After the success of three citizen-led ballot initiatives — legalizing medical marijuana, expanding Medicaid and creating a redistricting commission — and the resulting pushback by the Legislature, lawmakers are now proposing a host of changes to the way initiatives get on the ballot.
The first from Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, would delay the effective dates of a successful ballot measures until after the next legislative session, giving lawmakers time to make changes or modifications.
“It doesn’t in any way make it harder to pass a statewide initiative ... but simply states that for initiatives that don’t increase taxes, they will become effective at the same time as bills passed in the subsequent general session,” Daw told the House Government Operations Committee on Wednesday.
For initiatives without tax increases, such as Proposition 2 for medical marijuana, that would be 60 days after the general session. For measures with tax increases, such as Proposition 3 for Medicaid expansion, that would bump the date until the next fiscal year, or the beginning of July. This is the second year in a row Daw has introduced the legislation.
Only the committee’s two Democratic members opposed the move. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, questioned Daw’s motivations.
“And how many times are you aware of us having to be called into special session to deal with a proposition over the last few decades?” asked Arent.
“Over a proposition? Once,” Daw replied tersely.
But Republicans on the committee endorsed a handful of additional changes in several other bills before them on Wednesday.
A bill from Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, would increase the threshold of signatures required for ballot initiatives, changes sought by the Lieutenant Governor’s office, who oversees the initiative process.
Handy’s bill would require a total of 8 percent of active voters statewide to sign initiative petitions, rather than 10 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last presidential cycle.
Justin Lee, director of elections, said this would mean instead of 113,000 signatures, the total would rise to a little more than 115,000 as voter rolls grow.
“Active voters would be a better standard,” he said. “Active voters will better track what the actual population is in a given area over a four-year time period.”
The bill will also move up the deadlines for turning in signature packets. That would give elections clerks more time to verify signatures, deal with challenges and certify the results.
A third bill from Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, would address parity in signature gathering, a response to the feuding Count My Vote and Keep My Voice initiatives of 2018.
Count My Vote, meant to cement Utah’s dual pathway to the ballot, was initially able to meet its required signatures, only to have Keep My Voice, a pro-caucus counter-campaign, successfully lobby voters to remove their signatures from the petition, disqualifying Count My Vote from the ballot.
“There’s an opportunity for people to play games with the system,” said Thurston about the fallout.
Thurston’s bill proposes a rolling deadline for turning in signature packets and a 90-day window for a voter to remove his or her signature from a petition. It would also post petition signatures online to allow initiative backers and their opponents to view an updated tally.
Backers of Keep My Voice expressed support for Thurston’s bill, though they asked for a longer time window to remove signatures.
“Signature gathering is extremely easy, removing signatures has a huge challenge that doesn’t exist for signature gathering,” said Taylor Williams, a representative of Keep My Voice.
All three bills received positive recommendations from the committee and will next head to the House floor.