Proposed Legislation Would Make it Harder to Get Citizen Initiatives on the Ballot

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

While it may be a small change, the Utah Legislature has a bill before it, introduced Monday, that could make it more difficult for citizen initiative petition or referendum supporters to gather the number of voter signatures required to get their measures on the ballot.

 

HB192 by Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, would require that each petition package – have in 8-pt type where signees make their signature – a warning that the signee read and understand not only what the petition says, but what it would do.

In the case of a citizen initiative petition, the signee would also have to agree that they supported the citizen law, and want it to be adopted.

Stanard told UtahPolicy that he was not looking at any individual petition as to why he was running the bill this year.

But it’s likely that backers of Count My Vote will see HB192 as just another attempt by the Utah Legislature to make it harder for citizens, through the constitutional initiative process, to make laws on their own, and bypass the Legislature.

In recent years, the Legislature has increased the number of signatures required; has said only Utah citizens can collect signatures; increased the percent level and geographic areas required to get the petition approved for the ballot; has said petition gathers must physically guard packets in open places where a person may sign them; among other measures.

Count My Vote is making headlines this general session as Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, moves his SB54 through the process.

SB54 would allow state political parties to bypass the CMV direct primary law if the parties made certain changes to their candidate nomination process.

CMV leaders have slammed SB54 – saying it is an attempt to circumvent the petition process.

Bramble says his bill is a compromise, and that it reflects the informal agreements offered by CMV leaders a year ago in attempting to get party leaders to modify, and open up, their caucus/convention system.

Stanard said that he sees it logical that petition signers would – through their signatures – swear that they support the petition becoming law.

But couldn’t someone want to sign the petition, but not necessarily, at that time, see his signature as a promise to support the petition later – should it get on the ballot?

Stanard asked why someone would sign a petition if they didn’t want it to become law?

But then he said it could be understood that a signature doesn’t mean a promise to vote for it later, but only that at the time of the signature, the signee likes the petition (“supports” it) – and has read it and understands it.

Stanard said for some time he’s worried that petition and referendum signees don’t really understand what the petition or referendum (which repeals a law on the books) means.

In other words, they often sign something they don’t understand.

In fact, last Friday a group opposing CMV’s direct primary filed a complaint with the State Elections Office saying that CMV paid petition gathers are “lying” to citizens in attempting to get their signature.

The opponents even have a tape recording they say reflects a petition gatherer in Cache County telling the likely signee the petition was to keep public schools from denying students lunches.

“I’m really looking for transparency,” said Stanard.

Through public hearings and open floor debates and voting, the legislative process of adopting new laws is really quit transparent, said Stanard.

As best as possible, the citizen initiative and referendum process should be likewise as transparent, he added.

That is good not only for lawmaking – whether by Legislature or citizen petition – but it is also good for the petition and referendum petition drivers as well, he said.

“I have no problem with the process” of citizen initiatives or referendums.

Citizens should be able to make new laws (through petition) or repeal laws (through referendums).

But as best as possible, those signing those petitions should know what they would do, Stanard added.

While not pertaining to HB192 at all – it may be of interest to UtahPolicy readers that the rejuvenated Legislative Process Committee last summer found in their study that up to one-third of all the new laws passed by the legislature did not have a public hearing in both the Senate and House – as rules actually require -- and that many, many bills have no debate on either the Senate or House floor.

That’s not to say that legislators don’t read the bills.

But there is no requirement that lawmakers themselves sign a document saying that they have read or understand the bills they vote on.

In fact, GOP legislative leaders changed how the first week of the 2014 Legislature handled bills on the floor.

The large GOP freshman class of 2013 didn’t like voting on bills the first few days of the 45-day session, saying they didn’t have time to read, understand or consult with senior colleagues on those measures.

And while a number of bills die on the last night of each legislative session, the process committee’s studies found that less than a dozen bills are actually voted down by either the House or Senate in recent general sessions, while hundreds of new laws are passed each session.

Unless amended, HB192 takes effect January of 2015, so it would not apply to the CMV effort.