Senate Bill 1026, in light of the Legislature’s passage of education reform measures in 2011 and their subsequent repeal in the November 2012 general election following a successful initiative effort to get them on the ballot, could be a hot-button issue in the 2013 Legislature.
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, says the general election results—the rejection of the education reforms—did not play a role in his support for the legislation, saying “it has nothing to do with the Luna laws, which failed in all 44 counties.”
SB 1026, says McKenzie, “sets up a process where there has to be some statewide support to put an issue on the ballot.” He said the proposal is “consistent with states that are like Idaho, that have initiatives processes. We’re going to require that there has got to be some level of buy-in or interest throughout the state, so not just one location is setting an agenda for everyone else.”
McKenzie, chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, said “The reason for that geographic requirement is the same reason that most states that have initiatives do that. I think there’s 24 states that have an initiative process. Half of them require some geographic requirement for that. The reason is most of those states tend to be Western states; they are very rural, they’ve got small populations centered in a few urban areas.”
Under the referendum process outlined by Idaho Code, the groups petitioning for a ballot referendum—the most recent example being the Students Come First measures—needed to gather 6 percent of certified signatures statewide without regard to geography.
McKenzie said the “Six percent requirement statewide would still apply, but there would be a geographic component to that, which would require you to get 6 percent in at least 22 of the 35 legislative districts.”
The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, a backer of SB 1026, said in a mailer titled “Capitol Reflections” that the proposal “will help ensure that proponents establish broader support geographically for an issue that has statewide implications.”
The proposal in Idaho has not gone unnoticed nationally. Citizens in Charge is a Virginia-based organization that says it works to “protect the initiative and referendum process where it exists in 26 states and to expand the process to the states where voters currently lack that right.”
The group says “The Idaho Legislature seems to be following the Maryland Legislature’s lead with the same knee-jerk reaction, seeking to legislatively block future referendums after several appeared on the ballot last November.”
However, the group did note one major difference between what occurred in Maryland and in Idaho. “Maryland voters approved the Legislature’s enactments in three referendums last November, while Idaho voters reversed the Legislature for the first time since the 1930s, overturning three laws concerning education policy.”