Will 2018 be the year of citizen lawmaking?
Utah voters could see as many as five statewide initiatives to change state laws on their ballots in the next general election. In a state where most elections have no initiatives, next year is shaping up as unique.
All are about to begin the signature-gathering phase. They have until April 15 to submit petitions signed by enough registered voters, and it’s not a simple requirement. The number of signers must equal at least 10 percent of the voters in the last presidential election in at least 26 of the 29 Utah Senate districts. It requires statewide outreach and a broad appeal to get the 113,000 signatures needed.
None of the five is guaranteed to make the ballot, let alone win. But each has attracted enough money and polling success for a serious run:
The Teacher and Student Success Act — The product of the Our Schools Now coalition of educators and business people, the act would increase both sales and income taxes to raise Utah’s last-in-the-nation per-pupil spending.
The Direct Primary Election Act — A follow-up to the Count My Vote effort, this act lowers the number of signatures a candidate is required to gather to get on a primary election ballot.
The Utah Independent Redistricting and Standards Act — This would create an independent panel to recommend congressional and legislative districts every 10 years instead of leaving it to the Utah Legislature.
The Utah Decides Healthcare Act — This would raise sales taxes by 0.15 percent to fund full Medicaid expansion, bringing a half a billion dollars in federal health care money into the state each year to cover about 100,000 uninsured Utahns.
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act — This would allow limited cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical use. If passed, Utah would join the 29 other states with some level of legal cannabis.
It’s a diverse group of issues, but they have one thing in common. All have been considered and rejected in some form by the Legislature. Any initiatives that first make the ballot and then pass in November will be in direct answer to legislators’ unwillingness.
And it’s not like Utah has made it easy for citizen lawmakers. We have relatively few of these because the Legislature has set stiff timetable and signature requirements to qualify. Legislators view lawmaking as their job, and it is.
But if the citizens do well next year — both in getting on the ballot and in getting laws passed — lawmakers can’t ignore it. It’s only representative government if it’s really representative.