November 30, 2021

Democrats Disappointed in Gov. Little’s Decision to Sign SB 1110

Just a day after Gov. Brad Little vetoed legislation seeking to trim his emergency powers, he signed Senate Bill 1110 into law, destroying the initiative and referendum rights of the people.

The bill seeks to make an already onerous process ostensibly impossible by doubling the district signature requirements needed, rising to 6% of signatures of registered voters in all 35 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, rather than in 18.

The governor’s claims that House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136 should be vetoed for unwisely and unconstitutionally taking his emergency powers now ring very hollow, Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Grant Burgoyne said. It is evident that this year’s legislative session has deteriorated into a slugfest in which legislative factions and the governor merely seek to grab power for themselves and leave the people, and their constitutional rights, out in the cold, he added.

House and Senate Democrats voted against Senate Bill 1110, and urged Little to veto the legislation when it reached his desk. The three branches of government — the governor, the legislature and the courts — are supposed to hold each other in check, but the Idaho Constitution wisely recognizes that the people need to be able to hold politicians in check through the power of the initiative and referendum process.

“The governor proved yesterday that he’s willing to use his veto to protect executive power, but by signing SB 1110 he was apparently unwilling to also protect the people’s power,” House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel said. “SB 1110 puts unreasonable and unworkable restrictions on the ballot initiative process, effectively denying voters the only ability they have to enact laws when their legislators won’t act.”

Burgoyne echoed Rubel’s sentiments.

“Citizen initiatives and referenda are cornerstones of democracy. The governor owed it to the people he represents to use his veto power to protect them, and we are extremely disappointed he allowed the legislature to strip the people’s powers away,” Burgoyne added. “Everyday Idahoans know a power grab when they see it, and will not stand for it.”

House GOP Passes Bill Making Citizen-driven Ballot Initiatives Virtually Impossible in Idaho

In a 51-18 vote, House Republicans passed Senate Bill 1110, which seeks to add nearly insurmountable hurdles to the ballot initiative and referendum process in Idaho.

House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, debated strongly against it, and said the bill seeks to make an already onerous process ostensibly impossible by doubling the district signature requirements needed. Rubel said Idaho already is the hardest state to qualify a measure for the ballot. In the past decade, Medicaid expansion is the only initiative to pass, and it would not have come close to qualifying under SB1110.

“If y’all are afraid of what the people of Idaho want to do and what their agenda is, and you feel it is important to block that, you may be in the wrong line of work,” Rubel said in her debate. A survey from Boise State University showed 80% of Idahoans opposed adding restrictions.

Proponents of the bill argued it gives rural Idahoans more of a voice in the legislative process. But in his debate, Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, showed the divide between urban and rural voters is a myth, as demonstrated by Idaho ballot measure election results by county from 1990-2020.

“Our ballot initiative process has allowed citizens of Idaho to pass laws when the Idaho Legislature fails to act. From Medicaid expansion to the popular homeowner’s exemption that protects residents from rapid property tax increases,” Nash said. “We must stand up for Idahoans’ constitutional right to enact laws independent of the Legislature, not silence and suppress them.”

The bill now moves to the governor’s desk for consideration. The Democratic caucus strongly urges his veto.

Happenings at the Statehouse – March 17, 2021

Let’s hope we’re heading into the final stretch. We now have three House members who tested positive for COVID just this week, so it would seem wise to wrap things up before it gets worse.

Foster care

I wanted to start with some good news. Our bill to allow kids to remain in foster care until 21, HB336, is moving forward! This is expected to lead to much better outcomes for many kids in foster care.

Taxes

Despite the steady drumbeat from the public demanding lower property taxes, we continue to be stonewalled on all our bills targeted at property tax reduction. Instead, the House will imminently be voting on HB322, an income tax bill with extremely disproportionate benefits to those at the top end of the income spectrum. This bill would cost between $386 million and $389.4 million in revenue in its first year and between $160 million to $169.4 million per year thereafter. Here is an impact analysis from the nonpartisan Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy:

As you can see, those in the top 1% of income would get nearly $9,000, while those in the bottom 20% of income would get ~$78. It’s been a very tough year for many people, and if we’re going to be taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the General Fund that funds education, I would like to see it going to those who really need it.

Education

Good news – we are going to take another run at trying to approve the $6 million federal grant for early childhood education programs that was rejected by the House a few weeks ago. We’re waiting on a bill number, but it’s coming soon.

