Utah Legislature: Bill makes removing names from citizen petitions easier

Published: Saturday, Feb. 20 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators, many of whom oppose two citizen initiatives now out for voter signatures, will look at making it easier for petition-signers to get their names removed from the documents, thus decreasing the odds that Utahns can vote on the measures this November.

And the Utah Republican Party, which also opposes the initiatives, will consider organizing a formal effort to get names off the Fair Boundaries and Utahns for Ethical Government petitions, said GOP state chairman Dave Hansen.

The opposition, both by the party and some legislators, doesn't surprise Glenn Wright, field director for Fair Boundaries.

"This is just another example of legislative leaders trying to take power away from the people, and tell them what to do," Wright said.

To make the ballot, initiative supporters must by April 15 turn in the required 95,000 signatures, with 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.

If they make that threshold, Hansen says Republican Party leaders would "take a look at" organizing a formal signature-removal campaign.

Sen. Howard Stephenson's SB275, which passed a Senate committee on a party-line vote Friday, makes it easier for signers to get their names removed from citizen initiative petitions.

No longer would a signees have to provide a notarized letter to their county clerk to get their names removed but could send in a letter with some personal identification attached.

Those interested in getting their names off of a petition will have until May 15 to submit their written request.

Jason Yocom, deputy Salt Lake County clerk, says once the petitions are turned in April 15 they become public.

So state Republicans, for example, would have a month to call up signees, talk about the party's objections to the initiatives and try to get them to remove their names.

If one of the required 26 Senate districts had, say, only 25 or 30 names above the required 10 percent level, party leaders could make a difference in keeping the initiative off the ballot.

GOP resistance "depends on how many have signed the petitions," Hansen said. "If they have a significant number over" what is needed in 26 Senate districts, "we'd probably be less likely to try. If they don't, we probably would" try to get some to remove their names.

Stephenson said he had no intention of facilitating the Republican Party's potential efforts when he drafted the bill.

"The county clerks proposed this timeline," he said. "All I want is for people to have a fair chance to remove their names."

If the bill passes by a two-thirds majority, it would take effect before the April 15 deadline and would apply to the initiative effort this year.

Democrats on the Senate committee proposed an amendment that would make the law effective after the current ethics initiatives have been processed. The amendment failed, also on a party-line vote.

"Considering the context," said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, "people have good reason to be suspicious."

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com, jsmith@desnews.com

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