Usually, only lawyers get excited about antitrust actions.
But members of the Utah Constitution Revision Commission are excited about antitrust changes they want made to the state's highest law. Commission members want to broaden the antitrust umbrella, protecting consumers for generations to come.The Constitution now says businesspeople can't conspire to control the price of goods. At statehood in 1896, that was sufficient. Most Utah businesses produced only goods. Services in the agrarian society were few and far between.
But now we're a society of services, and technically Utah businesspeople could conspire to fix the price of services without worry of constitutional problems.
In reality, such conspiracies would probably fail, says Assistant Attorney General Art Strong, because parties harmed by such price-fixing could sue in federal court under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
But Strong, who advised the commission on the issue, still believes the change is absolutely necessary.
Most important, Strong says, is the amendment's preamble, which reads: "It is the policy of the state of Utah that a competitive free market system shall govern trade and commerce in this state in order to promote the dispersion of economic and political power and the general welfare of all the people."
"Twenty years from now, the Legislature may not be as interested in a free market system as it is today," Strong says. Without constitutional guarantees, lawmakers could pass laws favorable to one monopolistic group.
While Strong, who is director of the Attorney General's Fair Business Enforcement Unit, doesn't necessarily see a constitutional change having much of an impact on current antitrust actions in the state, commission Executive Director Robin Riggs thinks expanding antitrust provisions in the Constitution may well enhance fair trade.
"Some large corporations may see the change - especially when it is voted and approved by the people - and be less likely to engage in restraint of trade practices," he said.
The commission has approved the change - which basically incorporates Sherman Antitrust Act language into the Constitution. The measure will go before the 1991 Legislature, which meets in two months. If approved by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, the change will go on the 1992 general election ballot for approval by voters.