POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Advocates for citizen initiatives are celebrating a judge's recent ruling regarding petitions during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered Idaho officials to decide by Friday whether to put Reclaim Idaho's initiative on the November ballot or allow more time for electronic signature gathering.
Reclaim Idaho led the petition for Medicaid Expansion in 2018. This year, they're petitioning to raise $170 million for K-12 education by raising Idaho's corporate tax rate and increasing taxes on individuals making $250,000 a year or higher.
Their goal is to better fund teachers and educators without putting more tax strain on property owners.
Reclaim Idaho had gathered about 33,000 signatures before they stopped in March because of the growing concern over COVID-19.
“We were kind of in a limbo. I had a stack of petitions sitting in my office that I hoped were going somewhere,” said Mary McAleese, a volunteer for the initiative in Bannock County.
The recent ruling is seen as a win, regardless of how the state decides on Friday.
“If they just put it on the ballot, then great. That’s where we’re headed anyhow. That’s where I believe we will end up,” McAleese said.
But if the state decides to allow for electronic signatures gathering, that could set a precedent for future citizen initiatives, McAleese said.
“In the future, as we move to 2022, 2024, I think a lot of groups--if we have electronic signature gathering in the state of Idaho--could make a lot of changes that the Idaho legislature for whatever reason are reticent to make. We saw that with Medicaid Expansion, we saw that with a bunch of issues,” said Russ Belville, with the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act.
IMMA is also a citizen initiative that was derailed in March because of the pandemic.
“We had about 40,000 signatures we had collected, and we felt in that last Spring push, we would be able to get the remainder of the signatures to qualify,” Belville said.
While IMMA did not have the funds to sue for more time to collect signatures like Reclaim Idaho did, they feel this is a win for all initiatives.
“We think that if that applies to one initiative, it should naturally apply to all the initiatives,” Belville said.
The group plans to push for whichever decision is made on Friday to apply to all citizen initiatives.
“After the Governor had declared the lock-down order, that this was a violation of our Idaho constitutional rights to petition. We have a 18 month cycle, and they cut us out of our last 40 or 50 days,” Belville said.
Initiatives require 55,057 signatures before May 1 of an election year. Without the judge's ruling, IMMA and Reclaim Idaho would have had to wait until 2022 for their next chance to get their issues on the ballot.