In less good news, the hearing for our bill to fund full-day kindergarten (HB331) was canceled and now is in limbo as both the committee Chair and Vice-chair are out with COVID. We are still trying everything we can to save it.

In even less good news, last week, in a stunning move that no one saw coming, the House State Affairs Committee killed the lottery!

A small statutory adjustment was needed to accommodate Powerball’s expansion into the UK and Australia. Arguing that the Powerball might bring money to Australia, and Australia has gun control laws, they shot it down on mostly party lines, a move that if not reversed will cause Idaho schools to lose $14M in funding. I am hoping this bill gets reintroduced before session ends.

The House passed HB122 last week, requiring all schools to allow firearms on the premises and in classrooms regardless of district policy. It is yet to be seen if it will be heard in the Senate.

We are also awaiting the fate of our higher education budgets, which have already been cut by millions and still face an uncertain future. Many House members are threatening to defund our universities completely, objecting to the inclusion of social justice issues in certain class curricula.

Voting rights

S1110, the bill that would effectively end citizen ballot initiatives by doubling the difficulty of meeting signature requirements, is awaiting a House floor vote. I fear the only way to stop this one is likely through the Governor’s veto – here’s a link if you want to shoot him an email.

HJR4 is also up for a vote on the House floor. This Constitutional amendment prohibits any drug from being moved off Schedule 1 or 2 without a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. The immediate objective appears to be to prevent the pending (and any future) ballot initiative effort to legalize medical cannabis. However, we often remove ordinary medicines from these schedules, as we did this year with the epilepsy drug Epidiolex. These bills pass, but never with two thirds of the votes. Thus, this amendment would likely preclude the legalization of even FDA-approved medications going forward.

Two other voter-restriction bills (HB223 criminalizing ballot delivery and HB255 blocking college students from registering to vote with student IDs) are sitting in committee – I hope never to be heard again

Happenings at the Statehouse – March 3, 2021

Things have been getting much more contentious these last couple of weeks. And there’s no sign of it ending any time soon.

Education

Yesterday House GOP members voted to reject a $6 million grant from the federal government that would have allowed communities around Idaho to expand early childhood education offerings at no cost to the state budget. One opponent of the bill (HB226) argued: “Any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” Others vilified the administrator of the grant as a liberal proponent of “social justice ideology”. The upshot is that this money would have expanded programs to boost literacy and school readiness, and that opportunity was turned away.

HB215, a voucher bill, is awaiting a vote on the House floor. This bill would allocate $35 million to provide scholarships of approximately $6,000 each to qualifying families to use for private school tuition or homeschooling. My concern is that there are many accountability metrics applied to public schools as a condition of receiving taxpayer money, but none that would apply to these private recipients of tax dollars. And, when Idaho is 51st in the nation in public education funding, I question whether it makes sense to funnel tens of millions of dollars into private schools.

HB221 is also awaiting a floor vote. This bill seeks to address our teacher shortage by allowing districts to hire teachers who do not have a state-recognized teacher certification. This one also concerns me – I would rather see us address our teacher shortage by paying a wage that entices qualified teachers rather than by dropping standards for qualification.

Vote Suppression

S1110 makes it twice as difficult as it currently is to collect enough signatures for a ballot initiative. Given that under the current standards, there has only been one successful initiative in the past decade, this bill would essentially drive a stake through the heart of the ballot initiative process in Idaho.

This bill passed the Senate last week and is headed to House State Affairs. If you’d like to speak up for your ballot initiative rights, you can send an email here.

HB223 passed the House this week. It would make it a felony to deliver someone else’s ballot for them, even if you are faithfully carrying out their request. A similar law was recently struck down in Montana because it unduly suppresses the votes of those living in tribal areas where neighbors often pick up and deliver each other’s mail. Another similar law in Arizona is now being litigated in the Supreme Court. I am concerned both that this law criminalizes innocent behavior, and that it will unduly suppress the votes of the elderly, disabled, Native Americans living in remote tribal areas, and others who depend on friends or caregivers for assistance and mail delivery. If you have a couple of minutes, here’s my debate against it, and if you want to speak out on this bill, you can email here.

