Signature removal bill passes, as lawmakers continue work on ethics measures

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday to make it easier for Utahns to remove their names from a statewide initiative or referendum. It's something Republican opponents of a citizens' ethics initiative hope to use to derail the effort.

The House voted 50-24 to pass Senate Bill 275 on Wednesday, advancing it to the governor's office. Along with it, lawmakers are trying to show they are already on the case, and passing a variety of ethics measures of their own.

Under the big Capitol dome, opinions vary about a slew of ethics measures backed by lawmakers. Members of a citizens group pushing an ethics initiative are skeptical.

That includes Carole Peterson, a former chief clerk of the Utah House, who served on Capitol Hill for decades.

"I'll give them maybe a D-plus, maybe a D-plus," Peterson says. "Stand up to the plate and be responsible. We elect you to represent us, not yourselves and lobbyists. Do what's best for the citizens."

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is a sponsor of several ethics bills. He says, as a whole, lawmakers are making great strides on measures from a new ethics commission to new conflict of interest provisions.

"In my view, if all of the bills that are poised to pass, we will have made great progress towards ethics in Utah," Valentine says.

Leaders of Utahns for Ethical Government call the progress minimal at best.

"Legislators say we will have an ethics commission, but they make that commission the creation of the legislators themselves and they deny citizen input. The fox is still guarding the henhouse," says Kim Burningham, spokesman for Utahns for Ethical Government.

"They are not doing enough," Peterson says. "I've studied their bills. I've compared their bills to the citizen's initiative. There is no meat whatsoever."

Petition proponents say despite the passage of a bill to make it easier to remove petition signatures, they believe they have the momentum to put ethics on the ballot.

"We really do think the public wants to see much more significant change than the Legislature is currently doing," says Dixie Huefner, with Utahns for Ethical Government.

The citizens' ethics campaign needs to gather 95,000 signatures by April 15 in order to get the initiative on the ballot. Then opponents will have until May 15 to try to contact people who have signed petitions and lobby them to remove their names.


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