Voter initiatives are a rarity within Idaho – three within the past 20 years -- yet here the legislature is considering how to make this process more cumbersome and, as a result, discourage citizen involvement in its political process.

SB 1159 would change how citizens get an initiative before the voters -- increasing the number of districts needed to get an issue on the ballot from 18 to 32; raising the percentage of voters’ signatures needed from 6 to 10 percent, a 40 percent increase; and decreasing the time to accomplish this from the current 18 months to just 180 days.

Stating its support, the Idaho House Republican Caucus said these changes would level the playing field for rural communities by giving them a bigger voice in the process rather than simply allowing urban communities to dictate Idaho policy. The purpose of this bill, according to the caucus, is to increase both transparency and voter involvement in the initiative and referendum process.

Very eloquent, but from street level, this looks like a legislative attempt to set up initiative processes to fail by increasing the difficulty while allowing less time to meet the heightened standard. Issues of “transparency and voter involvement” are moot when your initiative couldn’t make it to the ballot, but that aborted attempt does level the playing field; both urban and rural communities would be equal in being denied to publicly debate its merits and decide upon the issue.

Really, this feels like legislative payback for voters passing Medicaid expansion (Prop 2) last year; “By god, not going to let that happen again,” and so they propose to burden the process and discourage the insolent rabble from daring to get up on its hind legs in the future.

This bill is insulting as it seeks to encumber an existing process -- which already requires a strong commitment in time and effort to see through -- that citizens have to address issues they feel their legislators are avoiding or ignoring. That is our constitutional right, and we’re outraged when our legislators – who are supposed to be our advocates in Boise, and who should be encouraging citizen participation in the political process – attempt such legal shenanigans to make our rights hard to exercise, and so further embitter the citizenry toward its state government.

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