SALT LAKE CITY — A bill setting new requirements for local voter referendums and initiatives in the wake of the contentious battle over developing housing on the former Cottonwood Mall site cleared a House committee Monday.
HB119, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, was passed to the House floor by the House Government Operations Committee with Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, opposed.
The bill had been held by the committee after a previous hearing so Daw could come back with some changes, including to spell out that elected officials can use their staff to gather data about an issue.
However, Daw said any information communicated by an elected official about a referendum or initiative must be "perfectly balanced. … you have to send out both sides equally."
An effort to alter that provision failed. So did a proposed amendment to limit the areas of voter participation that must be represented in the signatures, which Daw said helps prevent issues with limited support from "bogging down" government.
Tracy Taylor, of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association, said there have been "some really positive improvements" in the two years the legislation has been discussed, but it will still be "very, very difficult for a grassroots citizens' group."
She said the new requirements may be prohibitively expensive to carry out without hiring professional signature-gatherers, making it harder to utilize a "useful tool" to get issues before voters, especially when it comes to those involving land use.
Daw originally came up with the bill in response to conflict over the Provo-Orem bus rapid transit line, but it failed to get a Senate vote before time ran out in the 2018 Legislature.4 comments on this story
In Holladay, residents were able to get a referendum on last year's ballot to challenge the city's approval of the controversial Cottonwood Mall housing development. The issue passed, effectively bringing a halt to that planned project after the state Supreme Court ruled the referendum was valid in late November.
Also Monday, the committee advanced a bill already passed by the Senate dealing with statewide voter initiatives. SB151, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, requires initiatives to state a funding source up front.
Henderson told the committee she got the idea from Proposition 3, the Medicaid expansion initiative approved by voters and replaced this session by lawmakers. The initiative included a sales tax increase to cover the state's share of the expansion.