Sunday, February 3, 2013

2013 Legislative Session - Week One Update

As the 2013 legislative session got under way last week, the ACLU of Utah was present to work with law makers and address various civil liberties issues.  

On Wednesday, the ACLU was in attendance as Representative Patrice Arent's bill to end straight ticket voting in Utah elections was presented to the House Government Operations Committee.  In her testimony, Rep. Arent gave several examples she had personally encountered where straight ticket voting led voters to cast votes for candidates they did not intend to support.  Other testimony was offered by members of the public, who made the case that straight ticket voting was particularly confusing to voters who did not understand the difference between primary elections that have party restrictions, and general elections that do not.  While some members of the committee engaged with those offering testimony, and even claimed to be undecided up until the vote, the bill ultimately failed to get out of committee on a 3-4 vote.  As an organization that firmly supports voting rights, the ACLU of Utah supports any bill that encourages greater voter participation.  Thus, we were disappointed that the bill did not make it out of committee, as it could have been an important step towards addressing voter apathy in Utah. 

The ACLU is also following H.B. 64, Felon's Right to Hold Office, being sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss.  If passed, the bill would restrict sex offenders from being elected to positions on the State Board of Education and local school boards.  While the bill was inspired by a recent school board election, there are concerns surrounding the practical consequences of the bill.  The definition of sex offender is of particular concern, as it is very broad.  As the law is written today, one could be charged with a felony and be classified a sex offender for "lewdness" or "statutory rape", neither of which might affect one's ability to serve on the school board.  Most importantly, however, the question of a candidate's suitability for office should be left to the voters.  There's no need for the legislature to substitute their best judgment for that of the voters, which is in essence what this bill would accomplish.  Over the coming weeks we will continue to stay engaged with legislators regarding this issue, as we work to ensure citizens are not wrongly excluded from the political process.        

Of course, these are only a few of the issues that we are engaged with as we work to protect your civil liberties throughout the legislative session.  We will continue to post updates to keep our members and the public informed about our work as the session unfolds over the coming weeks.  

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