After legislators repealed and replaced two ballot initiatives passed by voters in November, a trio of bills designed to change the ballot initiative process is nearing the finish line.
The Senate Government Operations Committee approved three such House-passed bills on Friday, and sent them to the full Senate for final consideration. Two of them passed on close party-line votes.
The most controversial is HB133 — which passed 3-2, with Republicans favoring it and Democrats opposing. It would delay implementation of any initiative that includes a tax increase for more than a year so that a general session of the Legislature could review and tweak it if necessary.
“It gives us an opportunity to fix any funding issues, legal issues,” said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, the bill’s sponsor. “It would be much better to fix those issues in the course of a general session than try to do it in a special session.”
He noted the Legislature met in a special session to rework an initiative that passed last year to allow use of medical marijuana. The Legislature also passed a bill during the general session to override and replace an initiative on Medicaid expansion.
Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, opposed the bill saying, “Our public has this impression that we are changing the whole initiative process.”
Lauren Simpson with the progressive Alliance for a Better Utah said, “We know voters are already alarmed by some of the attitudes displayed by legislators towards the results of the ballot propositions in November. This bill will further erode voters’ trust.”
She added, “It’s an undemocratic bill, and it simply takes more power away from voters.”
But Keep My Voice — a conservative group that helped block from the ballot an initiative to ensure candidates can qualify for a primary election by gathering signatures — supported the bill as a good step to ensure tax hikes get extra scrutiny.
Another bill, HB145, also passed on a party-line vote, 4-2. It would allow an ongoing tally of signatures on initiative petitions submitted to county clerks, and a rolling deadline for individuals who may wish to remove their signatures or who claim someone else signed their name without their knowledge.
Its sponsor, Rep. Norm Thursday, R-Provo, said it would close loopholes that have allowed gamesmanship of the system. It comes after the Count My Vote initiative last year initially appeared to have enough signatures to go on the ballot, but critics waged a name-removal campaign that barely stopped its qualification.
The committee also passed HB195 unanimously to change signature thresholds to qualify initiatives from 10 percent of votes cast in the most recent presidential election to 8 percent of active voters.
It also moves up the window for initiatives to gather signatures — in order to allow more time after certification to prepare ballot materials and resolve any legal challenges.