ST. GEORGE – Questions of legalizing medical marijuana, expanding Medicaid, redistricting and refining signature gathering for elections may be put to the voters in November.
Each of these items is the subject of a ballot initiative required by the state to gather 113,000 verified signatures from across 26 of Utah’s 29 Senate districts to get on the November ballot. Monday was the deadline to turn in signatures to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
Among the more popular initiatives is the legalization of medical marijuana. The Utah Patients Coalition, the group behind the initiative, claims it submitted around 200,000 signatures to the state.
A recent poll shows 77 percent of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana. However, opponents, including Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Medical Association, claim the initiative is too broad in its application and may ultimately clear the way for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
The UMA also claims that supporters of the ballot initiative are misleading the public. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week stated their support for the Utah Medical Association’s position.
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However, supporters of the initiative say they are confident it will make it to the ballot in November and that Utahns will vote for it.
Organizers of Better Boundaries, an initiative pushing for the creation of an independent redistricting commission to prevent gerrymandering, claim to have garnered around 190,000 signatures.
Drawing the boundaries for Utah’s congressional, legislative and state school board districts is handled by the Legislature, which has led to accusations of gerrymandering in the past.
“Utahns are speaking loud and clear – the people should choose their politicians, politicians shouldn’t choose their voters,” Jeff Wright, Better Boundaries co-chair, said in a press release. “To have so many people –Republicans, Democrats and Independents – sign petitions to move this initiative forward shows that an independent redistricting commission is an idea Utah is ready for.”
Count My Vote
The organizers behind the renewed Count My Vote ballot initiative reported they gathered 175,000 signatures.
The initiative was originally launched in 2013 and sought to do away with the caucus-convention system entirely and replace it with a direct primary. Candidates would qualify for the primary by gathering a set number of signatures.
However, backers of the initiative and the Legislature struck a deal during the 2014 legislative session that preserved the caucus-convention system while also implementing the signature-gathering system as an alternative. The election law that came out of the compromise is generally known as the SB 54.
Factions of the Utah Republican Party have been trying to get SB 54 repealed ever since, which triggered a relaunch of the Count My Vote Initiative in 2017.
While the relaunched initiative keeps the caucus-convention system in place, it seeks to ease state requirements on how many signatures a candidate must gather to qualify for the ballot.
Keep My Voice, an initiative opposed to Count My Vote, did not submit signatures. Instead, those behind the initiative plan to relaunch it in 2020.
Utah Decides Healthcare, the group behind a ballot initiative that pushes for full Medicaid expansion in the state, said it collected 165,000 signatures.
“Utahns have been waiting for over 5 years to expand this life-saving program,” the group posted on its Facebook page Monday. “This is the year we finally get it done. Thank you for helping us get it on the ballot!”
An estimated 150,000 low-income adults would be covered under the Medicaid expansion who currently aren’t covered under the state.
Herbert signed a bill in March expanding Medicaid to cover individuals who are at 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
The ballot initiative seeking full expansion would cover up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Our School’s Now compromise
While organizers of the Our School’s Now initiative reported they had gathered around 150,000 signatures, they withdrew the initiative Monday after reaching a compromise with lawmakers.
The initiative sought to add $700 million to the state’s public education funding through increases in sales and income taxes. Under the compromise, Utahns can vote on a 10 cents per gallon gas tax hike to help fund schools as a part of other measures anticipated to generated up to $385 million in education funding over the next five years.
Signatures gathered by the initiatives must be verified by county clerks, as well as the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. The deadline for verifying the signatures is May 15.
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