Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rural manacles for urban voters?

Some Idaho legislators aren’t happy that voters overturned so-called education “reform” laws by big margins in referendums on the ballot in November.

Senate State Affairs Committee Chair Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, now wants to make it harder for voters to contradict legislative wisdom or to pass laws by initiative even though it’s not exactly easy even under current law.

In addition to meeting strict deadlines and rules for circulating petitions, backers of initiatives or referendums currently must collect the signatures of 6 percent of legally qualified voters in the last election. For the ballot measures in November, that was more than 12,000 verified signatures.

McKenzie wants those signatures to come from 22 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. He’s sponsoring the stricter requirements at the behest of the Farm Bureau, which fears that animal cruelty initiatives aimed at restricting farming practices could make the ballot if urban voters misunderstand methods used to raise livestock.

McKenzie’s measure sounds benign, but it’s not. It’s an attempt to handcuff urban voters with rural manacles and to frustrate ballot measures that may be supported by urban voters. The Legislature tried this once before in 1997 by requiring signatures from 22 counties, which federal courts ruled unconstitutional.

Would it really be so bad if voters imposed laws requiring that livestock be treated well? We think not.

What would be bad is to make the hurdles for initiatives or referendums so high that they unfairly deprive voters of the constitutional right to govern themselves.

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