Friday, May 04, 2007

Is Utah's referendum law constitutional?

"Utah Const. art. VI, § 1. Article VI, section 1 is not merely a grant of the right to directly legislate, but reserves and guarantees the initiative power to the people." Gallivan v. Walker, 2002 UT 89, p23, 54 P.3d 1069 (citations omitted). "The power of the legislature and the power of the people to legislate through initiative and referenda are coequal, coextensive, and concurrent and share 'equal dignity.' " Id. (citations omitted).

Brad Swedlund, who lead the anti-RSL stadium referendum signature gathering effort, said the law doesn't match up to Gallivan's rhetoric, "The way the requirements are currently written, the Utah Legislature is more interested in 'absolute power' for themselves than empowering the people to occasionally challenge decisions made."

Gallivan overturned a version of the statute that mandated the 10 percent threshold in 20 of Utah's 25 counties. The current version is 15 counties. It is still too high. Why are rural voter's signatures worth many times more than urban voter's signatures? Isn't that what Reynold v. Sims was about?

In theory, rural voters should be madder about the RSL giveaway more than urban voters, since people along the Wasatch front could actually attend a RSL game in the new stadium, while people from Bullfrog, UT probably won't be able to.

"Although state legislators passed the bill, the issue is certainly not a statewide issue," Swedlund wrote. "That, in fact, was one of the reasons we initiated the referendum process. We believe a county's decisions about its tax base should be left to the county, unless it specifically conflicts with state or federal legislation."

Requiring 15 counties means rising the cost of getting something on the ballot only to pre-existing, well-funded interest groups and not spur of the moment grassroots efforts like Get Real Utah.

This is bad for democracy. While I want to see some level of support for referenda before they make our ballots as long as California's, I think the 15 county method is a disingenuous means to achieve that goal.

No comments: