GOP legislative leaders said Wednesday that they have no plans to change the state's current referendum petition process to make it the same as the state's citizen initiative petition process.

"Because the referendum is a different system — it says to the Legislature, 'You goofed up' — it should be an easier system" for citizens to access, said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem.

Citizens seeking to repeal a law passed by the Legislature via the referendum petition system "should not have to meet the higher bar" of the initiative system — which is a different process when studied closely, noted Valentine.

Tuesday, the Deseret News reported that GOP legislative leaders were looking at moving the referendum petition requirements to the "higher bar" of the initiative petition process.

Some legislators were considering that, Valentine acknowledged, and there was considerable study and discussion about the issue.

But leaders concluded that there was a good argument to keep the two systems — which at first blush may seem the quite similar — separate.

"I can only speak for myself," but if a lawmaker introduced a bill moving the referendum petition requirements to the "higher bar" of the initiative process, "I would have to be convinced there was an overwhelming need" before he would vote for that bill, Valentine said Wednesday morning. He said that GOP legislative leaders, as a group, have no plans to try to make the change.

The difference between the two petition systems came up a year ago when public education supporters filed a referendum petition following the 2007 Legislature, seeking to repeal the newly-passed private school voucher.

Legislators then discovered that when they raised the bar on the initiative petition law, they failed to address the similar referendum petition law.

Valentine told the newspaper last summer that it may make sense to have the same petition requirements for both laws, so citizens wouldn't be confused over what they needed to do under each system.

After the Utah Supreme Court overturned one legislative attempt to make the initiative process more restrictive, lawmakers got high court approval when they adopted a new initiative law that requires a certain percent of registered voter signatures coming from a certain number of Senate districts.

The referendum law remains like the old initiative law — 10 percent of voters in 15 counties. That lower bar allows referendum-seekers to get a lot of signatures in big population counties, like Salt Lake County, which is more mixed in political demographics and perhaps more likely to overturn a legislative action.

Utah has seen a number of citizen initiative petition attempts in recent years, most either failing to get enough voter signatures or failing at the ballot box. But last year's referendum was the first such attempt in some time — thus the ignorance about the referendum process.

Initiatives are used for citizens to adopt a new law or amend an existing law. A referendum is just an up or down vote on an existing law, repealing it or upholding it.

Public education supporters wanted to repeal the voucher law, not change it. And ultimately voters repealed the law in a statewide 61-39 percent vote last November.

Some conservative GOP legislators who voted for vouchers (no Democrats voted for the bill) now find themselves, in re-election this year, facing constituents who voted against vouchers.

In some Salt Lake County legislative districts, for example, a few GOP incumbents face citizens who voted 2-to-1 against vouchers.

And Democrats, who decry the "arrogance of power" of long-time longtime Republican rule in Utah, promise to remind voters of that as legislative races heat up this fall.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com