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Legislature again shows its disdain for the public

Published March 12, 2011 12:05 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The House and Senate have passed substitute SB 165 (tightening the requirements for citizen initiatives and referenda) without allowing a hearing on the substitute bill or any thoughtful deliberation. House leadership pulled a fast one by bringing the bill from the Rules Committee to the top of the debate board without any notice to legislators themselves. The bill makes it more difficult for any citizen initiatives and referenda to make it onto the ballot in the future.

The bill was no doubt sold to legislators as a bill clarifying ambiguity in the current election code. Clarifying the ambiguity about signature deadlines was fair enough, but the legislation did so in a way that shortens the time available for signature gathering. And the bill goes far beyond that. Especially onerous were also the following provisions:

• 1 No electronic signatures are allowed on ballot provisions (in spite of the fact that electronic voter registration was passed in the same bill). What irony!

• 2 The number of signatures of registered voters that are required will now be based on the number who voted for president in the last presidential election. This number tends to be higher than the current number, which is based on the number who voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

• 3 Someone gathering signatures is not allowed to sign the petition packet that he or she is circulating but will have to locate another packet to sign. Signing one's own name on the wrong packet will invalidate all signatures in that packet.

• 4 A statement from the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget of the estimated cost to the public of printing and distributing information in the voter information pamphlet or newspaper must appear at the top of each signature sheet in an initiative packet. No similar fiscal requirement is required for other ballot propositions (such as proposed constitutional amendments introduced by the Legislature).

• 5 County clerks must now compare the signature in the packet with the signature on the voter registration data base in order to certify the signature as that of the same registered voter. This may be reasonable in general, and acceptable to the clerks, but one hopes there is room to allow for persons who have acquired manual disabilities to be acknowledged as registered voters even if their signature has changed.

The passage of this bill is offensive for two primary reasons. First, because of the surprise tactics employed to rush this bill through both Houses of the Legislature. Once again the legislative leadership shows its disdain and distrust of the public and of their own members who might like the opportunity to discuss the bill in committee and gather public input. Second, because portions of the bill increase the difficulty of gaining the required number of signatures on initiatives and referenda. It is extremely difficult already for grass roots groups to organize and collect the required number of signatures across the state.

What is absolutely clear from the passage of this bill is the Legislature's intent to make it virtually impossible for initiatives and referenda to be on the ballot without seeking professional signature gatherers and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Is this really the way democracy is supposed to work, even in a constitutional republic? If so, then we need to elect new legislators who understand that they are servants — not manipulators — of the people.

Dixie S. Huefner is chairwoman of Communications Committee for Utahns for Ethical Government.






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