The state's highest court will consider Wednesday whether lawmakers acted unconstitutionally when they combined more than a dozen education programs including some that had already failed on the House floor into one bill that was passed on the last night of the 2008 legislative session.
A 3rd District Court judge dismissed the case within the past several years but now, it's back on appeal. The Utah Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday.
Nearly 40 Utahns, including state school board members, current and former lawmakers and other education leaders originally filed the lawsuit in 2008, saying the bill, SB2, was unconstitutional because it contained more than one subject and its title was unclear. They're also alleging that lawmakers used SB2 to unconstitutionally delegate administration of some education programs to entities other than the State Board of Education.
"They put some money into [SB2], called it an appropriations bill and then told people, 'If you don't vote for this, if it doesn't pass, there won't be money for public schools,'" said David Irvine, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "We felt very strongly that was an improper way for the legislature to proceed."
He added, "If the legislature did not overstep its bounds in this case, it's hard for me to picture a case that would be more egregious than the one we've got."
Irvine said plaintiffs hope the court will send the suit back to 3rd District Court, and that the decision eventually will be made that lawmakers cannot pass laws in that way.
In earlier rulings, 3rd District Court judge Lee Dever essentially said he dismissed parts of the suit because the plaintiffs didn't present enough factual support for their claims.
The defendants, who include Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, former Utah Treasurer Edward Alter, and Jeff Herring, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Resource Management, say the bill was not unconstitutional.
"We believe that the legislature acted appropriately," said Brent Burnett, assistant attorney general.
The defendants argue that combining related measures in one bill in this case related because they all had to do with education is an appropriate practice for the Legislature.
They also argue that the bill's long title (which is different than its short title) adequately represented the bill. The long title says "This bill provides funding for the Minimum School Program and other education programs."
They also say the way lawmakers delegated responsibility over certain education programs was not unconstitutional.
"All of this was within the power of the constitutional authority of the legislature to enact," Burnett said.
Legislative attorneys have also noted support for the defendants in briefs filed in the case.
Kim Burningham, a state school board member and plaintiff in the case, said he looks forward to a Supreme Court ruling in the case, though it likely won't come immediately following arguments.
"It just takes a while to work through the process, and we're eager now to have the ruling of the Supreme Court on it," Burningham said. "We are hopeful that they will rule against logrolling, which we believe would be [for the good] of people in the state."
The bill included such items as an at-home software education program for preschool-age children called UPSTART, additional pay for math and science teachers and an arts education program, among others.
Utah Supreme Court to hear case on education bill
The state Supreme Court will hear a case alleging lawmakers acted unconstitutionally when they passed an education omnibus bill in 2008. The case is scheduled to be heard Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in the Moot Courtroom at the University of Utah.