The Idaho State Constitution reads: “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.” Our precious right to ballot initiatives is a check on the power of the Legislature. Resentment over this right has driven Republican legislators to curtail it. Their latest effort, Senate Joint Resolution 101, would have effectively taken it away.
Ballot initiatives and referendums are proven safety valves when the legislature won’t solve problems or creates new ones. When the legislature refused to address rapidly rising property taxes in the 1970s, a volunteer-led ballot initiative created the homeowner’s exemption. Idaho voters reversed the unpopular Luna Laws, which included mandatory online classes to replace some in-person instruction in our schools. When the legislature refused to expand Medicaid to close the coverage gap – trapping Idahoans earning too little to qualify for health insurance tax credits – voters took action.
What thanks do voters get for solving problems the Republican supermajority wouldn’t? Their ballot initiative rights are now a target.
SJR101 would amend the State Constitution to make ballot initiatives practically impossible. Similar to Republicans’ 2021 legislation, it would require meeting signature collection standards in all 35 legislative districts, rather than the 18 currently required, an impossible feat for any citizen-led effort.
The Idaho Supreme Court struck down that law as “tyrannical” and “unconstitutional.” Now Republican legislators want to write their tyrannical law into the State Constitution.
While SJR101 was sold as identical to the 2021 legislation, it’s actually worse, making the signature threshold even higher within each district. Citizens in rural Idaho would face insurmountable odds reaching every part of the state.
Idahoans would have voted on SJR101 in 2024. I’m confident that Idahoans would ultimately reject this assault on their rights, but a well-funded misinformation campaign is a potential threat. Thousands of Idahoans would have had to take time out of their lives to wage a campaign defending their constitutional rights. It is disrespectful to Idahoans to ask them to do this.
Our foundational rights should never be treated carelessly by the people we elect to represent us. Can you imagine being asked to volunteer your time to campaign on whether you should retain your right to free speech or religious freedom?
We dodged a bullet for the moment. Placing constitutional amendments on the ballot requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate and House. SJR101 came out of the Senate on a near-party line vote. But a critical mass of House Republicans voted with Democrats to kill it for this year.
This won’t be their last attempt. We must remain vigilant against efforts to undermine our freedoms and take away the political power inherent in the people.
Lauren Necochea, Idaho Democratic Party Chair