Following public outcry, Idaho Gov. Brad Little vetoes controversial bill constraining ballot initiatives

On April 5, Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced that he would veto several pieces of legislation approved by state lawmakers that critics say would severely undercut Idahoans' ability to put citizen-drafted initiatives on the ballot.

Last month, Sen. C. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) proposed a bill that would have significantly decreased the timeline for initiative backers to gather signatures from voters to put measures on the ballot.

Currently, signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 legislative districts within the 18 months before an election are required. Grow's bill would change that to 10 percent of voters in 32 districts within 180 days. The measure was pitched as a way to increase the influence of rural Idahoans.

After public outcry, lawmakers eventually passed a slightly amended version of the bill, which would mandate 10 percent of voters in around 24 districts within nine months.

Critics of the measures argued that they would've prevented Proposition 2, the recently approved Medicaid expansion initiative, from ever getting on the ballot.

In his veto letter — which shot down both versions of the proposal — Little stated that while he agreed with the "goals and the vision" of the bills, they would invite unwanted legal challenges and eventual input from the federal judiciary.

"The bills invite legal challenges that will likely result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals," he writes. "I believe these bills would give a lone federal judge the only voice in defining our initiative process. I cannot in good conscience let that happen."

Critics of the original bills applauded the veto: "We're grateful that the governor listened to the people of Idaho and did the right thing," says Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, the organization that pushed Prop 2.

Now, however, lawmakers in the Idaho House of Representatives are reviving the effort by introducing a series of bills that collectively would have the same effect as the legislation that Little just vetoed, according to reporting from Boise State Public Radio.

While it's currently unclear if these bills have any momentum, critics of the original measure aren't pleased.

"The fact that members of the House of Representatives went ahead and reintroduced these bills only a few days after the governor's veto shows a lack of respect for the legislative process," Mayville says.