Authored by Rochelle Kaplan, Better Utah Board Member
Several 2018 ballot initiative petition packets are making the rounds, via volunteers. I carry three of them to social functions, doctor’s appointments, walks with my dog Panda, and the gym, trying to garner signatures. We have until April to gather valid signatures that must be equal to or exceed 10% of the turnout of the last presidential election in 26 of 29 Utah counties (a little over 110,000 signatures!). Ouch! But this is democracy at the most local level.
The first ballot initiative, and the one I feel can make the biggest difference in moderating our state’s policies, is Better Boundaries. It would create an independent redistricting panel and has bipartisan support. The current system has the legislative majority drawing its own districts, which only reinforces gerrymandering and protects incumbents’ seats. This makes the races less competitive and drives down voter participation. Over 60% of Utah’s races are non-competitive and we ranked 39th among states in voter participation in 2016. Another ouch! See this recent SL Trib article:
Please sign a Better Boundaries packet, which you can do at the ABU office in the Impact Hub downtown – if that’s convenient – and/or get a packet to gather signatures from registered voters. For more info, go to: http://betterboundaries.org.
Another initiative supports medical cannabis. And folks are really enthusiastic when I approach them about this one! I have friends in other states who have benefitted from laws allowing medical cannabis. One friend was taking Alprazolam for anxiety to help her sleep. Now, she takes a toke before bedtime and she sleeps easily with no side effects or addiction. Another friend got relief from glaucoma. The parameters in the ballot initiative are carefully crafted and narrowly drawn and the measure has support across the political spectrum. I also hope that, as a side benefit, voter registration climbs. To find out more, go to: https://www.utahpatients.org/
The third packet I carry around is called Our Schools Now, which aims to support public schools. As a retired high school teacher, I know Utah schools are significantly underfunded. The initiative is regressive in that it would slightly raise sales taxes, but it also raises slightly the income tax, which is progressive. Had Gov. Huntsman and the state legislature not passed a flat personal income tax of 5% in 2006, we might not now have to go this route. The flat tax, and the amendment that allowed higher ed to take money out of the general fund, meant a steep cut in K-12 educational funds. Still the Our Schools Now initiative will raise funds for public schools, so I support it, as does the Utah Educational Association. To find out more, go to: https://ourschoolsnow.com
There is a fourth ballot initiative that is definitely worth supporting. As soon as public hearings conclude for Utah Decides Healthcare, the initiative to expand Medicaid, and signature packets go out, I will sign one and carry around a packet. I support Medicaid expansion and likely you do too. ABU aggressively took action – trying to get the Utah legislature to expand Medicaid coverage, but we were unsuccessful. Unfortunately, there is neither a website nor Facebook page for the initiative – nor have the required 7 public hearings been scheduled. But you can contact Sen. Brian Shiozawa, an ER physician and advocate for the initiative. and push for faster action: firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-889-7450
Finally, it’s not too late to register to vote. You can also still re-register if you’ve moved or changed your name, or if you are a felon who has served your sentence. You have until October 31st to register online (at least in Salt Lake County). I love using VOTERISE because you can text 788-683 to register and the form is available in about 10 languages (though not Navajo). VOTERISE will also send you voting reminders, if you haven’t already returned your mail in ballot. More info: http://voterise.org
Rochelle Kaplan is a board member for Alliance for a Better Utah. She dedicated her career to teaching students with learning disabilities in high school in New York City and at Granite High School in Utah. When she’s not fighting for social causes, she can be found hiking, skiing, or watching her favorite films.