Bill requiring disclosure of paid signature gatherers for initiatives heads to Idaho House

Idaho House of Representatives in session
Idaho House of Representatives in session

The Idaho House of Representatives in session at the State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 23, 2024. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

A bill that would require people who are paid to gather signatures for a ballot initiative or referendum to say so is heading to the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives for a vote.

On Tuesday, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee voted to send Senate Bill 1377 to the floor with a recommendation to pass it. 

Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, sponsored Senate Bill 1377, saying the bill would differentiate paid signature gatherers from unpaid volunteers.

“It’s essentially a truth in advertising approach,” Okuniewicz said during Tuesday’s committee meeting. “I think it gives the potential signer the opportunity to ask questions a little bit more. I liken it to shopping for something online. … you tend to look for reviews. The reviews you tend to trust more are the ones that are not written by the manufacturers, but rather by the people who have looked into it on their own and have some experience with it.”

If the bill becomes law, people who are paid to collect signatures for a ballot initiative or a referendum must verbally tell voters they are paid, wear a badge indicating they are being paid and prominently note on their petitions that they are being paid to collect the signatures. 

In Idaho, ballot initiatives are a form of direct democracy that is independent of the Idaho Legislature. A ballot initiative is where the people propose and vote on a new law themselves, like the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion initiative. A referendum is where the people vote on whether or not to repeal an existing law, like the 2012 referendum to repeal the Students Come First laws.

Bill draws some concerns over timing and removal of signatures

During Tuesday’s meeting, Karen Hansen of Viola testified remotely over Zoom against the bill. Hansen was critical of legislators for bringing the bill forward in the middle of the Idahoans for Open Primaries’ ongoing effort to qualify signatures for the November general election. 

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The bill is written so that it would take effect July 1, which is after the May 1 deadline to submit signatures for the open primary initiative but before the November general election. 

“A bill like this should not take effect in the middle of an ongoing initiative petition process,” Hansen told the House State Affairs Committee. “This bill is not an emergency.”

“It is extremely important not to interfere with the initiative process,” Hansen added. “A bill that changes the rules in the middle of the process is a shameful sign of very bad faith.” 

Ryan McGoldrick, a Conservation Voters for Idaho lobbyist, also voiced concerns over the bill. McGoldrick flagged a section of the bill that indicates that if a paid signature gatherer fails to disclose they are paid, then the petition with the signatures would be voided.

“In this legislation, if someone fails to disclose this information it is those who have signed on to a petition who are punished by having their signatures removed, and there is no punishment for the actual paid petition gatherers,” he said.

McGoldrick suggested legislators consider holding the paid petition gatherers accountable, not the people who sign the petition.

In the end, the House State Affairs Committee voted by voice vote to advance the bill as written to the House floor. With House leaders looking to adjourn the legislative session at the end of next week, they could call the bill forward for a vote any day with little notice 

Idaho legislators hope to wrap up session by the end of the month

Tuesday was the 72nd day of the 2024 legislative session, which began Jan. 8. Legislative leaders hope to wrap up the session for the year at the end of next week on March 29, but there are still several high profile issues to be resolved. Legislators have not finished setting the public schools budget bill, and there are ongoing debates over funding for grants for Little’s Idaho Launch program, which provides grants of up to $8,000 for high school graduates to pursue training for an in-demand career. Key votes on a school facilities proposal and a different proposal regarding the funding and future plans for the flooded former Idaho Transportation Department headquarters had also yet to take place as of this article’s deadline Tuesday afternoon.

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