Politicians traditionally vacate their prior seat after being elected to higher office, but a bill that received final passage in the Utah House on Wednesday would require someone to choose between a municipal or county position if elected to simultaneous roles.
SB50 passed unanimously with no debate and now heads to the governor for his signature.
Sen. Evan Vickers, the bill’s sponsor, filed the proposal after a councilman in his hometown of Cedar City who had promised to resign his seat if he won election to the Iron County Commission made the surprising and apparently unprecedented announcement late last year that he planned to hold both seats.
During the bill’s House committee hearing on Tuesday, Cedar City Councilman and Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens said an “overwhelming” number of his constituents urged him to retain his municipal seat after winning county office in November.
He described himself as a “strong fiscal conservative” and said he decided to keep his seat because he’d worried about the balance of the Cedar City Council if his position was left vacant or allowed to be filled by an appointed replacement.
“It’s not like I’m running for this office again,” Cozzens told lawmakers. “I’m simply finishing the term that I was elected to serve.”
Vickers, R-Cedar City, said Tuesday that he recognized the “optics” of the bill appeared to be targeted at Cozzens, whose decision to hold two seats is believed to be unprecedented in modern memory. But he said work on the bill began last summer — before Cozzens chose to finish out his term on the City Council — and that it is intended to address potential conflicts of interest rather than react to the experience of one Utah politician.
He has also noted that while his bill is narrowly focused, the conversation around it could expand in the future to look at whether a legislator should be able to hold two elected offices, for example, or whether someone on a school board or special service district should be able to.
The bill would require a county clerk to notify candidates of the prohibition against serving in both a municipal and county seat at the same time when they file to run for the office.