BOISE — House lawmakers continue to take aim at Idaho’s citizen initiative process, introducing four new bills Monday that essentially replicate legislation Gov. Brad Little vetoed last week.
The move came during a packed House State Affairs Committee meeting that was scheduled Friday afternoon, shortly after Little issued his veto message.
Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, said splitting the issue into four pieces gives the Legislature and governor a chance to find a path forward.
“We had some success in the House and Senate with (the earlier legislation), but there were issues with all these things being united together that gave the governor difficulty,” Dixon said. “This is an effort to have both our bodies and the governor decide what may be distasteful, or hopefully tasteful, to them.”
The original bill increased the number of signatures needed to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot from 6 percent of registered voters to 10 percent. It also required the 10 percent threshold to be met in 32 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, reduced the signature-gathering time limit from 18 months to 180 days and added language regarding fiscal notes and funding sources.
Little vetoed that bill. He also plans to veto a related trailer bill that reduced the geographic threshold from 32 districts to 24, while easing the time constraint from 180 days to 270.
Of the four bills introduced Monday, one deals with the fiscal note and funding source requirement; the second proposes the 10 percent signature requirement; the third addresses the 24-district threshold; the fourth imposes the 270-day time limit.
The initial bill was subsequently referred directly to the House floor for a vote. The other three were referred back to committee for public hearings.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, questioned whether any of the bills could even be introduced, given that they exactly replicate legislation that has already been vetoed by the governor.
Gannon cited a reference from Mason’s Manual, which serves as the Legislature’s source for parliamentary rules, saying after a bill has been passed or rejected another measure “of the same substance” can’t be brought during the same session.
That prompted about an hourlong delay while the House parliamentarian researched the issue. After conferring with her, State Affairs Chairman Steven Harris, R-Meridian, ruled that the bills could be introduced.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, asked for clarification on that point.
“I want you to show me where it’s in order for this committee (to introduce the bills),” Scott said. “I don’t think it is. I can’t find it in the manual. That’s all I want to know.”
“I appreciate your concerns,” Harris replied, before proceeding to vote on introducing the first bill.
Gannon noted that the Legislature already has a process to override a gubernatorial veto.
“If we take the position that a veto can be remedied just by introducing and passing the same bill, we’ve essentially written the veto process out of the law,” he said.
More fundamentally, “we need to consider that the public spent a lot of time (testifying) on this,” Gannon said. “Now they’re going to have to spend more time. I think it’s somewhat insulting to the people of Idaho to have to go through this process again.”