Utah Lt. Gov. rejects citizens’ initiative to set term limits for elected officials

Efforts to set term limits on Utah officials must look for support from Utah legislators. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Proponents of setting term limits on Utah officials must look for support from Utah legislators. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox rejected a citizens’ initiative petitioning to place term limits on state appointees earlier this week.

Cox declared the initiative unconstitutional by the Utah State Constitution on July 2. A campaign called Utah Term Limits Now sponsored the efforts for the initiative.

Rick Larsen, organizer for the campaign, stated his group already is preparing the next steps to work to establish term limits on Utah officials.

Citizen initiatives are a way ordinary Utah residents can change and create new Utah laws. Residents like Larsen can collect public backing from registered Utah voters and put potential changes to law on a state ballot. James Magleby, political science department chair at BYU, said Utah requires 10 percent of registered voters to back a statutory amendment.

Larsen’s initiative fulfilled that requirement, but according to a news release from Cox’s office it was rejected for being “patently unconstitutional.”

Magleby explained further that there are two kinds of initiatives: statutory and constitutional. Utah only allows statutory initiatives that deal with changes to minor laws. Cox called the proposed initiative “patently unconstitutional” because he deemed it to go against the Utah State Constitution. This reasoning would disqualify the proposed initiative from being a statutory initiative. Utah Term Limits Now will now need to use other methods to accomplish its objective.

“The only other option is to elect a new legislature. The legislature could create a constitutional amendment that would have term limits,” Magleby said.

The Utah Legislature has voted for term limits in the past but later rescinded those limits. Larsen believes the majority of Utah residents are in favor of term limits for elected offices. A press release from his campaign cited a poll showing 79 percent of Utah voters expressed support of term limits for statewide elected officials. The survey was conducted statewide by a national political opinion polling firm in April of this year.

Larsen stated he also questions Cox’s authority to declare his initiative unconstitutional. He said the courts should have the jurisdiction to make such a ruling.

“The lieutenant governor can’t make that decision; he or she can only cite it on precedent,” Larsen said

Larsen and others at Utah Term Limits Now plan to seek other methods for placing limits on the elected offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer.

“We will be introducing an initiative for a state constitutional amendment through House and Senate sponsors,” Larsen said.

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