BOISE, Idaho — Idaho voters will once again vote on tweaking the state Constitution so lawmakers can reject rules created by executive branch agencies.
The obscure initiative will appear on the November ballot two years after voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal. The tweak would apply to an important but tedious process that takes place in the first few weeks of each legislative session, when Idaho lawmakers review a breadth of rules submitted by executive branch agencies. The rules help regulate industries like agriculture, health care and manufacturing, but also can include setting education standards, tax policies and monitoring protesters at the Capitol.
Like most other states, Idaho lawmakers hand the rule making process over to executive agencies because they often don’t have the expertise or time to flesh out each law on how it should be enforced during the legislative process. It’s not unusual to have the number of regulations issued by executive agencies far exceed the number of state statutes.
Once executive agencies present those rules to the Idaho Legislature, lawmakers can reject them without the governor’s signature — otherwise known as a legislative veto. This rare authority is what lawmakers want protected inside the Idaho Constitution.
However, nothing will change if the initiative fails. Nearly 25 years ago, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Idaho’s legislative veto power is legal. That ruling has never been challenged and Idaho lawmakers have been using legislative vetoes ever since. Yet Idaho lawmakers say they want that permission expressly enshrined inside the Idaho Constitution.
Only a handful of other states have constitutional authority to veto these regulations without the governor’s signature. The U.S. Supreme Court deemed such action illegal for Congress in the 1980s — leading many other state supreme court justices to rule likewise.
“The premise of the U.S. Supreme Court case, as well as the premises of those decided by the state courts, has been that legislative veto of rules constitutes an amendment to statutory authority,” Brenda Erickson with the National Conference of State Legislatures wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Therefore, to be constitutional, the legislature’s veto of rules must be accomplished through passage by both houses with presentment to the executive.”
Similar proposals have had a poor track record of succeeding in other states. Nine states have placed legislative veto proposals on the ballot since 1980, but only Arkansas and Oklahoma have succeeded so far.
This is the second time such an attempt has gone before Idaho voters. In 2014, the same proposal failed by 4,700 votes — just 1 percent shy of securing more than the majority.
The close margin was enough for the Idaho Legislature to take a second swing at passing the ballot initiative. It is one of the few issues to get almost full support from the small handful of Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers, as well as the GOP supermajority.
A political committee that has already started campaigning online and urging people to sign a petition in support of the initiative. Legislative leaders have even hired political consultant Travis Hawkes, served as former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Idaho finance co-chairman in both 2008 and 2012, to help ensure the initiative succeeds.
However, despite receiving support from inside the Statehouse, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has come out as one of the initiative’s most notable opponents.
“The resubmission of this constitutional amendment reflects government telling the people what they want, as opposed to government serving the will of the people,” Wasden wrote in a recent opinion piece, adding that lawmakers were making a “power grab” as they invade the executive branch’s authority.
The ballot initiative only needs a simple majority to pass.