State Politics

Gov. Little vetoes bill that would have tightened requirements for citizen initiatives

Highlights from Brad Little’s first State of the State Address

On Monday, January 7, Gov. Brad Little gave his first State of the State Address focusing on education, health care, public safety, transportation and more.
Up Next
On Monday, January 7, Gov. Brad Little gave his first State of the State Address focusing on education, health care, public safety, transportation and more.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has vetoed one of two controversial bills that would tighten the process to get citizen initiatives on the ballot. He said he plans to veto the second one, as well.

In a veto letter quietly posted to the governor’s website Friday, Little said he is concerned about the bills not being able to withstand a legal challenge. He vetoed SB 1159, and said he plans to veto HB 296.

The veto was the first of his tenure as Idaho’s governor, and he said he reluctantly vetoed the legislation.

“I agree with the goals and the vision of S 1159 and H 296,” Little stated in his letter. “Idaho cannot become like California and other states that have adopted liberal initiative rules that result in excessive regulation and often conflicting laws.”

Under the Idaho Constitution, the Legislature can override a governor’s veto if two-thirds of the members present in both chambers vote to override.

The Senate passed SB 1159 by one vote, the House passed it 40-30. The trailer bill passed the Senate in a 20-15 vote and the House in a 47-22 vote. If all members are present, the Senate would need 24 of its 35 members to vote for the override and the House would need 47 of it 70 members.

Since the bill originated in the Senate, the Senate would first have to override the veto before the House could hold an override vote.

The two bills were met with overwhelming public opposition, leaving Little with a difficult decision — defer to the Legislature or defy it.

The first bill, SB 1159, changes Idaho’s initiative and referendum process to make it the toughest in the nation.

The second bill, HB 296, is a trailer bill that modifies the original bill. Republican lawmakers hastily assembled this bill in attempt to salvage the original after it came under fire by former judges, attorneys general and the public.

By vetoing SB 1159, Little in effect makes HB 296 null and void because it is a trailer bill and cannot be enacted into law without the original bill being enacted.

“I appreciate the enormous outpouring of opinion from both sides of this issue,” Little stated in his letter. “I have done the best I can to listen to my fellow Idahoans — those vocal and those generally quiet.”

Responses to Gov. Little’s veto

House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett: “Though I’m disappointed that Gov. Brad Little chose to veto SB 1159 today, House Republicans look forward to working with the governor on future legislation that protects Idaho’s processes from out-of-state special interest groups. I agree with the governor that we must control the rules of our initiative process and keep it out of the hands of the liberal 9th Circuit Court. I also agree that we cannot become like California, where their liberal initiative processes hamstring their government, resulting in excessive regulation and conflicting laws. Hopefully we can develop new legislation that will ensure that Idaho will avoid such a fate.”

Reclaim Idaho: “Gov. Brad Little sent a strong message to the state today by upholding a constitutional right enjoyed by every Idahoan for more than a century,” said Reclaim Idaho Co-Founder Luke Mayville and Executive Director Rebecca Schroeder in a joint statement. “Our citizens were entrusted to use the initiative power responsibly and judiciously. Our history shows that Idahoans of all generations have upheld that responsibility. Today’s strong action by the governor is a victory for every Idahoan who values our constitution and the role our citizens play in Idaho’s governance.”

Reclaim Idaho is the grassroots group behind getting Medicaid expansion on the ballot, where it was passed by 61% of voters.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise: “The governor made the best choice for the people of Idaho. When the Legislature ignored the hours and hours of testimony against this legislation, the governor was listening. The Idaho Democrats stand with him in defending our constitution, regardless of the political pressures.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise: “No government should fear a vote by its people and this veto and the legislators who opposed SB 1159 show that Idaho government welcomes participation in our government. Thank you to the thousands of citizens who stood for our constitutionally protected initiative and referendum process.”

This is a breaking news story, follow for updates.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.