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Indepth: Utah lawmakers look to tweak referendum processes

Jan 25, 2019, 7:15 AM

Eye on the Hill

After a year of several citizens initiatives making it on the ballot, Utah lawmakers are looking to tweak the process.

Perhaps you signed one or more of the packets. Stacy Stanford was out signature gathering last winter and spring: “I sat outside the grocery store for hours trying to get people to sign my packet. I had a table in front of the library; we sent volunteers around the state,” she said.

Stanford is a health policy analyst at the Utah health policy project, and she’s mad that Utah lawmakers are considering changing the Medicaid expansion referendum that passed last November.

“Proposition 3 is a superior law. The question isn’t whether they can repeal it, it’s whether they should,” she said.

But state representative Norm Thurston says they should.

“We need to be smart about it. It’s a dangerous thing to commit to something you cannot afford,” he said.

Orem representative Brad Daw says he polled his constituents and says they want him to clarify or clean up what passed while keeping the intent.

Thurston has introduced HB145, which he says will remove gamesmanship from signature gathering process.

“I do wish that people would only sign petitions where they believe in what they are signing for, and not to just put a bunch of stuff on ballots and legislate by initiative, that’s not a great process,” Thurston said.

He’d like to see a running tally of the signatures and that those names made public,  “we need to protect the rights of individuals to be informed and sign, and to be informed and un-sign.”

Two other bills also look at the initiative or citizens referendum processes. Daw was concerned about what happened in Holladay, with the Cottonwood Mall project,  “It ended up that the referendum counted, but had everybody known, it might have changed the way people campaign for or against it.” He’s got some tweaks he’d like to make to the code with HB 119.

And another bill from Daw looks statewide to change the effective date from the day of the canvass to the day any other legislation would take effect. That has a lot to do with what happened to Proposition 2 on medical marijuana, where for a few days the referendum was law, until the special session changed it.

Stanford says it’s time to examine the motives behind any changes to the referendum processes.

“Is it really about fairness, or is it about not liking the fact that the people of Utah took lawmaking into their hands?” responded Stanford.

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Indepth: Utah lawmakers look to tweak referendum processes