Lawmakers reject an attempt to repeal the controversial SB 54 elections law on Feb 17, 2016.
An attempt by lawmakers to repeal a 2014 election law compromise on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives was defeated Wednesday morning. After one representative attempted to amend a relatively benign bill related to political parties’ alternative delegates.
Rep. Justin Fawson's, R-North Ogden, amendment to Rep. Fred Cox's, R-West Valley City, bill would have allowed qualified political parties like the Utah Republican Party to forbid their candidates from collecting signatures in order to qualify for a primary ballot—leaving only the caucus/convention route where candidates have to win the support of party delegates in order to appear on the public’s ballot.
That directly repeals the provisions of 2014’s SB54, more commonly known as the Count My Vote Compromise, which required that political parties must allow candidates to take the alternative path.
“Two years ago, the legislature adopted SB54 as a compromise,” said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. “To change this in the middle of the process makes no sense. Also, if [the vote in the House] doesn’t get two-thirds support, [the law would] take effect in May. Can you imagine the confusion that is going to cause?”
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, agreed, pointing out that the legislature hasn’t even gone through a single election cycle since SB 54 took effect. “We’ve got to ride this thing out through at least one election cycle to see what we learn,” Handy said.
Lawmakers also debated whether or not SB54 was an unconstitutional attempt to control a private entity in political parties, and also whether repealing it so soon is a violation of the agreement lawmakers struck in 2014.
“[SB54] attempted to tell a private party who gets to wear their jersey. We don’t have the constitutional power to do that,” argued Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan. “That would be like us requiring the Utah Jazz to hire a certain [player].”
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, shot back that he sees a big difference between political parties and the Utah Jazz. “The Utah Jazz do not get a spot on the November election ballot. That to me has always been the distinction between a political party and private organizations. The courts will work out whether it is constitutional or not. But regardless of your prediction of the judicial system, what do the citizens of your states prefer? And time and time again they have said they support the intent of SB54.”
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who was the House sponsor of SB54 in 2014, argued that “No one is more familiar with the difficulties with SB54 than I am. I will just say that this body passed in good faith a compromise bill with the intent to honor it. That may not mean something to you, but it means something to me. I don’t love the horse I’m on, but I’m ready to finish the hike.”
But Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, who was not in the legislature during the 2014 session, said that “This legislature is not the same one who made the decision two years ago. That agreement doesn’t exist anymore. So adhering to an agreement that no longer exists doesn’t make sense to me. But that bill and that law no longer exists.”
Since the passage of SB54, the Utah Republican Party has filed several lawsuits attempting to overturn it.
The amendment to the bill was defeated 30-42.