Steven Harris committee

From right, Reps. Steven Harris, Randy Armstrong and Kevin Andrus confer during a House State Affairs Committee meeting at the state Capitol on Monday, April 8, 2019.

The Idaho Legislature barely mustered the votes needed to pass restrictions to the initiative process earlier this legislative session. When they did, Gov. Brad Little thankfully vetoed them.

Issue over, right?

Wrong. Some segments of the Legislature seem absolutely intent on gutting the right of the ballot initiative this year, and no amount of public opposition, no amount of evidence will deter them.

Unable to put a bullet through the heart of this right the first time around, they’ve picked up a shotgun for a second volley. Instead of one bill to eviscerate the people’s right, they’ve fired out a host of new potential restrictions piecemeal.

Now there are four bills instead of one. But taken together, they are the exact same bill that Little just vetoed, a veto they don’t have the votes to override.

The bills were introduced Monday morning in the House State Affairs Committee, where they barely passed the introduction process. Member of the committee reported that they had only been allowed to see the consequential bills minutes before they were up for a vote.

Rep. Steven Harris, the Republican chairman from Meridian, engaged in Olympic-caliber parliamentary obfuscation. Dancing through the rules to find formal justification, the main goal was clear: avoid a public hearing. When Rep. Heather Scott made a motion aimed at holding public hearings on the bills, he ruled it out of order. Harris even prevented the public from knowing how the members of his committee voted on one motion, ruling it out of order for a roll call vote to be taken because the motion was made a few seconds too late.

Luckily, some clever motions by Scott leave a decent chance that three of the four bills will receive a public hearing.

This was after a prior set of ballot restrictions was dreamed up behind closed doors and rammed through at the last minute.

Why the rush to do this now?

It’s commonly known in the Idaho Legislature that there are two kinds of legislative sessions.

First, there are years like 2018, where an election will take place in a few months and accountability is right around the corner. Then there are legislative sessions like this one, where lawmakers often attempt to pass controversial legislation in the hopes that voters will have forgotten by the next election.

We sometimes praise lawmakers for doing something unpopular because it is right. But there’s no evidence that’s what’s happening here. In fact, the Legislature appears to be dead set on doing something both wrong and unpopular, with minimal public scrutiny, with as much time as possible to try to paint a rosy picture of themselves before they answer to the voters.

If the Legislature wants to enact some sort of new restrictions on the constitutionally enshrined right of the ballot initiative, it should have at least a modicum of courage. Run your legislation next year, just ahead of the 2020 elections. Show the courage of your convictions, and face the electoral consequences with some semblance of honor.

Because attempting to ram this through at the last minute in a non-election year isn’t courageous. It smells like smoke-filled backrooms and the yellow sweat of feverish scheming.

It stinks of cowardice.

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