SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers fiddled with the citizen initiative process on the heels of Utah voters passing an unprecedented number of ballot measures last fall.
The Legislature passed three bills in all, and some say they make the ability to get an issue on the ballot more cumbersome.
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said there needs to be a balance between the Legislature and ballot initiatives. He said it would be "really impossible for 3 million people to spend the time and effort that we have to to be able to deal with the issues we have.
"I believe in the legislative process," Adams said. "We need to make sure the initiative process is available but that it doesn’t become the norm."
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, said growth is changing Utah's demographics and its politics are shifting.
"It's up to us as a Legislature to keep up with the desires and the sentiments of the general public, and if we don't do that, then we need to have a pathway to address that," he said.
HB145 pushes back the effective date of a successful initiative to the same date as bills passed during the next general legislative session, or to the beginning of the year after the session if it involves a tax change.
"It would have been nice had we had some negotiation, transparency (and) ability to make changes in a transparent way," bill sponsor Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said about the initiatives passed in the last election.
Initiatives on medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and creating an independent redistricting commission all qualified for the ballot — the most ever in the state for a single election — and all three passed last November. Another initiative on Utah's candidate nomination process also qualified for the ballot but was bumped off after 3,000 petition signers removed their names.
HB133, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, aims to ensure voters know what the initiative is before signing a petition and have the ability to remove their names. It also requires signatures to be submitted every 14 days and for county clerks to post the list of signers online.
"It makes it a fair issue to the voter that the voter knows what they’re signing," Thurston said during floor debate on the bill.
HB195 bases the percentage of required signatures on the number of "active" voters rather than on the number of voters in the previous presidential election. Signatures would be required from 26 of the Utah's 29 senate districts equal to 4 percent of the number of active voters in that district on Jan. 1 immediately following the last general election.
The bill also prohibits running the same initiative in two consecutive election cycles.
"This is in no way about stifling the initiative process," said Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, the bill's sponsor.
Lauren Simpson, policy director at the Alliance for a Better Utah, said taken together the three "bad" bills mean to hamper the initiative process.
"The people of Utah sent a message to the Legislature last year that they want action on important issues long ignored by legislators. And this session the Utah Legislature sent a message back: What you want is secondary to what we want, she said.
Delaying implementation for over a year of an initiative that increases revenue is a punitive way to obstruct the will of the voters, she said. Publicly posting voter signatures and adding criminal consequences would chill participation in citizen initiatives, Simpson said.