In a brazen heist at the Statehouse, Idaho’s Legislature has robbed Gem State voters of their sacred right to take legislative matters into their own hands — to get around a non-responsive, lobbyist-driven Legislature. On April 17, Gov. Brad Little, playing the role of accessory-after-the-fact, signed legislation depriving Idahoans of their most precious power — the power to legislate when the Legislature stubbornly refuses to act.
The Legislature has passed and Gov. Little has signed Senate Bill 1110, a bill designed to make it impossible for the people to use their constitutional initiative and referendum powers. The initiative has been sparingly used by people across the state to propose and approve popular legislation that the Legislature refuses to consider, like the Sunshine Law, Medicaid expansion and the homeowner’s property tax exemption. The referendum allows the voters to kill wretched legislation, like the unpopular Luna Laws.
SB 1110 gives our Legislature a complete stranglehold over the public policy that will guide our state into the future. The clear danger of eliminating the voters’ check on legislative power is demonstrated by the bizarre and irresponsible behavior of our legislators throughout the current session. With such a dysfunctional Legislature, it is essential that Idahoans retain their constitutional right to enact or repeal legislation.
Although it will be difficult to undo the Legislature’s theft of the people’s power, there are two avenues available to rescue our democracy. Reclaim Idaho, the organization that forced Medicaid expansion upon our recalcitrant Legislature, is preparing to file suit to have the bill declared null and void under the law.
Reclaim Idaho has also filed an initiative petition to repeal the exhausting signature requirements of SB 1110 and restore the historic signature requirements for initiatives and referendums. Every registered voter in Idaho can help in this effort by signing the petition to get the initiative on the 2022 general election ballot. Voters can also donate to Reclaim Idaho to support this important work.
The Legislature played some sleight of hand with SB 1110, falsely claiming there was an emergency that required this odious bill to immediately go into effect upon the governor’s signature. They did not identify an emergency because there was none. The emergency clause was included to prevent the people from running an initiative or referendum to overturn their dirty work. Reclaim Idaho anticipated this chicanery and filed its petition before the governor signed SB 1110, so as to take advantage of the previous, less-unsurmountable signature requirement.
An election with the initiative/referendum question on the ballot could be a defining moment in Idaho history. Legislators who voted to strip Idahoans of their constitutional right to fashion public policy with the initiative and referendum will have to answer for their arrogance. Many of them are the same people who have been so very disruptive in the current Legislature. It could present the people with a real opportunity to thin the herd and elect legislators who are responsive to the people and supportive of good government. This theft of the people’s precious legislative power must not go unaddressed.
Jim Jones served as an Army artillery officer in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and received an Army Commendation Medal for his work with an orphanage there. He served for eight years as Idaho Attorney General and was a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court for 12 years. He currently resides in Boise.