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Utah high court strikes down initiative law

Utah high court strikes down initiative law

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A law approved earlier this year that limited the power of public initiatives is unconstitutional, the Utah Supreme court ruled Friday.

The ruling expands upon an earlier decision by the court allowing Sevier County voters to decide on a measure that would let them vote on permits for coal-fired power plants in the future.

A 6th District judge last month halted the citizen referendum, ruling the initiative intended for the Nov. 4 ballot didn't comply with a new state law prohibiting initiatives on changes to land-use ordinances.

The Supreme Court struck down that provision 6-0, saying state law can't be used to curb the use of initiative power.

Sevier Power Co. wants to build a 270-megawatt electric plant on 300 acres of near Sigurd in central Utah.

Attorney Jeffery Owens, representing a citizen group called the Right to Vote Committee, said he was pleased with the ruling, which expanded on the one issued a week ago allowing the measure back on the Sevier County ballot.

Owens told the court in a hearing Oct. 8 that Senate Bill 53 "flies in the face of the constitution" by limiting what citizens can and can't put to a public vote.

"I felt like it was pretty clear cut," Owens said.

The Supreme Court agreed.

"Unless and until the people give the legislature the constitutional authority to suspend or forbid the use of the initiative power, it cannot be done by statute," the court opinion read.

The court said the argument of Sevier Power's attorneys that the constitution gives lawmakers authority to limit any subject in the initiative process could render citizens' initiative power "illusory."

"To the contrary, we are obligated to conclude the opposite," the court said.

Fred Finlinson, a lawyer representing Sevier Power, said the ruling "raises some very far-ranging issues" over the friction between public votes on zoning ordinances and the rights of private landowners.

"Basically this is a referendum on a power plant, tomorrow it could be something in Salt Lake County, where will the next one be?" Finlinson said.

The ruling was written by Justice Michael J. Wilkins.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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