17, would essentially repeal our constitutional right to bring citizen initiatives. A thorough analysis of S1159 and other ballot initiative states shows that Idaho would have the most restrictive initiative laws in the nation. The legislation increases the signature requirement from 6% of registered voters to 10%, and from 18 of 35 legislative districts to 32 of 35. Furthermore, the time to gather signatures would be cut from 18 months to 6 months. Given the deadline to turn in signatures by April 30th, petitioners would have to gather signatures during Idaho’s brutal snow months. Nothing suppresses voter engagement like a foot of snow in January.
The legislation also creates a double standard between the people and the legislature. While I agree with Senate Bill 1159’s requirement that sponsors provide voters with a fiscal note, the legislation requires the fiscal impact statement be prepared by Idaho’s Division of Financial Management (DFM) in less than 10 days. Legislators are not required to use DFM for their own legislation, so why would we tie the hands of Idahoans? The Medicaid Expansion initiative took months to get estimates on how much it might cost and a private company provided the information that DFM used. Citizens would not have that same luxury.
In more than a century, less than three-dozen citizen initiatives have made the ballot. Of those, only 15 have succeeded. By no means have Idahoans abused their constitutional power in this respect. Idaho is one of the few states where legislators can overturn a bad initiative. So, why are a few dozen legislators taking such drastic actions to chip away at Idaho’s Constitutional Republic, degrade our system of checks and balances, and drastically shift power away from the people in favor of the legislature? By removing the grassroots’ ability to “petition the government for a redress of grievances,” as is every American’s First Amendment right, Senate Bill 1159 only serves to erode the public’s trust in our state government. For these reasons, and many more, I cannot support it.
Unfortunately, Senate Bill 1159 will likely pass through the House (by the time you read this, it may have already done so) and land on Governor Little’s desk. That is why I, and every Idahoan who values our history, our heritage and our Constitution, are calling on Governor Little to have the strength and courage to veto this unnecessary and destructive legislation. We cannot sit idly by and watch a century’s worth of Constitutional power pass from the people of Idaho to a handful of lawmakers.
Our Founders would not, and could not, tolerate such overreach.