Bill Description: House Bill 66 requires that ballot questions regarding bonds and levies include certain disclosures and forgo any ancillary and potentially confusing information.
Amendment Analysis: The amendment to House Bill 66 is a total rewrite of the bill, which unfortunately removes one of the most important reforms contained in the original. There is a common trick where a ballot question regarding a new bond or levy will claim the new bond or levy is merely replacing an older, expiring bond or levy. This trick can confuse people into believing that a new bond or levy is merely an extension of an existing one.
The original bill did away with this practice, declaring, "The ballot question may not include other information or language regarding any other bond, levy, or matter, whether previous, current, or proposed."
The amended version of the bill strikes this language with regard to bonds, and for levies, it actually places new language in code expressly allowing expiring levies to be discussed and giving the cost of the new levy in terms of the change from the expiring one. In other words, the dishonest practice the original bill sought to eliminate is instead being strengthened by the amended version of the bill.
While the explanatory language added to bond and levy ballot questions contained in the original bill remains, the net effect of the changes made by the amendment reduces the rating of the bill to zero.
Analyst Note: House Bill 66 is similar to House Bills 2 and 8.
Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability?
House Bill 66 repeals Sections 34-439 and 34-439A, Idaho Code, and replaces them with Sections 34-913 and 34-914. These new sections spell out what must be included on the ballot for bond and levy elections.
They also say, "Any ballot question to authorize" a levy or bond "after July 1, 2021, must include the information and language required by this section in order to be binding. Furthermore, the ballot question may not include other information or language regarding any other bond, levy, or matter, whether previous, current, or proposed."
The purpose of House Bill 66 is to make sure that voters have clear and accurate information about the costs of the bond or levy they are being asked to approve. It also does away with the common trick of claiming that new bonds or levies are merely replacing older, expiring bonds or levies, which may confuse some people into believing that a new bond or levy is merely an extension of an existing one.
Unfortunately, the enforcement of these provisions is not automatic and the Secretary of State is not empowered to automatically invalidate a levy or bond election that is in violation of these statutes. Instead, invalidation requires that a qualified elector within the relevant taxing district file a complaint in court within 40 days "after the votes are canvassed and the results thereof declared" challenging the legality of the election.
The new statutes also say, "Upon a determination by a court, pursuant to section 34-2001A, Idaho Code, that the taxing district failed to comply with the provisions of this section, the court must declare the outcome of the ballot question invalid, order the taxing district to reimburse the county clerk for the election costs associated with the ballot question, and award court costs and fees to the complainant."
It should be noted that, if the courts do not determine that the taxing district failed to comply with the provisions of this section, such costs would be borne by the complainant. This language effectively places the responsibility for enforcement on voters, even as it creates a financial disincentive for voters to challenge problematic ballot questions.
Even though the enforcement provisions of this bill fall short, the net effect is still an increase in transparency for Idaho voters.
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