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Bill to Delay Initiatives Fails, then Advances in Late-Night Utah House Vote

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers’ efforts to push back the implementation date for ballot initiatives moved forward Monday night, following a pair of votes and late-hour debate in the House.

HB471 passed 46-25 in the House, after failing moments earlier by a 34-39 vote. Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, successfully argued to bring the bill back to the floor for further debate, resulting another vote.

If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor this session, HB471 would delay the implementation of current ballot initiatives if they pass in November by at least 60 days.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, spoke against the bill Monday night, noting that getting an initiative on the ballot already is a “difficult, arduous process.”

“I see no reason to make it more difficult,” Arent said.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, reminded the body during the second vote that there were six initiatives currently gathering signatures, asking: “Why are we changing the rules midstream?”

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, called the bill a “minimum delay” so the Legislature can prevent problems.

Daw said his bill “does not raise the bar by 1 millimeter,” in terms of the standard of getting an initiative on the ballot. Instead, Daw said, it gives the Legislature time to fund fiscal requirements and any other potential problems with the measures.

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act is one such initiative. Part of the cannabis initiative, should it pass in November, would have gone into effect later the same month. It is unclear how HB471 would effect it.

Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel with Alliance for a Better Utah, a left-leaning advocacy group, issued a statement following the surprise resurrection and passage of HB471.

“Even if it was only for a little over an hour, it was nice believing that representatives truly cared about what their constituents want,” Thomas writes. “However, lawmakers who voted for this bill have now shown they’d prefer to delay ballot initiatives because they think they better understand what’s best for Utah voters.

“The Legislature could just as easily wait for a few weeks to address any inconsistencies between initiatives and existing law,” Thomas continues. “but instead have chosen to delay the will of the people in favor of implementing their own policy preferences. We are sure voters will share in our disappointment when they realize how little trust their representatives place in their ability to exercise the constitutional ballot initiative power.”

Under current law, the Legislature can modify citizen initiatives by a simple majority vote and the governor cannot veto them.

This article by Preston Cathcart originally appeared in the Deseret News here.

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