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Initiative bill passes Senate 26-9

Hagadone News Network | March 2, 2021 1:00 AM

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A bill that would up the requirements to get a citizen initiative on the ballot easily cleared the Idaho Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 1110 — helmed by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens — aims to require signature gatherers to get valid signatures from 6% of all 35 legislative districts’ populations, rather than the current 18 districts required. The bill passed on a 26-9 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.

“My purpose, from the very beginning, is to include every part of Idaho in the initiative process,” Vick told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “We don’t want to have North versus South differences. I think this will foster inclusiveness through all parts of Idaho.”

During the Senate State Affairs Committee hearings last month, more than 100 citizens and organization leaders came to Boise to testify, many in opposition to the bill. That opposition continued Monday, when a letter penned by two former Idaho Attorneys General decried SB 1110 as an attack on the state’s Constitution.

“Legislators have shown an alarming disrespect for our State Constitution this session and it is incumbent upon members of the legal profession to call them to account,” former Attorney General Jim Jones said. “The mission of our group is to blow the whistle on legislation that threatens the integrity of the Idaho Constitution and to use every legal avenue to oppose it.”

Jones — along with former Attorney General Tony Park, former deputy Attorney General Clive Strong and Idaho lawyer Bruce Smith — said they have formed a coalition dubbed the Committee To Protect And Preserve The Constitution.

The group was spawned not only by SB 1110 but also four other bills that have called into question the function of the Attorney General’s office and the powers of the governor, two roles the group says are clearly explained in the 132-year-old Constitution.

Two bills in particular, House Bill 118 and Senate Bill 1090, essentially take the Attorney General’s office out of the Idaho Department of Lands’ hands. SB 1090 hands legal responsibility over the department to private counsel, while HB 118 prohibits the Attorney General’s counsel outright.

In addition, House Bill 101, which would allow state departments to seek outside counsel, cleared the House Thursday and is now in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

In addition to the three bills targeting the Idaho Attorney General’s office, the group also cited House Bill 135, a bill that would curtail a governor’s ability to call emergency declarations. HB 135, which limits an emergency to 60 days and prohibits a sitting governor from infringing on Idaho Code during a pandemic, cleared the House on Feb. 16 and now awaits the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The Conservation Voters for Idaho slammed the initiative vote as an assault on citizens' constitutional rights.

“SB1110 would make it nearly impossible for everyday Idahoans to get an initiative on the ballot," its executive director, Rialin Flores, said Monday. "This bill would make Idaho’s ballot initiative process the strictest in the nation. This bill is an egregious attack on our constitutional rights.”

Vick said he is aware of the attorneys’ new committee, and said that he is confident SB 1110 will survive a challenge.

“We have cases from the 9th Circuit Court and the 10th Circuit Court that say requiring [signatures from] all districts is constitutional,” he said. “Attorneys can have different opinions.”

The matter now moves to the House for consideration.

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