Utah Legislature: Affirmative action ban gains backing after changes

Published: Tuesday, March 2 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House may give a proposed constitutional amendment that targets discrimination and affirmative action a second chance.

Submitted Friday, an unapproved substitute resolution would call for a series of public hearings during the summer, a proposal designed to placate Republican critics.

After voicing opposition to the original HJR24, Rep. Steven Mascaro, R-West Jordan, said he drafted the additional language in an effort to ensure public debate on the measure, which calls for a ban on any affirmative-action policies in state agencies, schools or government contracting.

"I was concerned that this resolution would pass without sufficient public scrutiny," Mascaro said. "With this in mind, I came up with the idea that if it passes, it will at least pass with the opportunity for the public to understand and debate these changes to our constitution."

As reported by the Deseret News, Mascaro was among a handful of Republican holdouts who said they would not vote for the original resolution, effectively preventing its passage. Mascaro said if his substitute were accepted, he would vote for the revised resolution.

"We should not be considering a change to our constitution without deliberation," he said. "This change would mean that the amendment would pass with the expectation that voters would be better educated about it."

Mascaro predicted the resolution now has the support needed to pass the House, and the measure's sponsor agreed.

"I think we have the votes, but we won't know for sure until it comes up on the floor," said Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield.

As to when he would bring the resolution back for a vote, Oda said he is waiting for a day when all the supporters he needs are at the Capitol to vote.

Rep. Brian King said the proposal for public hearings does not change the underlying resolution.

"The time to get input is before the exact wording is in place," the Salt Lake Democrat said. "After it's passed here, we can't change it, no matter what we talk about in the hearings."

As outlined in the substitute, the four public hearings would be conducted by the Constitutional Review Commission and would be designed to allow debate by opponents and supporters.

The resolution, as approved by the Legislature, would still go on the ballot in November.

Opponents have been organizing public opposition to the controversial amendment, including a forum on Saturday. The bill can be viewed at le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/static/HJR024.html.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com

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