This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Lawmakers were unable to strike a deal on school board elections by the time the 2015 Legislature adjourned, potentially throwing the issue back into the courts.
With state senators digging in for partisan elections and House members equally dedicated to nonpartisan elections, none of the eight bills drafted to resolve the conflict passed.
So the state is left with an election system that was ruled unconstitutional in September by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups.
"Looks like we'll let the judge decide," Mapleton Republican Rep. Francis Gibson said Thursday night, after his compromise bill failed.
At the time, he warned his colleagues the state could be left open to additional litigation and potential policy decisions by the judicial branch.
The next state school board election will be in 2016, after next year's legislative session. And several lawmakers were interested in debating the issue during a special session this year.
Currently, state law requires candidates to be interviewed by a nominating committee and placed on the ballot at the discretion of the governor.
Waddoups' ruling came after several rejected school board candidates sued the state. The candidates' were placed on the 2014 ballot, but the lawsuit was suspended to give lawmakers a chance to fix the issue.
Despite several proposals from each side of the partisan-nonpartisan debate, lawmakers were unable to find a fix.
In the waning minutes of the 2015 legislative session, members of the Utah House rejected a compromise bill that heavily favored the views of the Senate.
The compromise would have created partisan state school board elections in 2016 while asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that same year to have future board members appointed by the governor.
If the constitutional amendment failed, lawmakers would have been required to revisit the issue in 2017 and create a new system.
The House had already rejected both partisan elections and appointed board members, and instead put its support behind a nonpartisan bill that would require candidates to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The Senate refused to debate the House bill, instead gutting it and replacing the language with its own partisan plan.
South Jordan Republican Rep. Rich Cunningham said his constituents preferred nonpartisan elections. He said he was tired of being "bullied" by the Senate when the two chambers disagree.
"We've conceded on a lot of our bills and this is one that I am not, on this point, willing to change," he said.
For his part, Gov. Gary Herbert said he preferred creating an appointed board, similar to the Board of Regents that oversees Utah's colleges and universities.
He said the public would have to sign off on the creation of an appointment system, which would remove the politics that dissuade qualified candidates from seeking a position on the board.
"That's probably not a bad option," Herbert said. "Let the people speak, and if they pick the governor's option or if they pick partisan elections, the people have spoken."