Many community organizations are arguing a bill before the Senate would make it nearly impossible to have an issue go to a vote of the people.
SB66 would double or triple the number of signatures needed for a local referendum to go on a ballot.
Current law requires the largest cities and counties, such as Salt Lake County, have 10 percent of voters involved in the last presidential election sign before putting a repeal measure on a ballot. The proposed legislation would not only require an increase to 20 percent of signatures for Salt Lake County, and 30 percent for all other counties, but it also would need signatures from every voting precinct.
Layton resident Brian Pead said the bill is simply restricting the voice of the people.
“It should be called SB666 — because it’s a beast,” Pead said.
Bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said the Utah League of Cities and Towns and a developers association tasked him to put the bill together.
Reid said Monday if the residents don’t like what elected officials are doing, they should be voted out of office.
“If they want to overturn [a measure], then it should be a little more difficult,” he said, adding that a handful of “disgruntled people” shouldn’t so easily be able to overturn a vote of their elected official.
Last summer, Pead was involved with other residents in Layton in a obtaining enough signatures for a referendum on a land-use development passed by the city. Getting the signatures to allow a vote on the issue — which eventually passed — was “crazy hard,” he said.
“Now they are making it basically impossible, and I think unconstitutional,” he said.
Supporters of the bill say the plan is just to get a more balanced sample of the overall consensus in the area.
“The point is not to deprive people of the referendum process, it’s just to make certain it is an informed vote,” said Jodi Hoffman with the Utah League of Cities and Towns at a mid-February committee hearing on the bill.
Jenn Gonnelly, a co-legislative director for the Utah League of Women Voters, said the bill’s proposed signature amount requirement “seems onerous.”
She said the bill appears to make it harder for the public to make its voice heard.
“The league is absolutely against anything that would be considered a barrier to citizens being involved in their government,” she said.
Last fall, Taylorsville residents fought the city for several months until finally taking the Unified Fire Authority annexation issue to a referendum after those opposed to joining the fire district gathered enough signatures to put the question on the ballot in November 2013. After the passage, a city council member changed position on the annexation. Their petition had 2,478 valid signatures, nearly double the 1,330 needed. But citizen activist Jon Fidler said those numbers were based on an off-year election. Had it been during a presidential election, they would have needed more than 6,000 signatures under the proposed legislation.
“We would never have been able to hold them accountable,” Fidler said
With a 30 percent requirement, Fidler said getting enough signatures wouldn’t have happened, despite the overwhelming majority of residents who signed the petition during their door-to-door efforts.