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Votes taken Tuesday by the Utah House and Senate showed markedly contrasting approaches to reforming the election process for state school board members.
In the Senate, a large majority of lawmakers approved making the state school board partisan and placing a constitutional amendment before voters to have school board members be appointed by the governor.
But a similarly large majority of representatives in the House did the opposite, killing a proposed constitutional amendment and approving a bill to create nonpartisan elections for state school board members.
The Senate has yet to vote on a nonpartisan school board proposal and HB186, the bill approved by the House on Tuesday, is described by its sponsor Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, as a compromise measure.
Under the bill, candidates would be required to gather 2,000 signatures from voters in their district to qualify for the ballot. Gibson said the signatures are meant to ensure that candidates interact with and respond to their constituents as an alternative to the vetting of the party caucus and convention system.
"It does take effort," he said. "It is not easy but if you want to be on the state school board it shouldn't be easy."
A recent poll by UtahPolicy.com found that a majority of Utah voters, including a plurality of Republicans, favor nonpartisan elections for the state school board.
But after years of disagreement on whether the elections should be partisan or nonpartisan, several lawmakers had expressed interest in ending elections and instead having board members be appointed by the governor and subject to Senate confirmation.
"This may be a solution that can solve many of the problems we've had at the Legislature," Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said.
Representatives voted 47-27 against a constitutional amendment by Rep. Dan McCay, suggesting that a similar proposal approved by the Senate will face heavy opposition in the House.
"This would be a radical, radical mistake," Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said.
Lawmakers are expected to pass legislation altering school board elections this year in response to a September court ruling that effectively struck down the current election system.
Another bill, SB104, would create partisan elections at the state school board level. A version of that bill has been approved by the Senate, but it has not yet been debated in the House.