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Utah Legislature Approves Increased Restrictions On Paid Signature Gathering For Ballot Initiatives

A photo of a ballot with a hand.
Renee Bright
A bill approved by the Utah Legislature tightens restrictions on paid signature gathering for ballot initiatives.

The Utah Legislature has passed a bill that could make it tougher for a citizen-led initiative to get on the ballot.

If the bill becomes law, people would have to identify themself as a paid signature gatherer and the organization that’s funding them. The measure also requires initiative sponsors to send an email to everyone who provided one about how to remove their name from a petition.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said some propositions are funded by out of state interests. He said it would improve transparency around the process.

“This would cause people to think before they sign, and sometimes that’s really important,” Stevenson said. “I don’t think it puts guardrails, but it does put a loose fence around some of these initiatives.”

The legislation does not apply to signature gathering for candidates.

Lauren Simpson, policy director for the government accountability group Alliance for a Better Utah, said if lawmakers were really worried about paid signature gathering, this bill doesn’t help.

“At the end of the day, it’s creating a more burdensome process to gather signatures,” Simpson said. “And ultimately what that does, you’re really incentivizing people to go to these paid signature gathering companies, because it’s too much work to do it themselves.”

In 2018, Utahns approved three statewide ballot propositions. They passed laws fully expanding Medicaid, legalizing medical cannabis and creating an independent redistricting commission. Legislators amended all of those laws.

Last year, a successful petition against the state’s new tax reform law pushed lawmakers to overturn it themselves.

Since then, Simpson said lawmakers have sponsored legislation to make that process harder. She called it “death by a thousand cuts.”

“I think there’s a little bit of a power struggle at play,” she said. “There’s some sensitivity there on the part of lawmakers about turf wars.”

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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