The Senate spent less than 30 seconds Wednesday discussing a bill that delays the implementation of successful ballot initiatives to give lawmakers a chance to change them.
Senators then passed HB133 on a 22-5 vote. The measure already passed the House 50-20 last week and so the governor will soon get the third bill this session that changes the process for running and enacting propositions.
“The essence of this bill is to give an intervening legislative session after an initiate passes, in the event that there needs to be technical cleanup or changes to the initiative," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the Senate sponsor of HB133.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Brad Daw had said the delay would give lawmakers a chance to “fix” voter-approved initiatives.
None of Bramble’s Senate colleagues asked questions Wednesday or spoke in favor or opposition of the bill, which passed on a party-line vote.
But HB133 was criticized after the vote by the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, which said the changes insert an “ultra-conservative ideology” into the initiative process. While most successful initiatives would take effect after the following general session of the Legislature, any initiative that includes that includes a tax increase would be delayed by more than a year.
Alliance for a Better Utah also objected to HB145, which cleared the Legislature Wednesday on a 50-21 vote of the House. That bill creates an ongoing tally of initiative petition signatures and a rolling deadline for individuals to remove their signatures, but also requires county elections offices to publicly post online the list of individuals who added their names to an initiative effort.
“In combination, these are bad bills meant to hamper the right of Utahns to create their own laws through the initiative process," said Lauren Simpson, Better Utah’s policy director.
HB145 bill was also sponsored in the Senate by Bramble, who said Tuesday evening that petition signatures are already a public record. But Democratic members of the chamber objected to the public display of those lists, which currently must be specifically requested by an individual through the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.
“As I read through this bill, this is so rife with the ability for someone to harass someone who has signed a petition,” said Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City.
Last year, opponents of one initiative campaign launched a targeted — and successful — effort to convince voters to withdraw their signatures and stop the initiative from reaching the ballot.
Three other initiatives qualified for the ballot and earned a majority vote statewide, but only one is still able to take effect after the other two were replaced after the election by lawmakers.
“The people of Utah sent a message to the Legislature last year that they want action on important issues long ignored by legislators," Simpson said. “And this session the Utah Legislature sent a message back: ‘what you want is secondary to what we want.’”
The Legislature also approved SB151 last week. The bill requires initiatives to first describe their fiscal impact to the state and any anticipated revenue sources — like a tax increase — on the ballot information presented to voters.
And on Wednesday, the Senate voted 26-1 for HB195, which prohibits a campaign from running the same — or a very similar — initiative within a two-year period, and which increases the minimum threshold for petition signatures by making it proportional to the number of active voters in the state.
Current law bases the signature threshold on the number of votes cast in the previous presidential election, which Riverton Republican Sen. Dan McCay, HB195′s Senate sponsor, said can fluctuate greatly between election cycles.
“That makes it difficult to predict how many signatures are going to be required,” McCay said.
The House approved an earlier version of HB195 last week, but must vote again on Senate amendments before the bill is sent to the governor for consideration.