Even if a referendum intended to repeal the school vouchers is successful, it won't entirely eliminate the new state program, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said today.
"The gist is, we will still have a voucher program but it will be incomplete," Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News in advance of a legal opinion his office is expected to about to issue to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Shurtleff said the findings of his office should be close to an opinion released today by the pro-voucher Parents for Choice in Education. "I think I can say our conclusions will be similar," the attorney general said.
The Parents for Choice in Education opinion, written by local attorney Clark Waddoups, stated that the referendum petitions currently being circulated by the Utah Education Association and others opposed to vouchers only apply to part of the program.
That's because the 2007 Legislature actually passed two bills establishing a way to use tax dollars to help parents pay private school tuition bills and the referendum only applies to one of those bills, HB148.
The other bill, HB174, could not be the subject of a referendum because it was approved by at least a two-thirds majority of lawmakers, the pro-voucher group's opinion stated. And, the opinion states, some of the provisions of that bill actually supercede portions of HB148.
"Ironically, this means that those who are gathering signatures to repeal HB148 may actually be working to repeal the provisions that provide mitigation funds to public schools, while leaving the voucher program established by HB174 intact," the opinion states.
If more than 92,000 voter signatures are collected by opponents before the April 9 deadline, the governor has said he would call a special election for June to consider the repeal of the voucher law.
Huntsman, a longtime voucher supporter, has also said voters should have the final say on whether the state has a voucher program. Last week, he said, "if the people vote it down, obviously that's the answer. ... I would obviously respect that."
Whatever happens, Shurtleff said he believes there will be a legal battle. "Definitely, no matter what happens this will end up in court," he said.
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