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Idaho Initiative Debate Plays Out In Federal Court

Courtesy of Reclaim Idaho

The state of Idaho is asking a federal court judge to reconsider a ruling he made last Tuesday. It’s related to an initiative campaign that was suspended in March due to the coronavirus. Its sponsors want time this summer to gather more signatures and qualify its school funding measure for the November ballot.

Reclaim Idaho’s measure would require the state spend an additional $170 million each year for public schools. It would restore the state’s corporate tax rate to the level it was at in the year 2000 and increase the state’s personal income tax rates for people who make more than a quarter million dollars a year.

The group stopped collecting signatures in mid-March, it says, out of precaution because of the coronavirus pandemic. Soon after, the governor officially halted signature gathering and the deadline to submit initiative petitions passed at the end of April.

Attorneys for Reclaim Idaho sued the state, claiming it hadn’t provided a safe alternative to gather signatures, a right it says is protected by the First Amendment and the state constitution. It asked for 48 more days this summer, the time it lost due to the pandemic.

Federal Judge Lynn Winmill ruled Reclaim Idaho was on track to qualify the measure for the ballot. He cited its previous success in placing the successful Medicaid expansion measure on the 2018 ballot. He gave the state two choices: allow the group extra time to collect signatures online or certify the measure for the ballot now.

The state responded on Friday with a brief saying neither option is acceptable. A state attorney made several points. Among them, the governor has a right to suspend signature gathering in the middle of an emergency. Reclaim Idaho had plenty of time to gather signatures and voluntarily suspended its campaign. He said the state wants to protect the integrity of its election process and isn’t willing to place a measure on the ballot without the campaign fulfilling all of the requirements. And he argued online signature gathering is not legally allowed in Idaho.

Reclaim Idaho’s Luke Mayville says the group is considering its options.

“What that amounts to is really a shocking refusal to obey the law because the federal judge simply did not give them the option to do a third thing," says Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville. He says the group is considering its legal options.

He says the group doesn’t want to wait until next year or 2022 to place its measure on the ballot. He says the governor is giving signals now that he wants to cut spending, including for education, which Mayville says would harm public schools.


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