Monday, March 21, 2011

Ethics reform group sues state

Posted By on March 21, 2011, 2:15 PM

Utahns for Ethical Government today filed a lawsuit against the state for dragging it’s feet in counting signatures for a ballot initiative to mandate Legislative ethics.---

For ethics reformers it was a good day to call on state government. Earlier news had broke that the Governor and the Legislature were planning to repeal the controversial House Bill 477 that would have gutted Utah’s open-government records laws. But while others may have been cheering, the staff of Utahns for Ethical Government was defiant in announcing today that their battle was just warming up.

UEG chair Kim Burningham opened the press conference by discussing the status of the group’s endeavor for a legislative ethics ballot initiative to be placed on the 2012 ballot. The group had failed to get the 95,000 signatures necessary for the initiative to be placed on to the 2010 ballot but collected 120,000 signatures by August 2010 for the issue to be placed on the 2012 ballot.

Since then Burningham says the Lieutenant Governor’s Office which oversees elections has stalled in counting and certifying the signatures for the past seven months. “That is seven months since you collected these signatures,” Burningham (Pictured on the right) told supporters at the event. “We think this is an affront to all registered voters in the state.”

The group says they’ve now been forced to sue the state to seek a legal remedy they hope can be resolved in time for the initiative to make it to the 2012 election. By having the court weigh in on statutory deadlines for collecting the signatures—an issue the group has sparred with the state over, to offer a prompt decision. They’ve also filed extraordinary writs asking for county clerks to complete the count of signatures and certify them.

Recent legislation passed rule out electronic signatures from being valid for ballot petitions, but UEG members said they anticipated this problem and chose not to rely on such signatures. The majority of their estimated 120,000 collected signatures are on paper but the group expects many to be ruled out and have reserved an argument in their lawsuit to use the estimated 5,000-6,000 electronic signatures they’ve collected if needed. David Irvine, a lawyer representing UEG blasted the Legislature’s failure to pass ethics reforms and the rushed nature of HB477 as further proof of lawmakers disconnect with the people who elected them to power

“The Legislature will never act of its own volition to make anything but cosmetic [ethics] changes,” Irvine said. The people’s recourse in such situations, he said was to take lawmaking past the lawmakers and straight to the ballot box. “That right, of the public to combat legislative overreach or neglect, is, as our Supreme Court put it—‘sacrosanct.’” Irvine told the crowd to immediate applause.

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