Week Eight ends as March begins and there are welcome hints of spring to brighten ongoing legislative challenges.
Senate bill 1108 was introduced in State Affairs today with testimony (and voting) to resume on Monday. This bill would restrict the initiative/referendum power granted to the people by the Idaho Constitution (Article III, Section 1). Brought forward by the Idaho Farm Bureau, SB1108 would require petitions to contain signatures of at least 6% of the qualified electors in at least 18 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts (currently the law requires 6% of qualified electors statewide). Since 2000, there have been 54 efforts to bring initiatives to the ballot. Only four have met the 6% statewide threshold and of those, two passed on the ballot. This restriction shows little appreciation for the intelligence of Idaho voters who, when confronted with choices brought forth through the initiative and referendum process, cast prudent, thoughtful votes. It also offends the sensibilities coming just months after Idaho's first-ever successful referenda which led to the repeal of the Luna Laws after passage in the legislature. One of those laws came about as a result of a 2011 bill numbered, ironically, 1108.
In addition to restricting voting rights, State Affairs gave consideration this week to a measure that would expand the state's militia. SJR 102 seeks to amend Article XIV, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution to create a state militia comprised of all Idaho residents eighteen or older (the current definition calls on males 18-45). The sponsor believes this would prevent disarmament of our citizens by the federal government. The Attorney General believes this could actually subject all Idaho citizens over 18 to federal government control thanks to the powers over militias vested in the President and Congress by the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8). If successful, this constitutional amendment would appear on the ballot in 2014.
On Monday, the Senate debated two measures addressing marijuana which elicited two very different responses from the majority. Senate Concurrent Resolution 112 passed the Senate on a vote of 29-5. With no force of law, this is a symbolic statement of the legislature's opposition to the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in Idaho for any purpose. In my debate against passage, I raised concerns about the legitimate medicinal needs of those suffering from illnesses including cancer. I also object to spending taxpayer money on toothless political statements.
Senate Joint Memorial 101 sought to send a message to the federal government to "take appropriate action" to ensure that federal drug laws are upheld even in states where citizens have voted for legalization or decriminalization. SJM 101 was defeated 13-21after a debate focused heavily on state sovereignty, a concept that is widely supported in the Capitol.
Senate bill 1089 passed the Senate this week on a vote of 29-6. This proposal would repeal the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) for teachers approaching the end of their teaching career. In place since 1996, Students Come First repealed this program but the Luna Laws were rejected by more than 57% of voters in the November election. I am uncomfortable with the Legislature reinstating parts of Props 1, 2, 3 in a piecemeal fashion and preempting the voice of the voter. There are studies that indicate the ERIP program actually saves the state millions as the small payment to retiring teachers is more than offset by the lower salary paid to their replacements.
I remain grateful for the opportunity to represent you in the Statehouse and welcome your voice in all of the debates we have about the best course of public policy for Idaho.