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Utah House approves three bills modifying voter initiative process

The rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. As the first week of the 2019 legislative session wraps up, Utah senators are closing in on a final vote in their chamber on Medicaid expansion that alters the voter-approv
FILE - The rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After three voter initiatives passed in the 2018 Utah election, two of them were modified at the Legislative level. Monday the House passed three bills changing the voter initiative process and, according to some legislators, making it more difficult.

HB145, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, passed with a 51-20 vote. The bill focuses on ensuring a voter knows what the initiative is before signing a petition and has the ability to take their name off. The bill also requires signatures to be submitted every 14 days and the list of those who have signed placed online.

Thurston said he was asked to sign voter initiatives and not given correct information, including being told Proposition 3, which sought to expand Medicaid, would help place Mitt Romney on the ballot. He said it is already law that in order to sign a petition, Utahns are supposed to have read and understood the petition.

"It makes it a fair issue to the voter that the voter knows what they’re signing," Thurston said.

House Minority Caucus Manager Karen Kwan, D-Murray, voiced concerns that the requirement would place a penalty on those getting signatures, typically volunteers. She also said having names online could decrease the number of people signing, particularly those who sign to move the topic forward and not as an endorsement.

Rep. LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff, D-Ogden, also expressed concerns saying there is good in the bill, but she feels it expresses the Legislature doesn't want to hear from voters and doesn't want initiatives.

HB133, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, delays the effective date of an initiative to the same date as bills passed during the general legislative session, or at the beginning of the year after the session if it involves a tax change. This bill passed with a 50-20 vote.

"It would have been nice had we had some negotiation, transparency (and) ability to make changes in a transparent way," Daw said about the initiatives passed in the last election.

Daw said the best lawmaking happens with a deliberative process.

Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, spoke against the bill saying the increase in ballot initiatives show the unwillingness of the Legislature to pass legislation that citizens support.

HB195 passed with a 58-6 vote and no questions or comments on the floor aside from the sponsor, Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton. This bill makes a few changes to the initiative process, including modifying the number of signatures from 10 percent of those who voted in the last presidential election, currently 113,000, to 8 percent of active voters, currently 115,000.

The bill also moves the date packets are due to give time for verifying, developing language and any litigation. It allows challenges to the initiative to be submitted to any court instead of just the Utah Supreme Court and gives the lieutenant governor an opportunity to offer a countering opinion.

"This is in no way about stifling the initiative process," Handy said.

All three bills will now head to the Senate.