We voted. A majority of Utah voters chose to expand Medicaid and give all citizens health coverage. Just how is it that Utah’s legislative body felt it could change the people’s mandate?
A few legislators cried for outright repeal. Some demanded the wording of the approved initiative should stand and honor the election’s outcome. However, a majority of Utah’s lawmakers supported an altered version — a compromise.
Some citizens might ask, “Just who do those legislators think they are? Do they have the right to do this? If so, what is the source of their authority?”
The answer to those questions is found in the Utah Constitution (Article VI, Section 1), which explains the power of legislation is a shared power vested in the Senate, the House of Representatives and the people. In other words, legislation may be initiated, adopted, and amended by the Legislature or by a vote of registered voters under prescribed conditions.
So, yes, while the voters may pass a proposition, the Legislature may decide not to enact or may alter the language of the approved law as it sees fit.
However, the check on that legislative action falls squarely and finally on the sovereignty of the citizens. That check may occur at the polls when candidates run for re-election. Thus, voters indeed have the final say.
It is important to remember, though, that as citizens and the voting public, we’ve given our legislative representatives more than just one assignment. We’ve not only told them to enact our initiatives, but also to keep a balanced budget, to keep taxes as low as possible, to be prudent and to be responsible with the public trust.
Utah history demonstrates precedent for what is happening with the current Medicaid expansion alteration. On almost every occasion of voter approved initiatives since 1960, the lawmakers — after much debate and consideration — have enacted amendments to propositions approved by the voters simply to make them workable.
It’s just not as simple as following the direction of the voters to “do as we say.” In the United States federalist system — ordained by the national constitution — state governments act sometimes independently, but sometimes in cooperative ventures. Medicaid issues involve the federal government. So, beyond the citizens’ Medicaid expansion directive, the state government must negotiate with the national government and set and meet expectations.
The Utah Legislature’s Medicaid bill (Senate Bill 96) has undergone several revisions —each of them representative of the compromise required to satisfy diverse parties. Compromise is the way to find solutions. Compromise is at the foundation of the United States Constitution. Compromise is not political weakness. It is the method used to build unity and make progress.
Some legislators report they’ve learned new swear words in reading emails from “fans.” Calling names and personal jabbing are not productive. Respectful dialogue is.
It is now time to put aside differences and work to help those who need help to get enrolled in Medicaid and in the federal health care exchanges.
State government leaders assure us that the outcome of this process will provide affordable health care coverage opportunities for all Utahns in some form or another beginning April 1.
After all the discussion and action, it is important to recognize citizens are still sovereign, and their approval of Proposition 3 has helped the Legislature to act on Medicaid expansion.
It is also important to recognize our state legislative representatives have taken the oath to “support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the State of Utah,” which requires a balanced budget, and they have committed to discharge their duties of office with fidelity.
Voters express their collective opinion, and lawmakers collectively respond to the best of their ability.
Sometimes it’s an unavoidably complicated process, but ultimately becomes a sharing of power — a productive partnership. And productive partnership is the Utah way.