CEDAR CITY – Following the wrap up of the third week of the 2015 Utah Legislative session, Sen. Evan Vickers provided his thoughts on pending issues regarding state school board elections and Medicaid expansion.
On school board elections
“In September, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the process of how Utah chooses state school board candidates violates constitutional guarantees of free speech” Vickers said. “Currently, that process has several layers, including interviewing candidates with a committee, with the final selection made by the Governor. Former candidates for the state school board are the ones that brought this case, regarding the process, against the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and members of the Governor’s nomination committee. In his ruling, Judge Waddoups did not order any alternatives to the current process.”
A similar lawsuit was filed in federal district court on August 2012 that called the process by which state school board candidates are selected bias and potentially unconstitutional. That case was ultimately dismissed by the court in August 2013. The case Waddoups ruled on is a separate one filed in July 2016.
Related legalities and bills concern the issue of school boards. Vickers outlined some of them in his review as follows:
So with the knowledge that the Legislature has to act on this issue, a number of legislators have proposed varied legislation to change the process.
HB 297 by Rep. Norm Thurston of Provo would have the state school board members selected by electors chosen from local school boards. These electors would make the selection but the public would not vote on them.
HB 186 by Rep. Francis Gibson of Mapleton would make the state school board election a nonpartisan one, similar to what our local school board elections or municipal elections are, with the exception that the candidate would have to gather 2,000 signatures from voters within their district.
SB 104 by Sen. Al Jackson of Highland would make both state school board and local school board races partisan, meaning that the candidates would be vetted by their respective political party and then they would go on the ballot.
During the 2014 Utah Republican Convention, a resolution passed by the party called for the state to consider partisan elections. The purpose of this is to encourage people to learn more about candidates running for state- and county-level school boards. By doing so, voters will be able to understand better who is for and against federal encroachment in public education, and used the hotly contested Common Core curriculum as an example.
SJR 5 by Sen. Ann Millner of Ogden would put an initiative on the ballot to turn the state school board into an appointed board, similar to the state Board of Regents that oversees higher education. If the initiative passes, then the Utah Constitution would be amended to allow the governor to select the state school board members and the state Senate would confirm them. This system is the most common process used among other states
“I’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Vickers wrote in his review, “and my preferences in order are:
1. Have the Governor appoint the state school board and the state senate confirm the appointment,
2. Have a non-partisan election with gathering of signatures, or
3. Have a partisan election for state school board only.
“Despite what solution is found, I am very firm that the local school board elections need to remain non-partisan.”
On Medicaid expansion
Another big issue is starting through the process, Vickers wrote in his review, detailing:
SB 164 by Senator Brian Shiozawa of Salt Lake is a bill that essentially is the Healthy Utah Medicaid Expansion plan as proposed by Governor Gary Herbert. It was heard this week in the Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee, a committee of which I am the Chair.
There was lengthy discussion on the bill and it was passed out of Committee 4-1. I was the lone vote against passage.
Read more in St. George News recent report on Medicaid coverage and options in Southern Utah here.
The bill will now go to the floor of the Senate for further deliberation. The decision on what to do with Medicaid expansion is far from over. I spoke with the Governor’s staff this week and they are working on some additional provisions that they hope will soften the impact and move towards a compromise position.
Senator Allen Christensen of North Ogden is sponsoring legislation that would only cover the medically frail. This bill has not been heard yet in Committee. One key fact is that whatever we do there has to be a financing plan in place, because these proposals are very expensive.
“As you read this,” Vickers wrote in his review, “the legislative session is nearing the halfway point. The process will now really gain speed as the Appropriation Committees are finishing their process and the budget begins to take shape. Two local requests are $50,000 for the Utah Summer Games and $500,000 for Tuacahn.”
- Medicaid for children, disabled, women with cancer; Southern Utah options
- Charter school zoning, wild horses, wildfire suppression among items on Vickers’ agenda this session
- Lawsuit claims UT School Board selection process biased, unconstitutional; movement for legislative change – October 2012
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