It would be significantly harder for citizens to repeal a policy or land-use decision passed by a local government under a proposal unanimously endorsed by a Senate committee Friday.
In some instances, under SB66, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, backers of a referendum could be required to gather two to three times as many signatures as they now do to succeed in putting a local referendum on the ballot.
Currently, residents in the largest cities or counties in Utah would have to gather signatures from 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the previous presidential election to put a repeal measure on the local ballot.
Under SB66, that would rise to 20 percent in Salt Lake County and up to 30 percent for those who live in any other county.
Repealing land-use decisions would stay the same in urban counties and the threshold for signatures would go from 35 percent in the rural counties down to 30 percent.
“It spreads it around to make sure, if there is a referendum, that the people throughout the community have a voice in the referendum,” Reid told the committee.
The bill also would require backers of a referendum to hold a public hearing and have an objective analysis of the cost of repealing the local ordinance or decision.
“The point is not to deprive people of the referendum process, it’s just to make sure it’s an informed vote,” said Jodi Hoffman with the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
Hoffman said the Utah Supreme Court has recently been ruling that local land use and budget decisions can be challenged by a referendum, which has created challenges for local governments.
Carter Livingston, a vice president with Strategies 360 who has done work on initiative efforts, said in an interview that the bill looks like a “worthy effort” to provide transparency and clear up the signature requirements, although the new threshold appears to be challenging.
“The local referendum [requirements] look almost like a Rubik’s Cube on paper,” he said. “If you’re going to put these provisions in that ensure transparency and fiscal impact, the balance also has to be a reasonable way for the public to go get the signatures and get it on the ballot and let voters decide.”
Mike Ostermiller, representing the Property Rights Coalition, the biggest developers and property owners in the state, support the change and argued the bill doesn’t deprive citizens the right to the referendum process.