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Barron: Wyoming’s initiative process is already way too hard

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CHEYENNE — Republican officials in several states are trying to make it harder for citizens to get an initiative on the general election ballot.

This movement is in retaliation after hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions to expand voting rights, ensure abortion rights and legalize marijuana in Arizona, Arkansas and Michigan, according to the Associated Press.

None of these petitions may ever get on the ballot because Republican officials in those states blocked them on grounds of bad wording, insufficient number of signatures or whatever.

In Arizona and Arkansas, Republicans lawmakers have placed on the ballot a proposal to make it even more difficult for citizens to get an initiative approved.

This is a partisan deal. The Republicans are pushing back against the Democrat’s use of the initiative to adopt proposals opposed by the Republicans like Medicaid expansion, increases in the minimum wage and legalization of medical marijuana.

They also claim that wealthy special interest groups are behind the Democratic proposals.

And how will this new GOP crackdown hurt Wyoming?

Well, not much.

Wyoming’s law is already one of the most stringent in the nation.

Make it worse and you might as well stuff it in a drawer.

The big hurdle is collecting the needed number of signatures of valid voters from two-thirds of the 23 counties.

Originally, the law allowed those signatures to be collected statewide but that changed with an legislative amendment in 1997.

Opponents claimed the collectors were getting most of their signatures from voters in more populous cities like Casper and Cheyenne. The amendment forced them into the smaller counties.

Also, originally, some sponsors tried to do the signature collecting with volunteers. That proved too difficult.

So they had to hire professionals at considerable cost.

Those are the guys (mostly) who stand outside of Wal-Mart or Home Depot with a pen and a clipboard and pester customers who are coming and going.

According to the Secretary of State’s Elections web page, the last initiative petition was in 2019. It would have restricted political party changes for primary elections. The purpose was to keep the Democrats from voting in Republican primaries.

The sponsors did not collect the needed 30,792 signatures so it didn’t get on the ballot.

Currently pending are two initiatives on marijuana: one to legalize medical marijuana and the other to de-criminalize possession of marijuana for personal use.

Sponsors are still collecting signatures to get the proposals on the 2024 ballot. Supporters are hoping the legislators will act first in the coming general session in January.

The elections office historical summary traces initiatives and referendum since the process was enacted in 1968 through a constitutional amendment.

The law does not allow initiatives to change the constitution.

At the time it was passed legislators said they wanted the process to be difficult.

Legislators are jealous of their powers as professionals; they don’t want amateurs mucking around in the law making business.

The list of initiatives filed reveals most failed because sponsors could not collect the required number of signatures to get them on the ballot.

A handful of the initiatives filed prompted the Legislature to act and pass similar legislation; to make instream flow a beneficial use of water; exempt food from the sales tax, and add a surface owner accommodation law to require oil and gas operators to negotiate in good faith with surface owners for damages.

In 1992, there was a compelling street fight between the trucking industry and the railroads that made it to the ballot.

At that time the truckers were planning to add the long triple trailers to their fleet. The idea, of course, was to increase the size of each load to make more money.

Several people who drove I-80 complained about the hazards of passing semis on that corridor, let alone the long triple trailers.

The competing railroads used the safety angle as a tool to ban the triples from Wyoming highways.

The railroads got an initiative on the 1992 ballot to ban triple trailers.

The truckers retaliated with an initiative to impose additional safety rules on hazardous loads for the railroads.

Both passed. The concept or threat of triple trailers vanished. So the railroads won — or did they?

Joan Barron is a former capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net.

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