The vote suppression efforts continue with HB255, a bill that would prevent the use of student IDs or even passports for voter registration. This would significantly decrease student voting, as many students don’t get a driver’s license issued for a dorm address where they’ll only be living for a short time, and they rely on their student ID’s. I would like to see us encouraging young people to vote, not throwing obstacles in their path. Idaho has an excellent election system currently with no sign of fraud, and I see no justification for efforts that make it much harder for legal voters to vote. If you want to send an email on this bill, you can do so here.

Happenings at the Statehouse – February 17, 2021

Power plays

Much of the first half of session has centered around shifting power from the Governor to the Legislature, from health districts to the Legislature, from local government to the Legislature, and from voters to the Legislature. Noticing a pattern here?

Local control – Last week, the House passed H90, which would prohibit any county, city or town from changing the names of streets, parks or schools in their communities without the permission of the Legislature. I obtained an opinion from the Attorney General finding that the bill violates our State Constitution which does not allow the Legislature to control local issues such as naming local landmarks. In light of this there’s a good chance the Senate will hold the bill – we shall see.

Executive powers – Yesterday the House passed H135, which would significantly restrict the Governor’s ability to enact emergency policy. Under this bill, an emergency declaration would require legislative authority to last longer than 60 days, and the Governor could not take any action that would restrict employment. This caused me concern, as we have historically had numerous emergencies last longer than 60 days, and calling the Legislature back in all the time is costly. Moreover, many sensible precautions a governor might take during an emergency could have the result of restricting employment, and it is hard to predict what consequences this would have in terms of preventing needed action in future emergencies.

Ballot initiative rights – Ever since the voters of Idaho took it upon themselves to pass Medicaid expansion in 2018, we have seen a steady stream of legislative efforts to rein in voters’ ability to bring ballot initiatives. The latest is S1110 making its way through the Senate, which would require signatures from 6% of all registered voters in all 35 legislative districts to get a proposal on the ballot. This would likely effectively end citizen ballot initiatives in Idaho, as it is barely possible to get on the ballot with the current threshold of 18 districts and we have only seen one successful effort in the past 8 years. I worked hard to collect signatures for Medicaid expansion in 2018 – here’s me helping deliver boxes of signatures to the Secretary of State. I can attest that it took a Herculean effort by thousands of volunteers just to meet the 18-district standard; we wouldn’t have made it if we had to cover all 35 districts.

Tax bills

Yesterday H199 was introduced by House GOP leadership, which would implement a sales tax cut from 6% to 5.3% and a top margin income tax cut from 6.9% to 6.5%. By 2023 this proposal would reduce state revenue by $435 million per year. It would also eliminate the grocery tax credit, so some folks might see their tax on food increase while others would decrease depending on how much food they purchase.

This morning the Democrats introduced an alternative plan that would use some projected surplus revenue to finally fund full-day kindergarten, a long-standing recommendation most recently endorsed by the Governor’s 2019 K-12 Task Force. It would also allocate funds to remediation programs designed to address the substantial learning loss that children have experienced during COVID. Statewide reading scores have dropped 8-9% and alarming results are expected once other testing resumes, requiring substantial investment in after-school and summer programs to catch kids up. The proposal also includes residential property tax reductions, the use of impact fees on new development to pay for new school construction, and an increase to child tax credits.

Status of other bills I’m working on

– HCR6 seeks insurance coverage for medically necessary prescription formula for infants and children with serious conditions like Crohn’s disease and eosinophilic esophagitis. This has passed from Committee and will soon be heard on the House floor.

– S1069 requires the clerk to notify you if your absentee ballot is rejected for a signature mismatch or other technicality so that you still have a chance to vote. It has passed Committee and will soon get a Senate floor vote.

– H108 is the Sgt. Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act – it was introduced but still waiting to see if it will get a full hearing and vote.

– H189, the “Clean Slate Act,” would allow those with minor non-violent, non-sexual offenses who have been offense-free for at least 5 years to petition to seal their public record. This was introduced Monday and is awaiting a full hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

“HJR 4 Just Makes Sense” – by Rep. Ilana Rubel and Rep. Scott Bedke

The ballots submitted by the Republican speaker of the house and the Democratic leader of the house will probably look very different this year, but there is one spot where they will look the same. We are both voting “yes” on House Joint Resolution 4, and we encourage you to do the same.

