Idaho lawmaker introduces joint resolution to toughen initiative process

A Republican lawmaker is seeking to amend Section 1, Article III of the Idaho State Constitution, relating to the voter initiative process
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:38 PM MST
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BOISE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —A Republican lawmaker is seeking to amend Section 1, Article III of the Idaho State Constitution, relating to the voter initiative process

Sen. Doug Okuniewicz submitted a Joint Resolution to the Senate State Affairs Committee that would put before the voters the question of whether or not to amend the Idaho State Constitution to require six percent of legal voters from the prior general election in each of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts to sign a petition for an initiative.

His proposed Joint Resolution is similar to a law passed in 2021 to increase voter involvement and inclusivity in the voter initiative/referendum process, by ensuring signatures of 6% of registered voters are gathered from each of the 35 legislative districts, instead of the prior requirement of 18. It was overturned by the Idaho Supreme Court.

“They (Idaho Supreme Court) felt the legislature was not in position to impose that change on the people, so what this does is put the question before the people. It allows them to make that decision and decide if this is something that is in their personal interest,” Okuniewicz said.

In 2021, Reclaim Idaho filed a lawsuit in the Idaho Supreme Court to strike down the initiative The group saw it as unconstitutional. Back in 2021 Reclaim Idaho Co-Founder Luke Mayville said the then law made the voter ballot initiative process almost impossible unless someone or a group had a lot of money. He said it was hard for his group to get Medicaid Expansion on the ballot under the old rules in 2017.

In statement about Okuniewicz’s Joint Resolution Mayville said:

Joint Resolution states it more fairly distributes voter involvement and inclusivity for initiatives and referenda by giving every legislative district in the state a voice, and will ensure that the wishes of all 35 legislative districts are considered versus only 18 legislative districts.

Additionally, according to the Joint Resolution it will “eliminate the current practice of ‘venue shopping’ by well-funded activist organizations”. It states under the current system, it is possible to acquire more than one half of the total number of signatures required to place a question on the ballot from a single legislative district.

According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office the total number of signatures in the districts, “shall be equal to or greater than 6% of the qualified electors of the state”

The legislation passed through committee and was approved for printing. According to the Joint Resolution’s Statement Purpose, if passed by the legislature, the Joint Resolution will be placed on the November 2024 General Election ballot and voters will ultimately decide whether or not to adopt the resolution.