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14 | JANUARY 18, 2018

Step right up to some of this session’s pressing issues. By Dylan Woolf Harris @dylantheharris

By Ray Howze @rayhowze1

ho can you turn to to pass laws when the lawmakers won’t? The answer: Why don’t you just do it yourself? As we head into the session, it’s possible there will be bills— even some with widespread public support—that lawmakers will fail to pass. With a 45-day window, legislators can’t conceivably pass everything introduced as they rush to beat the ticking clock—nor should they. But some of the bills are resuscitated annually, kicked around, worked and reworked only to die once again when the lawmakers cheer sine die. Eventually, when groups are fed up with lawmakers’ inability to pass laws themselves, they’ve been known to map out another route and go directly to the voters. This year, as voters watch what’s happening on the Hill, they should also consider whether they’ll support a range of ballot initiatives that have been stewing for quite some time and could end up on the ballot come election time. At least two of the initiatives would raise taxes. In conservative Utah, it’s conceivable that lawmakers are afraid of staining themselves with a tax increase (albeit minimally, campaign smears don’t usually get into the weeds). A few more initiatives deal with elections and election districts. And the final one focuses on weed. For an initiative to appear on the ballot, it has to first be supported by 10 percent of the voters who participated in the most recent presidential election. That amounts to a little more than 100,000 residents from this election cycle. Additionally, signatures need to be collected from 26 of 29 senate districts.

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Utah responded by suing to block a mandated expansion of Medicaid. The outcome was that the state didn’t have to accept dollars for Medicaid expansion, but it continued to pay into the federal system. An expected front to federal overreach, perhaps, but a stance that, nevertheless, left about 100,000 people in what’s been referred to as the “coverage gap”—a demographic that makes too much money to qualify for one set of programs but not enough to qualify for others. Two-thirds of whom are working one or more jobs, according to Utah Decides Healthcare, which launched a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. “They’re typically low-wage income earners,” campaign manager Rylee Curtis says, as well as non-working caretakers and students. In order to collect, Utah would be on the hook for 10 percent of the funds. Still, supporters say, the federal match is an enormous incentive. “It triggers about $900 million that would come back to the state,” Curtis says. Part of the group’s message focuses on the economic argument—that a 10 percent investment is a hell of a deal. To pay for Utah’s portion, Utah Decides Healthcare is proposing nudging up the state’s non-food item sales tax from 4.7 percent to 4.85 percent. For the average Utahn, the campaign estimates, that increase equals about 3 cents extra for every $20 spent on non-food items. In 2016, the state passed House Bill 437, a health care bill that, among other things, provided Medicaid to the state’s vulnerable homeless population. Curtis notes that while she supports the effort, Utah carried 30 percent of the costs and it didn’t diversify the risk pool. “It was a great first step,” she says. “Seeing some movement forward was really inspiring. However, it did not cover the entire expansion population and really. it left out working Utahns.” (DWH)

The Count My Vote ballot initiative started out bold. Organizers wanted to blow up the entire caucus selection system for state candidates and get candidates on the ballot through signatures. Since November, though, and after public hearings, they scaled back that initiative and, instead, want to simplify the 2014 law, Senate Bill 54, they helped create that allows for candidates to get on the ballot through signatures or by the caucus. That’s exactly what happened in last year’s race for the Third Congressional District between Chris Herrod and John Curtis. Herrod was selected through the caucus, but Curtis, sensing strong voter support, got on the ballot via signature collection. “It justified itself,” says Rich McKeown, County My Vote’s executive chairman, about the signature-gathering process. “But the fact of the matter is, there’s been a group of people who believe there’s only one legitimate way to get on the ballot and they have been consistently attempting to litigate, agitate, go through the [political] parties to modify or ameliorate the effects of SB54.” Those attempts don’t appear to be stopping, either. Just last week, proponents of the caucus system filed paperwork for a new ballot initiative that would restore the caucus system and eliminate SB54. McKeown says their initiative plans to lower the threshold for signatures necessary to get on a ballot. The initiative would require only 1 percent of party members in a jurisdiction. Curtis submitted more than 15,000 signatures while only 7,000 were required, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article. If the ballot initiative were to pass, that threshold would be even lower. “We didn’t think there would be a way to possibly do that through the Legislature and to decide it for us,” McKeown says. “There are contrary forces that believe there is only one way to do it, that is the caucus convention system.” (RH)

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