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Utah Legislature: Leaders say affirmative action amendment lacks votes

Published: Thursday, March 11 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

University of Utah activists urge students to sign a petition to protest HJR24 at a U. rally Wednesday.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — As Wednesday ended, a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any affirmative action policy in government entities did not have enough support to pass, House leaders say.

With one day to go in the 2010 Legislature, supporters are lobbying Republican holdouts while opponents are seeking to keep HJR24 where it's at — languishing in the House Rules Committee.

And that's where it will stay until supporters gather the necessary two-thirds vote, House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin Garn told the Deseret News.

"As leadership, our policy is it doesn't come out until they have 50 votes," the Layton Republican said. "As of right now, they don't have 50 votes."

At least three Republicans remain staunchly opposed to the measure, while more refuse to take a position one way or another.

Inside and outside the Capitol, opponents have mobilized just as supporters make a final push.

At the University of Utah, student activists printed 1,000 T-shirts with anti-HJR24 slogans.

"We want to make sure this doesn't come back," organizer Irene Ota said. "If we end all affirmative action, it assumes there is no more discrimination. That's just not true. Affirmative action asks us to look beyond racism, sexism and homophobia."

On the Hill, House Minority Leader Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said he is also working to keep the bill from passing this session by ensuring all 22 House Democrats are safely in the "no" column.

"We are staying on top of our caucus and doing what it takes to make sure it doesn't come up and just goes into the interim," he said.

The resolution's sponsor, Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, insists the measure has the votes and the only thing preventing its debate is a few final revisions.

The revisions, designed to peel away a few more votes, include a substitute measure uploaded Wednesday night that says the amendment would only apply to actions taken after Jan. 1, 2011. Another proposed substitute would provide for four public hearings before it goes on the ballot in November.

Such reworking may not be enough as the legislative session enters its final day and Republican dissenters say nothing has changed their thinking.

Outside the House chamber, lobbyists for the national American Civil Rights Coalition pressed representatives to support the measure.

Founded by activist Ward Connerly, the coalition has pushed for similar resolutions around the country.

"It has been relentless," Rep. Sheryl Allen said, referring to the effort to gain her vote. "I'm not against the idea itself, but I am against this rush job."

The Bountiful Republican joins Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, and Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, in opposing the measure.

Several more Republican are sitting on the fence, including Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, and Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan.

"I have some reservations about adding specific rules to the constitution," said McIff, who grimaced when asked about the resolution.

Many representatives may just be hoping the issue goes away for now, observed Jeff Hartley, who lobbies for Connerly's ACRC and still holds out hope for the resolution.

"One way or another, every representative will have to stand and be counted on this issue," he said.

But Litvack says to pass the measure now would be disastrous.

"With one day left, it would be a great disservice to the people of Utah if we pass this," he said.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com

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