"We have in Utah, six counties that have opted for optional forms of government, optional meaning different than a commission form," bill sponsor Melvin R. Brown, R-Coalville told the House, "In these six cases, they have opted to go to council forms of government. Some love their change and some don't like it so well. What this bill does is allow those people who have been subjected to a change and think they would like to do something different, an option to go back to their previous form."
H.B. 280, County Government Reform, allows voters to petition to place a measure on the ballot to revert their county government to its previous form.
"They can do it under the current law, but it takes a lot of process," Brown said. "They have to go through study committees and other processes that are prejudiced by the legislative branch of the county. Therefore it makes the process that much more difficult."
The purpose of H.B. 280, Brown said, is to empower the people to decide whether they want to go back to their previous form of government or not.
After initially hearing the details of the bill, some of the counties expressed concerns, Brown said.
In the bill's original language, a petition would require 10 percent of the voters in the county who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election to sign in order for it to go on the ballot.
"That was problematic for Salt Lake County, and I understood why," Brown said. "Salt Lake County is so large and there are pockets of voters in certain areas, that if one of the communities, such as Taylorsville or Riverton, became concerned about their government, they would probably have enough people to petition a ballot and the whole county would have to vote."
Brown adjusted the bill so that 15 percent of the voters who voted in the last presidential election in 85 percent of the county's voting precincts had to sign the petition to get it onto the ballot.
"That disperses the population out so that it contains a cross-section of the entire county," he said. "And we raised the standard from 10 to 15 percent to ensure we had enough to reflect the will of the people in going to a vote."
Salt Lake County also expressed concern that they would be facing petitions to change the county government on a regular basis.
"So we said, you cannot petition until a form of government has been in place for four years, and once a petition has been attempted, you can't attempt another one for another four years," he said. "That gives the government time to organize and operate before the people can respond. And the people have to be real concerned about this before they can exercise this privilege.
"But I believe in power of the people. I believe this is a good bill and one that allows the people to make these decisions without their decisions being influenced by the power of the government."
The bill received 67 affirmative votes and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.
If the bill is approved by the Senate and then signed into law, local voters could petition to place a measure on the ballot to return the 5-member Summit County Council to the previous 3-member commission.