Utah Supreme Court denies citizen resolution place on Salt Lake ballot

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1 2012 10:11 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A group seeking to place a citizen-initiated resolution before Salt Lake City voters this year won't get that opportunity.

The Utah Supreme Court denied a petition Tuesday to allow Move to Amend to ask residents to endorse the idea of a federal constitutional amendment saying that corporations are not people and money is not speech. The resolution denounces a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

Salt Lake City put the brakes on the resolution after determining that while Utah permits ballot initiatives that create laws, it doesn't permit those that simply express an opinion.

Law student Caleb Proulx, a member of Move to Amend, challenged the statute and made his case before the high court last week.

The court said a written opinion will follow Tuesday's brief ruling.

The issue came down to the definition of the word "legislation." For lawmakers, it means passing not only bills that make laws but nonbinding resolutions that direct policy, he said.

"The people can't do the same thing because courts have interpreted legislation as meaning only law, only something that binds people," Proulx said. "There's a big disparity, and that's what we're trying to correct."

Senior city attorney Betsy Haws acknowledged there's tension between the Legislature having power to pass resolutions and people not having that ability. But according to case law, opinions or beliefs are not subject to ballot initiatives.

"If the people said, 'Yes we stand with the Move to Amend movement,' it would have no different impact than if they said, 'No we don't stand with it.' There's nothing binding that is created by the petition as it's written," she said.

Still, Haws said, the city isn't unsympathetic to the notion that residents should be able to express their opinions on policy matters.

The Salt Lake City Council is considering an ordinance that would allow citizen-initiative resolutions, she said.

"There isn't an ordinance that allows for that, but there's no reason that there couldn't be if that's what the council decided to do," Haws said.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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