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Lawsuit filed over rejected citizen referendums

Utah State Capitol
Posted at 2:50 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 16:58:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of an advocacy group have filed a lawsuit against the state, accusing it of improperly rejecting citizen referendums on bills passed by the Utah State Legislature.

"The People's Right," which sought referendums on medical cannabis and tax reform bills, sued Governor Gary Herbert and Lt. Governor Spencer Cox for rejecting their petitions on confession of judgment in landlord/tenant disputes, voter privacy and amendments to county forms of government. All those bills passed the legislature and were signed by the governor into law.

Steve Maxfield, Morris Maxfield, and Daniel and Lori Newby all sought referendums on those bills. That's where a bill passed by the legislature is put up for a public vote. They were rejected, the Lt. Governor's Office said, because three of the five referendum sponsors didn't meet the legal criteria. Morris Maxfield and the Newbys haven't voted recently, nor are the Newbys registered to vote in Utah.

"The First Amendment protects people’s right to participate in the political process, to engage in speech, and to associate with like-minded individuals to promote a shared agenda. The Lieutenant Governor’s actions violate these fundamental principles by preventing Morris, Daniel, and Lori from exercising the most basic right of the people, secured by Utah Constitution. The Lieutenant Governor seeks to punish Daniel and Lori for their political view that voting serves a corrupt purpose," said Michael Teter, the attorney for The People's Right, in a statement to FOX 13. "By enforcing this requirement on these individuals, the State is preventing them from associating together to sponsor referenda and promote their political agenda. The Lieutenant Governor may disagree with their views, but he cannot take away their right to express them."

The Lt. Governor's Office, which oversees referendums, had no comment on the latest lawsuit by The People's Right.

Citizen referenda have been run in the past over legislative bills. The People's Right previously sought a referendum on the legislature's medical cannabis replacement bill that was rejected by the Utah Supreme Court. They also are suing over a rejected referendum on the legislature's imploded tax reform policies. A federal judge refused to dismiss that lawsuit.

Read the lawsuit here.