CHEYENNE – Wyoming has one of the toughest requirements in the nation for residents to get questions on the ballot.
Now a proposed law change could make the state’s initiative process even more challenging.
The Legislature’s Management Council voted last week to sponsor a bill that requires groups to submit proposed initiatives in proper bill format before the secretary of state decides whether they meet all requirements to be certified.
Lawmakers said the proposal is in response to the ongoing medical marijuana initiative from the Wyoming chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The state requires citizen-led groups to submit applications before they can start collecting the necessary signatures to get a question on the ballot. Part of that requirement is filing their proposal in the bill format that the Legislature uses.
But the state’s practice has been to work with groups to make sure their proposal was proper.
In the case of Wyoming NORML’s petition, this led to a prolonged back-and-forth between the group and the secretary of state’s office, which relied on the nonpartisan Legislative Service Office for input to determine if it was acceptable.
According to an LSO memo, “All told, LSO’s time devoted to those reviews was an estimated 245 to 250 hours.”
Lawmakers said this was a burden for the office, especially during times when it was busy preparing for a legislative session.
The proposal seeks to avoid these situations by requiring the proposed bill to be in the format that is required in state law “concurrently with the filling of the application.”
It goes on to say that if it is not in the proper format, the secretary of state will provide the group with a copy of the statute that includes the requirements of a proper bill. The group then would be allowed to resubmit their bill.
“All we are doing is giving them a courtesy notice,” said Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland.
“All we are saying is it doesn’t meet (the requirements). Instead of denying it outright, we are sending it back and saying resubmit in proper format.”
Carrie Satterwhite is a spokeswoman for Wyoming NORML. She said the group required the long back-and-forth with the state over the bill format because the proposal was a complicated and controversial issue.
“The initiative Wyoming NORML backs right now was a subject that is considered taboo by all,” she said. “So I am sure that is why they had to give it ultra attention to being presented just right.”
Members of Wyoming NORML repeatedly have called for reforms to make the state’s initiative process easier on groups that are trying to get questions on the ballot.
This includes concerns that they were not able to begin collecting signatures for several weeks before their petitions were printed.
But Satterwhite said she doesn’t see the proposed law change making a huge difference either way for other groups that might go through the process in the future.
“Wyoming does have the toughest laws when it comes to getting an issue on the ballot,” she said.
“For the most part, I don’t think the changes will hurt future groups by making it harder for them. It just will help ease the workload of the staff for the state of Wyoming.”