Education bill flunks constitution test, suit says
A group of 38 education leaders, legislators, former legislators and state school board members say they will file a lawsuit today over an omnibus education bill lawmakers passed earlier this year.
The group claims SB2, a bill that rolled more than a dozen education bills into one, is unconstitutional. They want to keep state agencies from implementing several parts of the bill, mostly those that failed on the House floor or in committee before being brought back to life as part of SB2.
"Concerned citizens cannot know how to direct their participation when legislative proposals are falsely named or otherwise disguised through omnibus 'Christmas Tree' bills and hydra-headed substitutions in the last hours of a legislative session," the complaint says.
SB2 sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the complaint is political posturing.
"I see this as nothing more than an attempt in an election year to rally support for Democratic candidates and other non-conservative candidates," Stephenson said.
The plaintiffs include Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful; Rep. Rosalind McGee, D-Salt Lake City; Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City; Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City; Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City; Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City; eight former legislators; former State Superintendent Steven Laing; and six Utah State Board of Education members, among others.
The complaint names as defendants Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Utah Treasurer Edward Alter, and Jeff Herring, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Resource Management.
Herring and Chief Deputy State Treasurer Richard Ellis said Wednesday they will administer the law as they're directed to until they're told otherwise.
"By statute we are required to defend all state laws," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.
The complaint says the omnibus bill violates Article VI, Section 22 of the Utah Constitution, which states, "Except general appropriation bills and bills for the codification and general revision of laws, no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title."
Stephenson said all the measures in SB2 were on a single subject: education. Stephenson said if lawmakers passed laws the way the plaintiffs claim they should, they'd have to consider and coordinate thousands more bills.
"It would create absolute chaos," said Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.
The complaint also claims lawmakers held on to popular education bills so they could later put them into an omnibus bill designed to buoy less-popular bills.
"The process that we followed wasn't as respectful as it should have been of public input and for the public to be able to understand what was going on with that very complex bill that was shot out the last three days," Allen said.
Bramble, however, said legislative rules require lawmakers to hold on to most bills with fiscal notes until they have a budget.
Allen said she voted in favor of SB2 in March because she worried schools wouldn't get all their education funding if lawmakers voted down the entire bill. She said she now regrets that vote.
Fisher also voted in favor of SB2 in March. Other current lawmakers listed as plaintiffs voted against SB2.
House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, and House Majority Leader David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said in a statement they're disappointed the matter will end up in litigation.
"We believe the courts have the right to review laws and strongly support that fundamental check and balance. However, we are disappointed that the plaintiffs have rejected our offer of cooperatively working toward solutions and have chosen as their first choice litigation," they said in the statement.
Janet Jenson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said legislative leaders never offered to ask for a special session to review certain parts of SB2, which she said is the only solution other than litigation at this point.
"We are happy to meet with them, and the filing of the complaint doesn't in any way affect their ability to ask the governor for a special session," Jenson said. "If they do that, we would be happy to withdraw the lawsuit."
Chris Bleak, Curtis' chief of staff, said neither the plaintiffs nor their lawyers have ever asked for a special session.
A group of legislators, ex-legislators and state education leaders plan to file a lawsuit today over SB2, which they claim illegally bundled separate education bills into one. The complaint seeks to keep parts of SB2 from going forward. Among them:
* UPSTART, which would create a pilot, at-home, software education program for preschool-age children. HB200, the orignal UPSTART bill, failed on the House floor before being rolled into SB2.
* Extra state funding for International Baccalaureate (I.B.) programs. HB266, the original I.B. funding bill, failed in a Senate committee.
* Changes to charter school funding. The original bill, HB278, failed on the House floor.
* Supplemental pay for qualified math and science teachers. The original bill, SB35, died in a panel.