Initiatives change was ruled unconstitutional. Now, senator wants voters to approve it

Darin Oswald/doswald@idahostatesman.com

In 2021, the Idaho Supreme Court struck down a law that would have made it more difficult for voters to put initiatives on the ballot. A new resolution would ask voters to approve the more stringent standards.

Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, on Wednesday introduced a joint resolution to amend the Idaho Constitution and require 6% of voters in all 35 legislative districts to sign a petition triggering a ballot initiative. Currently, 6% of voters in 18 legislative districts is the benchmark.

Two years ago the Legislature and Gov. Brad Little passed a law that did the same thing. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the law.

“What this approach does is, it puts the question to the people, and it allows them to make that decision and decide if this is something that’s in their best interest,” Okuniewicz told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “That should inoculate it from any legal troubles.”

A constitutional amendment requires support from two-thirds of the House and Senate and the majority of voters.

In its 2021 decision, the Supreme Court declared citizens’ authority to enact and repeal laws a fundamental constitutional right and ruled that the Legislature failed to provide a compelling interest to limit that right.

The effect of the law was “to prevent a perceived, yet unsubstantiated fear of the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ by replacing it with an actual ‘tyranny of the minority,’ ” Justice Gregory Moeller wrote in the majority opinion. Moeller added that the law conflicted with “the democratic ideals that form the bedrock of the constitutional republic created by the Idaho Constitution.”

Defending the law cost the state more than $150,000 in taxpayer-funded legal fees.

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously voted to introduce the new resolution, which will return to the committee for a public hearing in the coming days or weeks.