Gov. Brad Little just last week vetoed the bill that would have imposed severe restrictions to the constitutionally protected citizen-originated initiative process. It was overwhelmingly opposed in statewide voter petition and testimony. However, not to be deterred by the will of us “uninformed” voters, Republicans in the House of Representatives quickly introduced House Bills 303,304,305 and 306 on Monday, which break up the restrictions into 4 separate bills, representing a clear end-run effort around the veto.
HB303 was hurriedly passed out of the House State Affairs Committee without allowing a hearing or allowing testimony, specifying that any future initiative must include a plan for funding. Many bills introduced do not specify funding, which, especially in the case of Proposition 2 expanding Medicaid, is expected to be worked out in the usual legislative budgetary function. Particularly hobbling is the mandated delay in implementation included in this bill. Note that, for example, the Senate bill vetoed by Little had included an “emergency clause” for immediate implementation. HB 303 would effectively require a nine-month delay after initiative passage.
The other three bills are separated reiterations of the impossible restrictions in the bill that would have created a more stringent initiative process. The strategy of splitting up legislation already vetoed might actually be illegal, but regardless, it certainly is dirty politics.
This is the worst kind of revenge legislation, and clearly aimed at removing our direct citizen participation in the legislative process. Who is lobbying our legislators? We know that Senate Bill 1159, the progenitor bill on citizen initiatives, was co-authored by a lobbyist for Moneytree, one of the national predatory payday lenders fearful of citizen initiatives such as those passed overwhelmingly in South Dakota and Colorado by over 75% of voters, which limited annual lending rates to 36%, as well as curbing other exploitative practices.
Idaho currently ranks fourth-highest in annual payday loan rates in the country at an astounding 652% per year! Such lenders heavily lobby for their lucrative industry, and seem to have wrapped up elected representatives, leaving only citizen-based opposition, such as the initiative process, as a vehicle for change. It is no wonder that the payday loan industry, and others fearing citizen voices, have mounted a national campaign to remove the citizen initiative alternative in those 24 states that protect the right of citizens to become directly involved in the legislative process in the face of paralyzed legislators. This is exactly what happened in Idaho with Prop 2, after seven years of the Legislature’s refusal to allow medical coverage for the working poor.
Proposition 2 was passed passed by 60.6% of Idaho voters. This was only the second successful Idaho initiative since 1986, with only 14 since statehood. This was the only process available to compassionate citizens dissatisfied with legislative efforts to block inclusion of the working poor. This is a protected right under assault. Please contact your legislators about trying to bring these bills back, even though the session is now over. Email addresses are available at legislature.idaho.gov.
Scott Harris is a doctor and resident of McCall.