A group of nearly 40 Utahns, including current and former state education leaders, lawmakers and PTA leaders, say they plan to file suit today over the controversial education omnibus bill, which rolled a dozen bills into one.
The group has called the bill unconstitutional, and the lawsuit they say they will file in 3rd District Court asks for an injunction to block the funding and implementation of the legislation.
"The Utah Constitution has a provision that specifically says bills must have a clear title and they must treat one subject," said Janet Jenson, attorney for the group. "The reason why is so that citizens have fair knowledge and fair notice about what the bills are and how they might be affected and so legislators can get a fair up or down vote."
The education omnibus bill, SB2, rolled a dozen school bills, some of
which had been voted down earlier in the session, into the schools' $2.5 billion budget, known as the Minimum School Programs Act.
Some lawmakers and other officials were opposed to rolling a number of bills into one and questioned its constitutionality. Others took issue with reviving unpopular bills that were previously voted down by lawmakers and tying them to more popular bills, thus giving them a "free ride."
"When you lump them all together, the good with the bad, it makes it almost impossible for people to understand what's going on with the bill, makes it impossible for the governor to fairly use his veto power, and it puts enormous duress on legislators who are told, 'If you don't vote for the bad stuff you don't get the good stuff,"' Jenson said.
But bill proponents have called the planned lawsuit "grandstanding in an election year" and have said the practice of rolling a number of bills on the same subject together is common it happens every year. And, they say, SB2's single subject is education.
Jenson said that is simply not true.
"Some of these (bills) address education, some of them are appropriations and some of them are sweetheart deals for software companies. Clearly that argument doesn't wash ... and it flies in the face of what the constitution really requires and the intention of the constitution."
Moreover, she said just because it has been done in the past doesn't make it legal.
"If you drive drunk on Monday and you drive drunk on Tuesday and you drive drunk on Wednesday, but on Thursday you drive drunk and get arrested, does that mean that what you were doing when you were not arrested was legal?" Jenson said. "No. It just means that this time someone called them on it."
Included in the omnibus bill were:
• $60 million for teacher raises.
• $2.9 million to provide $200-a-day stipends for extra teaching preparation days to special educators during the school year.
• $6.9 million for an optional grant program to provide an extended year for math and science teachers, who would use the school buildings during the summer.
• $5 million to pay teachers highly qualified in math, science and technology an extra $5,000 a year.
• $3.5 million to give software to families to prepare preschoolers for kindergarten and allocate money to support the state's seven International Baccalaureate programs.
• A K-12 financial literacy initiative.• A change in charter funding that would require school districts to provide an allocation of property tax revenues for each resident student attending a charter school.