Referendum bill passes Senate
March 12, 2013
After facing referendums that froze two property taxes last year, the Summit County Council is keeping a close eye on a bill that revises the referendum law.
First substitute S.B. 66, Referendum Revisions, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, has moved through the Utah Senate and House Government Operations Committee and is now before the Utah House of Representatives.
To gain favor in the Senate, Reid reverted to the current signature requirements needed for a referendum.
"One of the issues with this legislation was the percentage of those who had to be involved in a referendum from the latest presidential election," Reid said. "That seemed to be the major concern of some of the body. This substitution reverts back to the original percentages in code today."
In Summit County, petitioners must gather signatures equal to 12.5 percent of votes cast in the county for President in the last election.
The previous version of the bill required signatures equal to 20 percent of the votes cast in the previous election in first class counties, and 30 percent in all other counties.
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"S.B. 66 got gutted on the floor of the Senate," said Summit County Manager Bob Jasper said during the March 6 County Council meeting. "So we’re trying to work on the House side. The only thing we want is that if you sign a petition, you should be impacted by it. So that means if you live in a city, you can’t sign a petition for Service Area #6."
Service Area #6 is comprised exclusively of unincorporated areas in Summit County.
Last fall, local activists successfully circulated petitions to halt two property tax increases previously approved by the County Government: the Municipal Fund and Service Area #6.
The two tax increases will be placed on the 2014 ballot, or sooner if a special election is called.
However, many of those who circulated and signed the petitions were not directly impacted by the tax increases.
A House amendment to S.B. 66 adds a requirement that those who sign the petition must be registered voters in the area impacted by the law. A second substitution bill requires that a percentage of signatures be collected from each precinct.
"Either it’s going to be substituted then amended, or just amended," County Civil Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas said. "We don’t know which direction it’s going to go."
Jasper noted that the county may not get anything from the bill, but said the County Council should provide guidance to the lobbyist to put language in the bill requiring those signing petitions to be impacted by the law.
"My question is, if we don’t get anything, what’s the change in the law?" Councilmember Claudia McMullin asked. "If it doesn’t do anything, why have the damn bill?"
Thomas answered that S.B. 66 includes a provision requiring a public hearing if a petition is certified. A budget officer for the local government would be required to prepare, with the help of a government attorney, a written estimate of the fiscal and legal implications of the repealing of the law, which would be presented during the hearing.
At the public hearing, the legislative body would be able to repeal the law challenged by the referendum.
"Like we didn’t have the opportunity at any point," McMullin responded.
Jasper said that with the bill changing by the hour, the County may not get what it wants, but they can at least narrow it down to a priority that makes sense, such as limiting those who can sign petitions.
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