Animated testimony from Sen. Jim Dabakis on Wednesday — which at one point included the word ”hell“ — prompted a complaint during debate of a resolution encouraging free-speech rights and civil liberties on Utah’s college campuses.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, raised a point of order during a hearing of the House Education Committee and reminded Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, that he was visiting the House, where they encourage a civil vocabulary.
“I’m just sorry that the Senate sponsor seems to be so agitated,” Christensen said. “I would express again my sincere compassion, respect and love for all people on this Earth.”
Dabakis had been speaking in favor of his resolution, SCR3, which encourages Utah’s colleges and universities to establish policies that protect students’ First Amendment rights.
He alluded to a recent speech at the University of Utah by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, which drew large crowds in protest and counterprotest to the Salt Lake City campus.
Non-binding resolution that encourages Utah's public colleges and universities to "vigorously defend" the civil liberties of students. - Read full text
For faculty or community groups to block Shapiro from speaking, Dabakis said, would be as wrong as the bans on gay and lesbian scholars enacted on college campuses in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Dabakis is the only openly gay member of the Utah Legislature.
“What the hell, just let them come,” Dabakis said, prompting Christensen’s point of order. “Let them have their speech with the broadest possible terms.”
While a few individuals called for the Shapiro event to be canceled, no official attempt was made to that end by U. administrators or faculty. In fact, campus officials worked with the student group sponsoring the event to facilitate a larger venue, ticketing, crowd control and security.
Despite those efforts, Dabakis and members of the House Education Committee continued to use Shapiro’s Utah speech as evidence for why SCR3 is necessary.
“When a conservative speaker tries to get on the campus of the U. and they are booed out or thrown out, I hope you come arm-in-arm with me and stand there and say ‘this is morally wrong,’” Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said to Dabakis. “This is why people fight and this is why wars start, because people have lost the skill of being able to speak to each other.”
The House Education Committee voted unanimously in favor of SCR3 — after adopting an amendment by Christensen to remove language that describes college campuses as “uniquely positioned to expose minds to diverse ideas, people and experiences.”
“I don’t think this is a Woodstock reunion bill,” Christensen said, “or a Berkeley campus affirmation or celebration.”
The resolution, which is nonbinding, will now advance to the full House for consideration.
Feb. 9: Utah senators tease sponsor of campus free-speech resolution
Utah’s senators had a little fun with one of their minority-party colleagues on Friday, voting against a bipartisan resolution on student free-speech rights before switching their votes en masse to pass the bill unanimously.
Staged votes in opposition are common in the Legislature, typically a way of welcoming new lawmakers into the House or Senate. But Friday’s joke vote was aimed at Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, first elected in 2014.
After it became clear senators were mock voting against his bill, Dabakis joked that he, too, would switch to a “no” vote.
Dabakis is one of the most liberal members of the Utah Senate and is known for running bills with a low likelihood of passage. Last year, he jokingly referred to his proposal to create a graduated income tax as his “soak the rich” bill.
Dabakis is co-sponsoring SCR3 with Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan. The nonbinding resolution urges Utah’s college and university administrators to establish policies that protects students’ civil liberties, such as free speech and other First Amendment rights.
The resolution now moves to the House for consideration.
Jan. 23: Sen. Hillyard says colleges and universities can figure out what ‘civil liberties’ means
A bipartisan resolution urging colleges and universities to defend the First Amendment and civil rights of students met little resistance on its way to a 6-0 vote of the Utah Legislature’s Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
But the wording of the resolution prompted a question of definitions from one senior legislator, Logan Republican Sen. Lyle Hillyard.
Hillyard asked for clarification on the legal meaning of “civil liberties” before acknowledging that as a nonbinding resolution, the bill has no effect on state law.
“If this were a statute I'd be much more concerned about it,” Hillyard said. “It’s a resolution, I guess higher [education] can figure out what it means.”
The resolution, SCR3, is sponsored by Sen. James Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, who individually are among the most liberal and most conservative members of the Utah Legislature, respectively.
Dabakis said lawmakers had met with campus representatives and while civil-rights policies already exist, he felt there is a need for lawmakers to be adamant in their expectation of First Amendment protections.
“We don’t want campuses full of people that are only hearing rebounds of their own philosophical ideas,” Dabakis said.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, strongly encourages state institutions of higher education to vigorously defend the civil liberties of students through policies that ensure the protection of constitutional rights.
While the resolution is nonbinding, Coleman — chairwoman of the House Education Committee — said she plans to run several students’ rights bills this year. Those proposals are not yet public, but are listed under titles related to freedom of association, neutrality in higher education and free speech.
“I hope to bring some other bills before this committee when they move through the House that do some more hard and tangible things in the area of First Amendment rights,” Coleman said.