Important question: Will the Legislature change initiative laws if they pass?

When a ballot initiative passes, the people have spoken. Right? So lawmakers should keep their mitts off the new law and not revise it in the next legislative session – or voters might punish them come election day.

At least that has seemed to be the conventional wisdom, at least since 2007, when voters resoundingly rejected an education voucher law passed by the Legislature. Opponents of vouchers mounted a citizen referendum on the voucher law and promptly repealed it.

The conventional wisdom is that since then, lawmakers haven’t dared make another foray into passing major voucher/education choice because they’re scared of what the voters did in 2007.  

So this year, if the medical marijuana, independent redistricting and Medicaid expansion initiatives all pass, the Legislature should leave those new laws alone and not make revisions . . . right?

Well, maybe the conventional wisdom won’t hold true this time. My guess is that the Legislature will quickly make changes to the marijuana initiative law if voters enact it.

It’s important to remember that, legally, a voter-enacted initiative law is just a law like any other. State legislators can amend or repeal a voter-enacted law any time they wish. Respect for the wishes of voters, however, makes it difficult.

But I think there are two reasons lawmakers will not be reluctant to change the marijuana law if it passes. First, they will say they actually favor medical marijuana and are just trying to do it right by fixing a flawed law. Second, with the very broad coalition of opponents to the marijuana initiative, who will certainly ask legislators to fix the law, the lawmakers will have plenty of cover to amend it. The coalition includes a who’s who of Utah leaders from the business sector, law enforcement, the medical community, religious leaders (including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and a lot of politicians.

With that kind of back-up support, and a pledge to do medical marijuana right, I believe lawmakers could make changes in the 2019 session with little backlash.

Personally, I believe that’s what they should do if the initiative passes. I believe the proposed law reflects the wishes of national big-money marijuana purveyors who want to open up marijuana use everywhere. The law needs major surgery so the genuine medicinal values of marijuana can be used responsibly by those it will really help, with proper medical and pharmaceutical oversight.

It might be harder for the Legislature to change the redistricting initiative law because it would seem like such a blatant conflict of interest. Redistricting directly impacts legislators themselves The initiative law is exquisitely designed to take legislators entirely out of the redistricting process and to prevent Republican control of the redistricting commission. I personally believe it goes too far in a number of ways and I would be fine with the Legislature improving it.

The Medicaid initiative helps a lot of low-income people, brings some $800 million annually back to the state that we’re paying to the federal government, and brings its own funding mechanism so it doesn’t impact the budget. If voters approve it, I think the Legislature should watch and see how it works.