Legislation would delay implementation of ballot initiatives if they are passed by voters in November

A Utah House member wants to put off for seven months the effective date of any citizen initiative petition voters adopt this coming November.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, says HB471 will give lawmakers time during their next general session, which starts the following January and runs through early March 2019, time to make budget and statutory changes to accommodate “the voice of the people,” who want the new law or spending measure.

Daw, who has been a vocal opponent of the petition to legalize medical marijuana, says just by filing his new bill is an acknowledgment that one or more petitions will pass, assuming they get the required voter signatures to get on the ballot.

But, he says, several of those ballot measures make changes in tax rates, while all have parts that would be contrary to current law.

And lawmakers need time to make those adjustments.

Taylor Morgan, executive director of the Count My Vote citizen initiative, says: “For the Legislature to interfere with ongoing initiatives is poor judgment and a bad idea.”

“The voice of the people is constitutionally protected, and should be respected by legislators,” he added.

Daw said one petition changes personal income and sales tax rates (the Our Schools Now petition).

“We need to have that initiative – if it becomes law – to line up with our personal income tax” end-of-calendar-year deadlines.

“You don’t want people paying two different tax rates in the same” tax year, said Daw.

Of course, cynics may say Daw’s HB471 is somehow an attempt to repeal or change the petition – adopted by voters.

He says that is not so.

He says if voters decide to do something by adopting a petition, then “it would take great political will” to repeal or drastically change that in the next legislative session – only two months away from the voters’ actions.

Look, he says, at private school vouchers.

Back in 2007 the Legislature – after years of fighting – passed a school voucher law.

Opponents – especially the public school teacher association – quickly gathered enough signatures on a repeal referendum – which passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

“No one has ever tried to deal with vouchers since,” said Daw – showing that lawmakers are very sensitive to the will of voters as expressed in a public general election vote.

But Morgan says the very reason there are “an unprecedented number of petitions with strong public support (this year) is that the Utah Legislature” won’t respond to the needs of the voters in these and other areas.

It is true that a citizen initiative is just voters making law – and legislators can change laws at any time.

That’s what they do in the current general session with has nearly 1,000 bills under consideration.

So in their 2019 general session, lawmakers could make changes to, or clean up, any initiatives that pass this November.

But, said Daw, some of the initiatives have big changes to taxes and are contradictory with current law – leaving state agencies unsure what to do between November and the 2019 general session.

His bill would put off the effective date of any initiatives passed by voters until 60 days following the end of the next general session – or from November or December 2018 to May of 2019.