A proposed fix to Utah’s State School Board election procedures passed the Senate Wednesday.
SB 78 – State Board of Education Candidate Selection, which is sponsored by Senator Ann Millner (Republican – Ogden), calls for a committee to help select candidates, but the proposed committee would be barred from deciding for or against a candidate based on their “political or educational philosophies, viewpoints, or affiliations.” The legislation will automatically expire on January 1, 2017.
SB 78 is, in effect, a stop-gap measure that will be used for the current election cycle until a more permanent solution is determined by the legislature.
Before 2014, the state had a vetting committee who would recommend some candidates to the governor for approval. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups found that method unconstitutional. In his ruling, Waddoups wrote that it violated candidates’ free speech rights by keeping them from appearing on the ballot – just because they don’t fit a certain set of criteria.
In 2015, multiple bills were run to help fix the issue, though none of them ultimately passed. With elections looming, the pressure is on to find a solution, even a temporary one.
“We do need something. People will be filing to vote for this right after the legislative session. We need a process,” said Millner. She pointed out that, potentially, dozens of candidates could end up on the ballot if something is not done. “This would allow us just to put something that is really based as close as we could be to what was our old selection process in place addressing some specific concerns of Judge Waddoups and getting us something in place for the 2016 elections.”
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) believes the heart of the bill – the prohibition against considering the candidates’ educational philosophies – is absurd. “This is a bad way. I understand it’s a stop-gap, but we can stop the gap better than this because it is legal lunacy to placate Judge Waddoups with this kind of a thing, even in a stop-gap. We ought to take the pressure, take the time, and come up with a sensible solution now, rather than kick it down the road a year,” said Dabakis.
Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) feels it is a good piece of legislation that will hold the state over for the 2016 election cycle. “This is a stop-gap, but at least it ensures that we don’t wind up with 20 people on the ballot for one race and the winner winning by 6 percent of the vote,” said Stephenson.
SB 78 passed on a 22-6 vote. All Senate Democrats voted against the bill, as well as Republican Senator Brian Shiozawa (Cottonwood Heights).