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Constitutional Review Commission powers limited by lawmakers

Published: Wednesday, March 9 2011 4:23 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The Legislature has approved a bill giving lawmakers and the governor more control over commissions that review proposed constitutional and tax changes.

SB44, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, was approved 47-24 in the House after a lengthy debate that focused on whether the Constitutional Revision Commission should remain independent.

The bill now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his action.

Under the bill, the commissions would no longer be able to meet to review or propose potential legislation unless requested to do so by lawmakers or the governor.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said allowing the lawmakers and citizens who serve on the constitutional commission to consider proposed constitutional amendments "dilutes our power as a Legislature."

Noel said Utah is the only state with a sitting constitutional commission. "We go to them for their advice and their counsel not know whether they believe in the original intent of the Constitution," he said.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, said the constitutional commission could still be called upon. "They should not be able to be used as a political weapon," Wilcox said, a reference to unpopular actions by the commission.

Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, a former judge, said the constitutional commission played an important role. "We haven't liked the message so we want to kill the messenger," he said. "I think that's bad public policy."  

House Budget Chairman Mel Brown, R-Coalville, has served on the constitutional commission and questioned the need for the bill.

"It appears as though the Legislature is setting themselves up as the font of all knowledge and wisdom in the process," Brown said, noting the constitutional commission would lose its ability to propose amendments.

But another former constitutional commission member, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said the opinions issued "almost becomes a veto." He called the change a way to better manage the amendment process. "We're not being reckless."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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