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A bill described as a safety net for the 2016 state school board election inched closer to final passage on Tuesday, while other school board proposals remain mired in the legislative process.
Sponsored by West Valley Republican Rep. Craig Hall, the bill would create a primary election for the state school board in the event that no other election method is approved by lawmakers.
It passed the House with a 65-8 vote in February and on Monday was approved by a Senate committee on its way to the full Senate.
"If the House and the Senate can agree on a different method to select school board members, that bill will supersede my bill," Hall said.
The bill is the result of a 2014 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, which invalidated Utah's current selection method for board candidates due to concerns of constitutionality.
If no new election law is passed this year, the lieutenant governor's office has determined that any candidate who files for the state school board election will be placed on November's general election ballot.
In 2014, the most recent board election year, 70 candidates filed to run for seven seats.
"If five, 10, 15 people sign up for the same spot, they will all go to the general election in November and it's possible that someone wins with 10 percent of the vote or less," Hall said.
With seven days remaining in the 2016 legislative session, Hall's bill is in the best position for final passage; it's also supported by the Utah governor's office.
Another bill, creating a nominating committee to objectively screen candidates, passed the Senate in early February, but has been held in the House Education Committee for two weeks.
Another bill creating a hybrid state school board in which a third of the seats are partisan, another third are nonpartisan and the remaining third are appointed by the governor has yet to receive an initial committee hearing.
By creating a primary, Hall's bill would allow a nonpartisan election to continue this year, which is the method traditionally supported by the House.
But Utah's senators have consistently objected to nonpartisan elections, and Monday's committee hearing suggests that Hall's bill faces an uphill battle in the full Senate.
West Valley Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher said that school board races are "hyper-partisan," but the politics are hidden compared to more transparently partisan races.
"I have real heartburn over the idea of nonpartisan school board elections," he said. "The idea that partisan politics won't enter in if we pretend they're not there is just not realistic."
Last year, after a nonpartisan election bill passed in the House and advanced to the Senate, the bill's text was erased and replaced with a partisan proposal preferred by Senators.
The back and forth resulted in an impasse that left the state without a clear election method for 2016.
Orangeville Republican Sen. David Hinkins said Hall's bill needs to move forward, but suggested additional debate and consideration is necessary.
"We'll be hearing more about it, probably on the Senate floor," he said.