This article was updated on April 4, 2023, at 5:56 p.m. to reflect the change in status of SJR 101.
On Friday, March 31, the Idaho House of Representatives failed to pass SJR 101, which would ask voters whether or not to raise the requirements for initiatives to get on the ballot from 6% of signatures in 18 districts, to 6% of signatures in all 35 districts.
The House voted 39-31 in favor of SJR 101, falling short of the required two-thirds majority to approve the amendment. Senators and constituents alike have contested the necessity of this proposal.
In the committee hearing on the proposal, sponsor Sen. Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden) defended the bill’s necessity.
“The basic intent of the resolution is simply to give people around the state a chance to decide whether it is important to include them all in the initiative process,” Okuniewicz said, “We just want to be inclusive of everyone in the state.”
In 2021, a similar bill, Senate Bill 1110, was struck down by the Idaho Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The bill also attempted to raise the number of required districts to 35. This bill, as well as its predecessor, came on the heels of Reclaim Idaho’s success in getting Medicaid on the ballot in 2018.
Okuniewicz claims that by having the voters decide, this proposal is not in conflict with the Idaho Supreme Court ruling, because the court ruled that raising the required number of districts was outside of the legislature’s power. However, Sen. Rutgie described the bill as “stacking the deck.”
Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D) questioned Okuniewicz on why it was necessary, in which he responded by claiming that “the primary issue is that we see more venue shopping by wealthy entities or individuals, it’s relatively easy to get a question on the ballot if you’ve got the money to do it.”
Tina Hilding, a Moscow resident, testified about her personal experience as a volunteer for ballot initiatives.
“I went door-to-door asking people to put the initiative on the ballot,” Hilding said. “Sometimes it was hard to get just 12 signatures on one page.”
Hilding testified about the difficulties of getting initiatives on the ballot, and how it was accomplished through the hard work of volunteers.
“I was just a volunteer, and all the people I worked with were just volunteers. It’s not well funded. It’s me and people like me,” Hilding said. “This was democracy in action.”
Elinor Chehey has been working on several ballot initiative campaigns, starting back in 1974 on the Sunshine Law initiative.
“Initiatives only work when it would solve a problem, a larger problem that state is concerned about, but lobbyists have convinced the legislature it’s a bad idea,” Chehey said.
Her testimony covered a common consensus among citizens who came to testify: that initiatives only worked if they were popular, not because of funding.
“I believe this amendment is unnecessary and [creates] tyranny by a minority,” Chehey said. “It would be wrong to take away this method of changing Idaho laws.”