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Editorial: Constitutional reviews still needed in Utah Legislature

Published March 9, 2014 2:30 pm

Constitutional review still needed
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You know all that verbiage you are supposed to read when you are downloading a new program on your computer? The stuff you scroll right through and click "Agree," even though you have no clue what it was you just agreed to, just so you can use the new widget or play the new game?

Or all those documents you are handed when you take out a mortgage? The ones you don't read when the title company says, "Sign here," about 55 times?

That's the way too many members of the Utah Legislature treat the legislative review notes their staff attorneys attach to some of the bills under consideration. Those documents are often referred to as "constitutional review notes" because what makes them worth writing is the concern that a bill, if passed into law, would create a conflict with either the Utah Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.

Because such warnings have often been ignored over the years, on bills concerning everything from banning same-sex marriage to seizing millions of acres of federal land, some may wonder why the Legislature, and its staff, even bother.

Thus the passage, late Wednesday, of House Joint Resolution 7. The bill, put forward by self-styled constitutional expert Rep. Ken Ivory, says to the Legislature's real legal brain trust, "Don't bother," by removing from legislative rules the requirement for legislative review notes.

They should bother. Not stopping to worry over whether a potential law is going to put Utah statute in conflict with federal laws or constitutional prerogatives is setting Utah taxpayers up for millions of dollars in expenses for defending the indefensible.

Not that our lawmakers have let that stop them in the past.

Ivory's plan to simply remove what has proven a minor impediment to his and other legislator's plans to evade, ignore or invalidate the Supreme Law of the Land is a bad idea. Those notes are information that other members of the Legislature, the press and the public should have as they evaluate such bills.

If the people and their elected representatives feel so strongly about an issue that they decide to press ahead with a law or policy and double-dog dare the federal government to stop them, that's their privilege.

But it should be a deliberate, rarely taken step, not something the state stumbles or is lured into in a fit of rebelliousness.

There is not much time left in the 2014 regular session of the Legislature. HJR7 is one of the measures they can, and should, forget.