Reviewing first two constitutional amendments
Many people discuss the Constitution of the United States continually, particularly the Bill of Rights. But many people may forget that states have individual constitutions.
On Nov. 2, Carbon County voters in Utah will face many decisions on candidates, ranging from president of the U.S. to members of the local board of education. But almost every general election ballot also has measures that can change a law, amend state or federal constitutions or increase taxes through bonds or initiatives.
In 2004, the Carbon County ballots will have three proposed Utah constitutional amendments and one state initiative. In addition, one more measure will appear on ballots that are given out in Sunnyside and East Carbon concerning whether to merge or consoldate the municipalities
The Utah Constitution outlines the process for amending the guidelines. The process may seem simple, but a lot goes into proposing a constitutional amendment.
The first step generally involves a group of people organizing to make a change. The people contact state legislators to lobby for support of the change. Legislators may also favor changing the constitution. State lawmakers can enter amendment proposals during a regular or special session of the Utah Legislature.
Once a proposed change receives a two-thirds majority in the Utah House of Representatives and Senate, the constitutional amendment has to go to the voters for ratification.
At least two months before the election, the amendments must be placed in at least one newspaper in every county so voters can study the proposal.
At election time, it takes a majority of the ballots cast by voters to approve an amendment.
If more than two amendments are to be included on one election ballot, the Utah Constitution specifies that the proposals must be voted on separately. Three amendment proposals are listed on the upcoming election ballot.
The first proposal deals with changing the impeachment proceedings that must be followed in the event the Utah Legislature feels a state official should be tried for removal from office.
The process of removal consists of two steps. First, the Utah House of Representatives must move to impeach or determine the accusations against an official and the Senate must hold a trial to remove the individual from office. Under the present guidelines, the Utah Legislature cannot convene a special session to conduct an inquiry without the governor.
To amendment supporters, the current guidelines may pose a problem if the governor is being scrutinized or knows the official being examined.
The proposed amendment would:
Authorize the Utah House of Representatives to convene, based on the support of a two-thirds majority of the legislative body. The change requires the Utah Senate to convene to hold the trial if the individual is impeached by the House.
Allow payment of regular daily compensation to legislators during impeachment and trial sessions.
The way things are presently set up, legislators would only get mileage and expenses paid to them in such a case.
Finally the amendment takes out all references to Justices of the Peace as being part of the judicial system (which could also be affected by an impeachment process) and replaces that reference with justice court judges, who basically took over the duties of JOPs in the mid-1980s.
There has been no organized opposition to this amendment, largely because the impeachment process has never been used on a state officer or member of the judiciary. However, those that support it say that if there were to be such a case this amendment would streamline the procedure and could very well avoid messy political ramifications.
"That amendment is basically a no brainer," said state representative Brad King from house district 69. "It's a missing tool that we need in the constitution, but hope we will never have to use."
However, Walt Borla, who is running for the seat vacated by Darin Peterson in District 67 which covers about one-third of the population of Carbon County, sees the amendment a little differently.
"I worry about giving the legislature the power to call themselves into session to impeach," he states. "With the vindictive attitude of the legislature in recent years and its one sided power base, I think it should be left as it is. With that overwhelming majority they could go after anyone they wanted to if that person didn't do what they thought they should."
The second amendment that voters will cast their ballots about on Nov. 2 is a change in the state constitution to allow state agencies, particularly higher education, to own stock and/or an interest in private companies.
In the original constitution that was drawn up in 1896, the document forbade any state department or associated agency from owning such an interest. However, that provision is now over 100 years old and the time of large research universities and their development of intellectual property that could be used in private enterprise has come. In fact, one of the two schools in the state that fall into this category have already been selling that property to private business and have received an interest in the company for compensation. Recently a court case raised the question of whether that practice is allowed under present state law.
If the amendment passes it will allow schools to make this type of transaction as long as the interest in a company is given to the university for intellectual property. It still precludes any agency from buying an interest in private business in any other way.
Almost all those in state office, as well as those running for office, support such an amendment.
"I support the idea that a research institution such as the University of Utah may acquire an equity interest in a private company in exchange for the licensing of intellectual property developed by that institution," stated Patrick Painter, who is also running for the seat in house district 67. "These types of transactions could provide additional resources for our state schools."
King also supports the amendment, pointing out that there are good examples of where universities have gained a lot from these kinds of partnerships.
"Look at the University of Florida," said King. "Look how they gained from the development of Gatorade and its burgeoning market over the years."
Editors note: This is the first in a series of four articles on the three amendments and one initiative that voters will consider in the general election on Nov.2.