Utah House OKs bill that would delay implementation of successful voter initiatives in time for lawmakers to change them

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) People vote at the polling station at South Jordan Founders Park LDS Church in Daybreak-South Jordan on election day Tuesday Nov. 8. Voting was a breeze. No waiting in lines and children friendy too.

The full House has approved a bill that would delay implementation of any successful ballot initiative to give the Legislature time to make changes to such a voter-approved measure.

HB471 cleared the House on a 46-25 vote Monday less than an hour after representatives defeated it on a 34-39 vote.

The bill, which would push back the effective date of a successful initiative until May of the year after it is approved by voters, comes as a raft of resident-drafted measures are expected to appear on the November ballot, including legalizing medical marijuana.

The measure is now headed to the Senate.

March 1: One lawmaker says he’s nervous ‘about empowering the citizenry,’ as committee pushes bill to delay effective date of voter initiatives

A House committee advanced a bill Thursday to push the pause button on any of the ballot initiatives that may pass in November’s election as one lawmaker openly worried about giving citizens too much power to derail the Legislature’s “deliberative“decision-making.

“I’m nervous about the concept of empowering the citizenry to intervene so swiftly and rapidly as to even derail the deliberative and systematic processes of the Legislature,” newly appointed Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, said.

“I am not nervous about empowering the citizenry,” countered Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek. “I trust the public. The process to get an initiative on the ballot is already very difficult and needs to be respected.”

Rep. Brad Daw, the sponsor of HB471, wants to delay the effective date of any successful initiative to give the Legislature time to tweak it or adjust budgets to accommodate it.

Ballot measures being pushed by various residents for the November election would raise taxes for education, legalize medical marijuana and expand Medicaid, among other things.

Daw’s HB471 drew complaints from initiative supporters who argue that it is wrong for legislators to change the rules in the middle of the game — and that it could delay by a year such things as a $715 million annual tax hike for education sought by Our School Now or legal medical marijuana for people suffering from a variety of maladies.

Members of the House Government Operations Committee listened to the complaints, then voted 8-2 to send HB471 to the full House for consideration. Only the committee’s two Democrats opposed it.

Under current law, initiatives approved by voters generally take effect five days after an election canvass certifies results — essentially in late November.

The bill, as now amended, would change that so they would not take effect until 60 days after the next legislative session — generally the second week of May.

Pushing back the effective date could also significantly delay any tax increases — such as the one sought by Our Schools Now — by missing the first of the year.

Daw, R-Orem, said, “There is a need to give the Legislature a session to clarify and clean things up” before the initiatives kick in. He said they will often conflict with other laws, and the Legislature needs time to coordinate them.

“It will acknowledge the initiative, if it passes, will become law. There’s no attempt to undermine or change that,” he said.

“There have been some accusations made that this would give us time to modify the initiative during the legislative session. The fact is, the Legislature could do that with this law or without it,” Daw said.

Chase Clyde, representing the Utah Education Association, a supporter of the Our Schools Now initiative, asserted that HB471 “is moving the goal posts in the middle of the game,” and “we can’t wait another year … to significantly raise revenue for public education.”

Danny Harris, advocacy director for AARP Utah and supporter of an initiative to expand Medicaid, said, “We feel this legislation is unnecessary. The Legislature already has made a pretty high bar to get these ballot initiatives initiatives on the ballot in the first place.”

That includes needing to gather 113,000 signatures from registered voters, and working with state agencies and the lieutenant governor’s office to ensure initiatives and their requirement are constitutional and practical. Public hearings are also required before gathering signatures.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said HB471 makes sense.

“All we are saying is if you pass your initiative in November, we want to have a chance as the Legislature for practical reasons — possibly political reasons, but largely for practical reasons — to correct any errors, to fix our budget, to make sure the funds are appropriated correctly,” Thurston said.

Gov. Gary Herbert signaled in his weekly press availability that he might veto the bill if it passes.

“I’m very reluctant to have anything be contrary to what the voice of the people say” through initiatives, he said.

Legislators have power “to make any needed adjustments. So I don’t think we need to set things aside and delay the implementation,” Herbert said. “I think it’s contrary to the initiative petition process.”