Bills address referendum signatures
Ryan Summerlin February 22, 2013
The referendum process is under the microscope this year, with three bills that, if signed into law, will change referendum signature requirements.
Traditionally, the number of signatures required to initiate a change in the form of county government was based on the votes cast in the county at the preceding gubernatorial election.
Rep. Keith Grover is sponsoring H.B. 14, Requirements to Change Form of County Government, which proposes that a petition to change the form of county government be signed by 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the county who had cast ballots in the preceding Presidential election instead of gubernatorial election.
"When people need to make a change, they need to meet the Presidential turnout. That’s the threshold," he said.
The higher voter turnout in Presidential elections creates a higher threshold of required signatures, Grover said.
"A Presidential election is always going to have pretty good turnout regardless of whether it’s going to have Barack Obama or George Bush on the ticket," he said.
While the new requirements make it slightly harder to change the county form of government, the highest impact among all the counties in Utah is 38 additional signatures.
"We didn’t think that was super impactful. But I think the more we can be predictable to the voter, the better. The more we can be very clear about what’s going on and why, the better," he said.
The bill has passed through both the state House of Representatives and Senate and is waiting now at the Governor’s Office to be signed.
Another bill also addresses the process for changing the county form of government. Mel Brown, R-Coalville is sponsoring H.B. 280, County Government Reform, which could make it easier for a county to revert to a previous form of government.
Under the bill, to roll back the form of county government, a petition to place the measure on a general election ballot can be signed by 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the county who had cast ballots in the preceding gubernatorial election.
The issue would then go in front of the County Council. If the council accepts the proposal, voters will be able to vote in the next general election on whether to return to the previous form of government.
If the council rejects the proposal, petitioners can collect an additional five percent to put it directly onto the ballot.
Summit County Councilmember Roger Armstrong said that although the bill will never "taste good," with some changes the bill will be more palatable.
"We oppose the bill, but we are hopeful that the Utah Association of Counties is able to make some changes. They are working with Brown to change some of the provisions which would make the bill more acceptable to counties," he said.
Summit County officials would like to see 12 percent of signatures collected from at least 90 percent of the county’s precincts, he said.
"So then it reflects the desire of the entire county and not just a small group," he said.
H.B. 280 is currently on hold in a House committee while Brown makes language adjustments to the bill.
A third bill changes the percentage of signatures required to place a referendum on the ballot.
S.B. 66, Referendum Revisions, proposes that petitioners in first class counties collect 20 percent of votes cast in the county at the preceding Presidential election and 30 percent in all other counties.
Counties are ranked into classes, according to population. The only first class county in Utah is Salt Lake County. Summit County is a third class county.
The bill would also require a county budget officer to determine the fiscal and legal ramifications of repealing the law, and for the county to hold a public hearing to discuss those ramifications.
S.B. 66 is scheduled for a second reading in the Senate.