Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Public Referendum in Sevier County disallowed because of SB 53 which took effect AFTER the signatures were submitted. UPDATE: Ruling is being appealed

The Tribune details the reasoning for the power plant referendum being taken off the ballot. (Why is the Tribune the only one covering referendums in Utah? I can't find anything in the Deseret News about the disputes about Sevier County, Beaver County, or Box Elder County.) How does this decision benefit anyone? Seriously? Besides those with a financial stake in building the power plant in Sevier County, who does SB 53 benefit?

The legal reasoning seems faulty to me as well since the petitioning group turned in their signature two days before the new SB 53 law took effect. The judge in the case about the Box Elder Referendum (2nd article down dated 5/17) rejected all arguments against a public referendum "The court finds that the issue . . . is one of great potential impact upon the county's environment, resources and citizens and very appropriate for voter participation."

Does anyone else care? Can an appeal be expedited to take place before the November elections? Once again--why was this bill, apparently written by wealthy lobbyist, Steve Barth, proposed and passed? Did our state Representatives and Senators of both parties actually read the bill and question what need it was addressing?

Here's the full text of the article:

Judge knock's people's vote on power plant off the ballot
Sevier County citizens considering an appeal
By Cathy McKitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/09/2008 08:09:59 PM MDT

Posted: 8:09 PM- A 6th District Court Judge ruled Tuesday to pull a power-plant referendum off Sevier County's ballot.
"We're quite pleased with the judge's decision," said Fred Finlinson, one of the attorneys for Sevier Power Co.
According to Finlinson, Judge Wallace Lee ruled from the bench shortly after hearing oral arguments at the Richfield courthouse, using a new state law as the basis for his decision.
With SB53, "the Legislature determined that the initiative process does not apply to the changing of a zoning ordinance," Finlinson said.
For several months, Sevier County residents - led by Elaine Bonavita's Right to Vote Committee - fought to put construction of the proposed coal-fired power plant to a public vote.
The Right To Vote committee submitted over 1,500 signatures two days before SB53 took effect on May 5. In July, Sevier County Commissioners allowed the referendum to advance to the ballot, but juggled terminology in a way that could have rendered it invalid.
"It was an unexpected and disappointing result," said Jeff Owen, the attorney representing the Right To Vote effort.
"Judge Lee felt that SB53 was in effect at the time of our initiative because the County Commission took no action on it until July 7," Owens said. "I disagree. On May 3, my clients did the last thing they could possibly do and it was out of their hands at that point."
Judge Lee did not rule on whether SB53 is constitutional, choosing instead to leave that up to the state Supreme Court, which will deal with the BRAVE v. Beaver County case concerning the proposed Mt. Holly ski and golf resort.
Before SB53 took effect, the state attorney general's office advised that courts might strike the new law down as being unconstitutional because of its limits on local initiative and referendum powers.
Sevier County residents associated with the Right To Vote effort are considering an appeal, Owens said.
In the meantime, Sevier Power Co. will pursue further county approvals and also faces a state Supreme Court battle with the Sierra Club over air quality issues. That appeal is scheduled for early October, Finlinson said.

The Sevier Referendum petitioners are appealing on two different grounds: One, SB 53 is an unconstitutional (Utah State Constitution) restriction on the public's right to redress government. Two, even if you find that SB 53 is not a sham, they submitted their petition two days before the law took effect. The new law should be irrelevant to the legal petition. They're right on both counts I believe.,5143,700257775,00.html

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