This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
True or false quiz: 1. Being elected to the Utah Legislature makes you a constitutional law expert. 2. The Utah Constitution can be easily amended and advice from legal scholars is not needed.
Of course, the answers to the above questions are false, but in 2011 the Legislature passed an ill-advised bill that indicates some legislators believe these statements to be true.
Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, ended the independence of the state's Constitutional Revision Commission by making that commission's voice only heard when called for by (i) the governor, (ii) the Legislature in a joint resolution of the Legislature, or (iii) the Legislative Management Committee.
Thus, in matters affecting amendments to the Utah Constitution, the Legislature has determined that it does not need constitutional advice unless requested through one of these three mechanisms. In other words, like a strict family dinner, the Constitutional Revision Commission shall speak only when spoken to.
The truth is that the Legislature is a very busy place. Issues often fly around with the speed of an automatic pitching machine, and legislators are swinging their bats constantly during their constitutionally limited 45-day session.
That's exactly why the Constitutional Revision Commission was formed, initially in 1969. As former CRC members and lawyers Alan L. Sullivan and Michael D. Zimmerman have written ("Senate Bill 44 should be defeated," Opinion, Feb. 5), the CRC was established because the Legislature does not have the time or the inclination on its own to lay the necessary groundwork for careful and thoughtful constitutional change.
And the Utah Constitution, probably more than any document in the state, is too important to change without cautious deliberation. All possible ramifications should be studied and considered. Comments from the public and from legal scholars should not only be encouraged but invited.
That was precisely what the Constitutional Revision Commission did in recent years. Its service has been invaluable. The CRC gave detailed suggestions to the Legislature on each proposal to change the Utah Constitution that was brought before it, often after many hours of deliberation.
Change in one part of the constitution may have consequences in other areas that are often not anticipated. As Sullivan and Zimmerman wrote, provisions regarding state taxation of property or division of power between branches of government may have consequences in other areas that the sponsor of the change may not have foreseen or intended.
This minimizing of the CRC's review authority is probably a precursor to enable some legislators to avoid thoughtful scrutiny of their proposed constitutional amendments. Many legislative observers believe that SB44 was kindled by a 2010 proposal to eliminate all government affirmative-action programs. Expect this constitutional amendment to return in the future.
When it does, will there be an effort to understand the ramifications to education programs that encourage women and underserved minorities to adequately prepare for education programs such as science and engineering? Will there be unintended consequences for religious affiliation or religious programs? These questions are worthy of non-legislative review. Who will provide that careful evaluation?
As a member of the CRC in recent years, I agree with a Salt Lake Tribune editorial in January 2011 that stated that SB44 institutionalized the superiority of legislative gut feelings and political grandstanding over wise policy-making.
In the future, the public needs to be very alert to any proposed changes to the Utah Constitution. The valuable review process that the Constitutional Revision Commission provided is only in place when a very limited and select group of public officials requests an analysis. This is inadequate, and the public deserves better. Utah's Constitution is too important.
Sheryl Allen is a former legislator, a former member of the Constitutional Review Commission, and is on the board of an Alliance for a Better Utah.