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'Hill bill' ballot drive falls far short; state's petition process toughest in U.S.

May 31, 2013 The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The secretary of state's office says the drive to repeal a new law reducing the powers and duties of Wyoming's superintendent of public instruction has failed.

State Election Director Peggy Nighswonger said Friday that the referendum effort collected almost 22,000 signatures, well short of the 37,000 needed to put the issue before voters in the 2014 election.

Sponsors of the drive turned in petitions on Tuesday afternoon. The effort was led by the Wyoming Constitution Party.

The referendum was led by people upset with the Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead for enacting the superintendent law this past winter. The biggest change replaced the superintendent as head of the state Education Department with a director appointed by the governor.

The change came in the middle of Superintendent Cindy Hill's four-year term.Sponsors of an effort to repeal a new state law say they were so rushed by Wyoming's referendum deadline that they didn't have time to count how many signatures they had collected on the petitions they submitted this week.

"The referendum process needs to be changed," said Jennifer Young, of Torrington, who was among those submitting petition signatures Tuesday, minutes before the deadline. "It's designed for the people to fail and the legislators to not lose a bill they want."

Wyoming's referendum process is among the most restrictive in the nation, meaning residents have little chance of reaching the statewide ballot with their cause, public policy advocates say.

In the last 30 years, only one referendum on a new state law succeeded in making the general election ballot. It failed at the polls.

In order for the effort to have succeeded, Young and other sponsors of the drive had 90 days to collect 37,606 valid signatures, or 15 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 general election. In addition, the signatures they collected must represent 15 percent of those residing in at least two-thirds of the state's 23 counties.

Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center in Casper, said Wyoming makes it tough for an initiative or referendum to succeed.

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