Utah voters in 2020 will decide whether the state constitution should outlaw all forms of slavery.
Right now, Utah's founding document states that slavery is generally prohibited "except as a punishment for crime." Rep. Sandra Hollins has been arguing all session that this loophole, patterned after language in the U.S. Constitution, has no place in the law and should be removed.
On Wednesday, state lawmakers gave the final signoff to a resolution that seeks to accomplish the deletion with a ballot question next year.
"I think everybody had the same feeling that this no longer reflected Utah values," Hollins said Wednesday following the vote.
Her resolution, HJR8, cleared both legislative chambers unanimously but was amended in the Senate to clarify that the slavery ban would not affect the “lawful administration of the criminal justice system.”
Hollins has said the change isn't aimed at eliminating inmate work programs, which she believes are important in the rehabilitation process.
Even with the passage of her resolution, her work is just starting she said; now she'll focus on public education ahead of the 2020 vote.
During committee meetings, Hollins has explained that the slavery loophole was incorporated into the 13th Amendment to address concerns about potential labor shortages. Subsequently, many Southern states passed “black codes,” or laws that severely restricted African Americans and allowed authorities to arrest them for almost any reason.
“A person could be walking down what, they considered, the wrong side of the street or could drop a piece of paper, and they could be arrested,” Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, has said.
Colorado last year stripped a similar exception from its state constitution, after a previous push to remove the clause had failed. In 2016, Colorado voters rejected the first attempt to strike the slavery language, with some surmising that this was because of the ballot question’s convoluted wording.