Commentary: Our Utah representatives are not representing us

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.

On Nov. 6, the voters of Utah voiced their demands loud and clear: We want Medicaid expansion, and we want it now. We want medical marijuana, and we want it now.

The majority of Utah voters approved of both ballot initiatives, with Proposition 3 passing with 53.3 percent of the vote and Proposition 2 passing with 52.7 percent of the vote. And this was all in spite of the stance of two major Utah institutions: the Republican Party and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Despite Utah’s majority party’s stance on government health care expansion, voters in our strongly Republican state voted against their party’s position, proving how important this issue is to Utahns. And, although the LDS Church vocally condemned the initiative, medical marijuana was approved by the majority of voters, demonstrating that Utahns are passionate enough about this issue to be willing to go against the tide of well organized and respected establishments within the state.

But despite the clear wants of the majority, our Legislature is working hard to tear down the initiatives that voters passed in November. Why have we seen such backlash on both initiatives from our own representatives, even in spite of evident public support? The term “representative” implies that Utah’s Legislature should do just that: represent their voter base. And although the legislators’ constituents have made their feelings on both propositions known, Utah’s Legislature seems hellbent on reducing both initiatives to a mere fraction of what voters demonstrated they support.

Utah is one of 11 states with absolutely no restrictions of legislative alteration, essentially giving Utah’s Legislature free reign to mangle and deconstruct ballot initiatives in any way they wish, regardless of how much the support the public demonstrated for the original initiative.

So what exactly are these changes being made to the ballot initiatives? In terms of Medicaid expansion, not only does the Utah Legislature’s new bill add eligibility caps, work requirements and cover fewer people, but it’s also expected to cost five times more than the original proposition.

And, as of Dec. 3, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act has been signed and passed into law. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the bill “significantly reduces the number of private medical marijuana outlets compared with Prop 2, prohibits edibles other than gelatin cubes, tweaks the list of illnesses that qualify for cannabis treatments, removing most autoimmune diseases except for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”

In essence, our Legislature has largely changed both bills, reducing them to something other than what voters approved.

And even if either of the Legislature’s new bills is better than the voter-approved initiatives (and they aren’t), the debate shouldn’t be centered around that. While the Legislature’s Medicaid bill will be more costly upfront and cover fewer Utahns, the crux of this argument is that the Utah legislature should uphold the will of the people.

Although Utah Code, Title 20A, Chapter 7, Section 212 states that, “The Legislature may amend any initiative approved by the people at any legislative session,” the clause should be interpreted as a tool to refine and clarify ballot initiatives in a way that still honors the original intent of the bill, rather than as a method of furthering legislators’ own personal or party agenda.ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOWRELATED ARTICLES

Ballot initiatives are a special part of our democracy, and their sanctity should be upheld. As representatives of their states and the voters within, Utah lawmakers should take it upon themselves to look beyond partisan politics and fulfill their job description: representing their constituents.

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Madison Nagelis a student at the University of Utah studying political science. She is a legislative intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

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