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Mapleton Republican Rep. Francis Gibson has described his nonpartisan school-board election proposal as a "compromise," requiring candidates to secure signatures as an alternative to the vetting of party caucus meetings.
But Utah Senators refused to even debate the merits of Gibson's bill on Wednesday, instead swapping out its language for a partisan proposal already approved by the Senate.
HB186 is now effectively identical to SB195, which establishes partisan elections for state school-board candidates until Utahns can vote on having a governor-appointed board in 2016. Should voters reject that option, the partisan elections would continue.
Ogden Republican Sen. Ann Millner, the sponsor of SB195, made the motion to gut HB186 and insert her bill.
"It provides for partisan elections of the state school board in 2016," she said.
The change sets up a battle between the Legislature's two chambers, as the Utah House rejected a partisan school-board election bill last week. The proposal to send a governor-appointed board to voters was also rejected by the House last week.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, protested the change. The Senate had already acted on two partisan elections bills, she said, and HB186 deserved to be debated on its own merits.
"This is just a game that's not fair," she said.
But Highland Republican Sen. Alvin Jackson, whose partisan-board bill fell to opposition in the House, spoke in favor of swapping out the bill's language. He acknowledged that identical legislation had already failed in the house, but said House members might reconsider before the legislative session ends at midnight Thursday.
"I like the partisan portion of this bill," he said.
Lawmakers are under added pressure to pass a school-board election bill this year after a federal judge effectively struck down the current election system in September.