Citizen initiatives to miss deadline

Petitions to Legislature won't gather enough signatures

Published: Friday, Nov. 13 2009 1:28 a.m. MST

Supporters of citizen initiatives on legislative ethics and an independent redistricting commission say they will not gather enough signatures in time to meet a Sunday deadline that would force the 2010 Legislature to deal with their issues.

However, backers of both Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries say the upcoming deadline won't keep them from reaching their ultimate goal — collecting 95,000 signatures from registered voters by April 15. If they do it, the measures will appear on next November's general election ballot.

In a related matter, House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, says he not only supports campaign contribution limits as suggested by a special democracy study panel, he also supports banning "all but minimus" gifts to legislators from registered lobbyists.

"No, we will not get the 5 percent" of registered Utah voters — more than 47,000 — who needed to sign the petitions by Sunday if the legislative ethics initiative was to go before lawmakers early next year, UEG chairman Kim Burningham said.

Glenn Wright, state field director for Fair Boundaries, said his group never aimed to get its redistricting commission before lawmakers anyway.

Legislators "would just do something funny with it" if it were introduced in the 2010 session, Wright said. "They would just tweak it to mean as little as possible, like they are dealing with ethics now," he added.

Under state law, any initiative petition that gets 5 percent of the number of registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election by Nov. 15 can be submitted to the next Legislature. Lawmakers must consider that petition.

If supporters get 10 percent of the signatures — in this case nearly 95,000 — by April 15, the petition is certified to appear on the next general election ballot. A majority vote would decide whether to make the initiative a state law.

In both the 5 percent and 10 percent scenarios, the supporters also must get 5 percent or 10 percent of their signatures in 26 of the 29 state Senate districts.

Burningham said UEG may have more than 5 percent of the necessary signatures statewide by Sunday but will fall short of getting the required numbers in each of 26 Senate districts.

Wright said his group never concentrated at all on the Nov. 15 deadline. "We thought that would not be productive. An up or down vote in the Legislature means little to us" because it is very unlikely the GOP-controlled Legislature would want an independent redistricting committee to recommend House and Senate boundary changes after each census. Independent redistricting bills have been introduced in the last seven Legislatures and never even got a public hearing, he said. "We'll just take it to the people."

Both groups said they believe they will get 10 percent of voters' signatures by the April 15 deadline and thus make the 2010 ballot.

Burningham said UEG managers have yet to decide whether they want a supporting legislator to introduce the UEG ethics initiative as a bill when the general session starts in January.

Having the bill/initiative debated would be good, because the general issue of legislative ethics is important, he said.

"If legislators debate significant changes" in ethical standards, lobbyists gifts and campaign fundraising conduct, "that would be delightful," Burningham said.

Clark, one of the three most politically powerful men in state government, said he now believes banning most lobbyists' gifts and campaign contribution limits "are the right steps needed," among other reforms.

But, as in the past, House members may not get the Senate to go along.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he does not support banning any gifts, preferring to have more disclosure of such gifts from lobbyists.

While Clark said he supports the campaign donation limits recommended by the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy, Waddoups said he has not yet seen the recommendation, so he can't yet support it.

In general, however, Waddoups said limiting contributions to a Senate campaign to $10,000 over four years and $5,000 in a House race over two years, as the commission recommends, really "is not a big thing" because the limits are so high.

"I don't believe I've ever accepted a $5,000 donation," Waddoups said, so the limits probably wouldn't have much affect on legislative fundraising.

However, the democracy commission recommendation would place a $20,000 individual, PAC and corporate donation limit in a governor's race. And Gov. Gary Herbert just two weeks ago solicited and accepted $50,000 donations in his gala fundraiser.

Herbert doesn't support donation limits, preferring "immediate" disclosure of contributions instead.

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com

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