The Senate showed its wisdom yesterday—and again, Al Novstrup showed his fecklessness as Majority Whip—by defeating House Bill 1130, the attempt by Novstrup and prime sponsor Representative Don Haggar to create more Legislative intrusion in the initiative process.
Recall HB 1130’s three main provisions:
- Hold a public hearing of the Legislature’s Executive Board on any initiative petition before it circulates.
- Create a 30-day public comment period on proposed initiatives at the beginning of the petition-circulation period and post all comments on the Secretary of State’s website.
- Hold another public E-Board hearing on any initiated measures no later than 120 days before the general election.
Prime Senate sponsor Novstrup opened debate on the Senate floor yesterday (timestamp 1:14:30) said HB 1130 provides “greater transparency” in the initiative process. Novstrup said he hoped the media would cover that initial Executive Board hearing to provide “some early education out to the consumers”
Novstrup said the only point of the election-year hearing was to “shine the light of sunshine upon the issue by asking good questions.”
Senator Billie Sutton noticed that the pre-circulation hearing had no deadline. I had flagged that omission as an opportunity for the Legislature, which has demonstrated notable antipathy toward the voters’ initiative power, to indefinitely delay petitioning. Senator Sutton moved to amend HB 1130 to require the Senator Novstrup deemed that amendment friendly, and the Senate adopted the Sutton amendment without objection.
Senator Craig Kennedy expressed concern about the use of the term “hearing.” “They’re not hearings at all,” said attorney Kennedy, since the purpose of a hearing is “to enable a body to make a decision.” The HB 1130 hearings “aren’t hearings at all,” said Kennedy, “because there’s no decision-making being done.” HB 1130 would be “spending state money for in essence two media events.”
Senator Troy Heinert then rose to urge defeat of HB 1130 runs counter to the sentiment he’s heard at all of his crackerbarrels: “Don’t mess with the initiative process.” Hmmm… sounds like clever petitioners would find fertile ground for my proposed “Don’t Mess with Us” Amendment!
Heinert reminded the Legislature that the voters amended the state constitution in 1988 to remove the Legislature from the initiative process. At the very least, Heinert said, passing HB 1130 was “putting the cart before the horse” when the Senate had on its agenda HB 1141, the initiative and referendum task force proposal. Why have a summer study if the Senate was going to leap in and mess with the initiative process with HB 1130?
Speaking from an appropriators’ perspective, Senator Jeff Partridge said the public comment provision would put a costly burden on the Secretary of State’s website and the Executive Board hearings would eat up further unknown funds.
In closing, Senator Novstrup portrayed this bill as “an open government bill” and “a bill of transparency. Arrogantly presuming to know the mind of the voters, Novstrup said, “The voters will not look upon this as an infringement upon their right but with a thank you to the Legislature for providing the opportunity for a complete discussion for the pros and the cons. The alternative to this is a 30-second ad.”
Sorry, Al: this voter saw HB 1130 as a net infringement. You may get all of your information from 30-second ads between your Fox News blurbs, but we already have numerous alternatives, like good local discussion of initiatives and referenda in our local media.
Novstrup’s comments won him just six other votes—Tapio, Rusch, Netherton, Jensen, Greenfield, and Cammack. My thank you goes to the 28 Senators who voted to kill HB 1130.
By the way, the Senate passed the HB 1141 task force at the close of the day on a 28–7 vote. Senator Kennedy expressed suspicion that a task force usually signals an intent to make changes. He said even the summer study is “somewhat insulting” to the will of the voters and led most of his caucus (except for Minority Leader Sutton) in opposing the I&R task force. Senator Sutton cleverly amended the task force bill to remove the seat the original bill saved for the Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, there are still only two regular citizens, appointed by the Governor, one from business, one from ag, which leaves out an entire swath of the population—teachers, journalists, factory workers, retirees, stay-home parents. There’s still one poli-sci prof (who now must be a non-Republican!) and two Board of Elections members, but the other eight members are all legislators or elected officials whose power is checked by initiative and referendum.