In this year’s midterm election, Idaho included a constitutional amendment question on the ballot. Idaho Amendment SJR 102 amends the Idaho constitution to “allow the legislature to call itself into a special session.”
Either branch of Idaho’s legislature can introduce a constitutional amendment, after which two-thirds of both the house and the senate must approve of the measure. If this is successful, the amendment will then be put to a vote by the public during the next general election where a simple majority is required.
Amendment SJR 102 was first introduced to the Senate in February 2021, where it was passed 24-11. In April 2021, the House of Representatives passed the amendment with a 54-15 vote, with one member absent.
In the 2022 midterm election, SJR 102 was narrowly passed by Idahoans, with 51.8% voting yes. The decision came down to a difference of roughly 20,000 votes, a mere fraction of the 500,000 Idaho votes cast this year.
The amendment was first discussed following Gov. Little’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when many legislators felt they had the right to enter a special session and address the community response to the pandemic.
Every Democrat in Idaho’s legislature and a handful of Republicans voted against the measure, based on claims that it would grant too much power to the legislative branch. Former Idaho governor, Butch Otter spoke out against the amendment in the weeks leading up to the election.
“Simply put, more legislative activity equals more government meddling,” Otter wrote in an op-ed for the Idaho Statesman. “The least regulated states, like Idaho … have truly part-time citizen legislators. They are everyday people who come to the Capitol to represent their districts on a limited basis.”
The Idaho Prosperity Fund, a political action committee known for promoting “the ideals of a free market system,” spent over $70,000 on advertisements against the passage of the amendment. The primary concern regarding Amendment SJR 102 is that it will allow Idaho’s Legislature to evolve into a full-time legislature, as seen in states such as California.
Idaho currently has a part-time citizen legislature, meaning that representatives and senators do not necessarily work for the legislature as their full time job. Idaho legislators receive an annual salary of roughly $16,000 per year, and members are typically only in session for three months at the beginning of each year.
SJR 102 requires 60% of the legislature to agree to call itself into a special session, but currently Idaho’s Governor is the only one with the power to call a special session. Prior to the election, Idaho was one of only 14 states who gave the governor the exclusive right to call the legislature into special session.
SJR 102 will go into effect in January at the start of the upcoming legislative session and requires that special sessions are called in regards to “a specific topic.” That said, if 60% of legislators agree, other topics may be considered once in a special session.
Unlike similar policies in states such as Utah, Idaho’s amendment does not include provisions that limit the length or scope of the special sessions, meaning sessions can continue until the majority chooses to end it.
Since 2000, Idaho governors have only called five special sessions, including the one that took place in September to address Idaho’s budget surplus. It is estimated that each day a Special Session takes place, it costs roughly $23,000 in taxpayer dollars.
While it is unclear how often the Legislature will be called into session under the new amendment, given the support by legislators it is entirely possible that the legislature will meet more regularly throughout the year.
“SJR 102 will allow the legislature to call itself into special session, rather than plead with a chief executive for permission,” Chairwoman of the Idaho Republican Party Dorothy Moon wrote in a press release. “SJR 102 corrects Idaho’s historic error and puts the legislative and executive powers on equal footing.”