Idaho Legislative Update: Demonstrations at private homes, emergency rental help, ballot initiatives and absentee ballots

In this photo taken with a wide angle lens, the Idaho Senate meets in the Statehouse on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. The Senate voted 35-0 to make permanent changes in Idaho's absentee ballot counting intended to speed up the process. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) —

OUTLAW DEMONSTRATIONS AT PRIVATE HOMES

Legislation to make illegal demonstrating at private residences is headed to the full House. A House committee on Friday voted 11-4 to approve the measure backers say is needed to prevent mobs from intimidating and terrorizing families in their homes.

Idaho in the last year has experienced high-profile demonstrations at various officials’ homes spurred by frustration with restrictions on gatherings or mask-wearing mandates to slow infections and deaths because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Backers say allowing the demonstrations will cause people to avoid public service or joining police agencies, as at least one officer’s home was targeted. Those opposed say the proposed law is an infringement of free speech rights.

EMERGENCY RENTAL HELP

The House on Friday approved $175 million in emergency rental assistance as people struggle to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers voted 59-8 on Friday to approve the money that also requires approval from the Senate, plus Republican Gov. Brad Little’s signature.

The money is part of the nearly $900 million the state received under then-President Donald Trump’s coronavirus rescue bill signed into law in December. President Joe Biden last month extended a nationwide eviction ban through the end of March.

It’s part of a plan to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by preventing people from falling into homelessness.

BALLOT INITIATIVES

Legislation aimed at making it more difficult to get initiatives or referendums on Idaho ballots is headed to the full Senate.

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday approved the measure that Republican Sen. Steve Vick says is needed to give rural voters more say in the process. Current rules require signatures from 6% of registered voters in each of 18 districts in 18 months.

The proposed law would change that to requiring 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho legislative districts in 18 months.

Opponents say the measure violates the Idaho Constitution because it makes getting initiatives on ballots nearly impossible.

ABSONTEE BALLOTS

Legislation to make permanent changes in Idaho’s absentee ballot counting procedure has passed the Senate and is headed to the House.

The Senate voted 35-0 on Thursday to approve the bill intended to speed absentee vote counting. It was used in the last general election and spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers during an August special session approved a law allowing the opening and scanning of absentee ballots beginning seven days before Election Day. But that law expired on Dec. 31.

Election officials say the change allowed county clerks to quickly report the November election results after receiving about 400,000 absentee ballots.

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