The constitutional amendment HJR 4 might seem complicated, but it’s really a very simple change. Idaho has had 35 legislative districts since the 1990s, but our Constitution currently allows that number to be set as low as 30 districts. This is a census year, which means that next year a redistricting commission will meet to draw new lines for our congressional and legislative seats, and those lines will be in effect for the coming decade. HJR 4 simply fixes the number of districts at 35, eliminating the possibility that the number of districts will be reduced. Why is this a good idea? Because more legislative districts mean smaller districts, and that means Idaho’s people will have closer contact and easier access to their legislators.

We’d like to put to rest some of the fears and counter-arguments we’ve heard:

No. 1: “HJR 4 will lead to gerrymandering.” No. Idaho’s district lines will still be drawn by a balanced commission that must reach bipartisan agreement on any new map, as required by our Constitution.

No. 2: “HJR 4 will lead to unfair over-representation of some parts of Idaho.” No. The commission will still be required to draw districts that are equivalent in population, with minimal variance between districts. Nothing in HJR 4 would allow for unfair over-representation of urban versus rural areas, or north versus south versus east.

No. 3: “HJR 4 is a scheme by the Republicans/Democrats to disadvantage the Democrats/Republicans.” No. There is nothing partisan about HJR 4, and during the 2020 session, it passed with overwhelming support from legislators of both parties. It just keeps districts smaller so it’s easier for legislators to stay in touch with constituents.

No. 4: “There’s no urgency to act on this right now.” We disagree. District lines will be drawn in 2021. This 2020 election is our last bite at the apple before districts are set for 10 years. At 35 districts, there would be about 51,000 people per district. Without HJR 4, we could end up with 30 districts, with 60,000 people per district, a substantial increase that reduces access to representation. If that were to happen, we couldn’t fix it for a decade. The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to pass HJR 4 now.

No. 5: “We don’t need to pass this because the commission would never choose to reduce the number of districts.” We’re not so sure of that. Moreover, It’s not necessarily up to the commission. Many maps are thrown out by courts, which could decide that the number of districts must be reduced to accommodate various criteria set in case law (e.g. you’re supposed to keep counties intact, keep communities of interest together, etc.). HJR 4 is the only real assurance that we won’t end up with reduced representation.

In short, there’s no Trojan horse that will be sprung on Idahoans if HJR 4 is approved by the voters. Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, adding 230,000 people since the last redistricting in 2011. We’d hate to see this larger population get fewer representatives than they have now. Our goal is simply to ensure that Idahoans are represented in the Legislature by elected representatives they can readily access — people who share their streets, neighborhoods and businesses. Setting the number of legislative districts at 35 will advance this goal. We hope you’ll join us in voting “yes” on HJR 4.

2/20/2019 – Partisan redistricting / gerrymandering bill (HJR2) sent back to committee after public outcry

HJR2, the bill that would have created a partisan redistricting process in Idaho in lieu of our current bipartisan system, was sent back to committee after substantial citizen outcry. Well done, citizens!

2/11/2019 – Republican gerrymandering bill (HJR2) speeding through legislature

The Gerrymandering bill (HJR2) is moving like greased lightning through the Legislature, and it’s critical that our citizens understand what is happening. In a nutshell, since Idahoans voted in 1994 to amend the Constitution to get rid of partisan gerrymandering, Idaho has had a bipartisan, evenly divided 6-member Redistricting Commission that draws district lines every 10 years. In order to be approved, a map must receive at least 4 votes, so all redistricting must have bipartisan agreement. We have thus been immune for the past 25 years from the bitter partisan gerrymandering battles that have plagued other states. But perhaps no longer.

On Friday, with barely one day’s notice of the hearing, HJR2 passed on a straight party line vote in the House State Affairs Committee. This bill would add a 7th member to the Commission to be selected by GOP elected leaders, creating a 4-3 GOP advantage and allowing the GOP complete control over redistricting. Democrats on the Committee objected to a matter of such importance being rammed through so quickly, and walked out in protest – here’s a helpful article summarizing the proceedings.

2/8/2019 – Article: “Tempers fray in Idaho House in battle over redistricting”

  • Article Link: “Tempers fray in Idaho House in battle over redistricting”
  • Excerpt: There are days when the Idaho Legislature resembles a much-higher-stakes three-ring circus, and Friday was one of them, as a bitter dispute over a GOP attempt to engineer a Republican majority on Idaho’s bipartisan Redistricting Commission led to a walkout, a breakdown in procedures on the House floor and fraying tempers all around.