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Power Suckers

The Idaho Legislature is a power-sucking creature

By Jim Jones

This session of the Idaho Legislature reminds me of those low-budget science fiction movies where a malevolent space creature comes to Earth to suck all of the power from the electric grid. Rather than plundering the grid, the Legislature has been trying to suck vitality from the Idaho Constitution by grabbing powers that belong to the people or to other government entities.

If legislators have their way, the people will lose their absolute right to initiate legislation as a means of getting around an unresponsive Legislature. The Attorney General’s office will be seriously wounded, driving up the cost of State legal services and reducing the reliability of legal advice. The Governor will not have the authority and flexibility to manage a public crisis. Local governments will not even be able to change the names of their streets, schools, parks and other public facilities, without the approval of our power-grabbing Legislature, thanks to House Bill 90.

One of the most egregious legislative power grabs is Senate Bill 1110, which would require the signatures of 6% of registered voters in each and every one of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts in order just to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot. The bill

would give each legislative district its own veto power to keep an initiative or referendum from being voted upon, making it almost impossible to use these important instruments of people power.

Had such a restrictive measure been in effect over the years, we would have no Medicaid expansion, the despised Luna Laws would still be on the books, and there might well be no campaign reporting laws.

I believe the bill is an unconstitutional restriction on the right of the people to control their government. After all, Article One of the Idaho Constitution solemnly proclaims that, “all political power is inherent in the people.” It states that the people, “have the right to alter, reform or abolish” the State government “whenever they may deem it necessary.” How can the people possibly exercise that awesome power if they have to go through a power-hungry Legislature in every instance?

Twenty-three years after they ratified the Constitution, the people decided they needed a way to get around a recalcitrant Legislature. In 1912, they adopted the initiative and referendum for that very purpose. They gave the Legislature the authority to lay out the procedure for running an initiative or referendum, but not the ability to prevent the use of these important powers. Senate Bill 1110 is a constitutional abomination.

House Bill 118 and Senate Bill 1090 would prohibit the Attorney General from advising or representing the Idaho Land Department. It is clearly unconstitutional. House Bill 101 would allow state agencies to hire their own lawyers, rather than going through the Attorney General. We had that system from the early 1960s to the mid-90s and it was a costly mess. It would degrade the quality of legal services and more than double their cost. The bill sponsors cannot even estimate how high the cost would go. This bill is also constitutionally infirm.

House Bill 135 is just the latest of several misguided measures to tie the hands of the Governor in responding to a serious emergency. Governor Little has certainly not overreached in responding to the pandemic and does not deserve the legislative strait jacket being fashioned by legislators.

These are just a few of the measures that legislators have conjured up to suck the powers belonging to others under our revered State Constitution. Let’s demand that they finish their legitimate business and go home. The longer the Legislature remains in session, the more it will suck.

Jim Jones’ weekly columns are collected at

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