SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would have allowed Utahns to wait to circulate a referendum petition until after the governor takes action on legislation failed by a close vote Wednesday in the House.
HB11, sponsored by Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, had already been voted down once by the House this session but was brought back. Cox told House members Wednesday that changing the referendum deadlines was "the right thing to do."
But after only brief debate, the bill was voted down, 32-38, despite being supported by both an interim committee and by the House Government Operations Committee earlier this session.
Cox has said he was attempting to fix a flaw in the referendum process that surfaced last year, when opponents of moving the Utah State Prison from Draper attempted to launch a referendum drive to overturn related legislation.
That group, known as Keep It In Draper, missed the deadline for filing the necessary paperwork with the state because it waited until Gov. Gary Herbert had signed the bill.
Cox filed a writ with the Utah Supreme Court on behalf of Keep It In Draper seeking to allow the referendum to go forward, but the court said he lacked standing and dismissed it. A later attempt was also rejected by the high court.
HB11 would have expanded the current filing deadline of five days after the end of the legislative session to include five days after a governor signs a law or it takes effect without a signature.
"I felt like the timeline was not fair," Cox told the House. "This bill puts that fairness back into state law."
After the vote, Cox stopped short of suggesting the vote was politically motivated because moving the state prison has been a top priority of House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
"I have a hard time reading other people's minds. I know that there may be some that feel that way," Cox said. But he said others in the House may be concerned the bill would make the referendum process easier.