Editorial: Idaho’s Constitution Must be Protected
By: Sen. David Nelson/D-Moscow
Idaho’s constitution, and the rights guaranteed to every citizen of Idaho, is under attack. I cannot express enough my disappointment that 18 of my colleagues voted for Senate bill 1159 (“S1159”) which all but repeals our citizens’ constitutionally protected right to bring ballot initiatives. That right, which has been on the books for more than a century, is about to be taken away forever.
As the law stands now, average Idahoans may band together to collect signatures on an issue and put that initiative up for a vote. They must gather signatures equal to or exceeding six-percent of the previous year’s registered voters statewide, and within 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. They have 18 months to do so. These already strict requirements have been in effect since the legislature changed the law in 2013. In the six years since, Idaho citizens have tried to put ten different initiatives on the ballot and failed in all but two cases. Of the two initiatives that actually made it to the voters (horse racing and Medicaid Expansion in 2018), only one succeeded.
We have heard countless testimonials over the last two weeks from average Idahoans who volunteered their time for Proposition Two. Time after time, we heard just how hard it was to qualify that measure for the November ballot under existing law. However, their statements were not complaints. They all agreed, as I do, that putting a ballot initiative to the voters should be difficult. Furthermore, it should require proponents to travel the state and get signatures from all corners of Idaho. Guess what? That’s exactly what the volunteers behind Medicaid Expansion did. Their actions should be applauded, not repudiated.
I can say firsthand that the hardworking voters of my district took time out of their own lives, sacrificed weekends and holidays, and slugged through miserable weather day-in and day-out to gather signatures for an issue they genuinely cared about. They grew tired of a state legislature that refused to act on the issue of providing access to quality healthcare to family, friends and neighbors. My constituents also value the services provided by our rural hospitals, which struggle to keep the doors open every year. They volunteered their time because Medicaid Expansion will bring $400 million of our federal tax dollars back to Idaho. Independent studies indicate that will save our counties millions of dollars every year and create thousands of good-paying jobs. Despite the daunting odds against them, these average Idahoans chose to exercise their constitutional right to effect positive change in our state. We should be celebrating that effort, not scorning it.
While I remain disappointed in my colleagues’ vote on S1159, I hold out hope in our newly elected governor. There is little question S1159 will sail through the House and land on his desk. I believe this is his chance to become a transformational leader by stepping above the pettiness and anger, protecting Idaho’s constitution, and doing more for healthcare access in this state than any other leader before him. It is fitting that tens of thousands of Idahoans used their pens to put Proposition Two on the ballot. It is now time for Governor Little to use the immense power of his pen to veto S1159 and preserve the century-old constitutional right of every Idahoan.
Our citizens have earned that consideration.