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Second group pushes for referendum against newly passed tax reform package

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is condemning House Bill 90, which is aimed at removing "priest-penitent privilege." (File photo.)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL – The legal fight over the state’s newly passed tax reform package is leading to an odd situation for elections officials.  They say two different groups are trying to essentially do the same thing, and state law doesn’t specify what they should do if both groups are successful.

Monday, former state representative Fred Cox joined with groups like the Utah Justice Coalition and Utahns Against Hunger and filed a citizen’s referendum on the newly passed reform package.  If they gather enough signatures, the people would be able to vote on whether the new tax code should become law.

So, why is the group The People’s Right filing to do the same thing?  Is it overkill?  Group representative Steve Maxfield says he fully supports the other groups desire to get the referendum on the ballot.  However, Maxfield has doubts about that group’s method.

“[Cox] believes that you can go out and get enough organic signatures through volunteers in the short timeframe to qualify for the ballot,” he says.

He says he has no intention of splitting the vote between the two referendums, or to cause any kind of confusion among voters.  However, to get on the ballot, they would need to collect 115,860 signatures across the state, and Maxfield doesn’t believe there’s enough time to gather them through volunteers.

Maxfield says, “We need to do it with paid signature gatherers.  Without that, there is no other way.”

Both groups only have until January 21 to get the signatures they need.

Utah Elections Director Justin Lee says, “[They need to be gathered] within 40 days of the session.  That’s a very big lift for any one group to do, let alone for two groups to do.  So, we’ll see what happens there.”

What happens if both groups qualify to get the referendum on the ballot?  Whose motion gets priority?  That’s where Lee says things get fuzzy.  Currently, there are clear laws that dictate what the state should do if two groups propose similar initiatives.  However, Lee says referendums aren’t initiatives, and there isn’t anything that would prohibit both referendums from being on the same ballot.

“At this point, we’re having our attorneys look at it and let us know if there are issues, or, what the potholes might be.”

Maxfield says he’d be willing to join with Cox’s effort, if necessary.