SB 54 is an Abuse of Power

Written by Kim Burningham on . Posted in Policy Buzz

I sit at my computer, absolutely baffled and amazed at the audacity of another proposal to limit the public’s right to speak.

Let me explain.

History: abuse of power weakens the voice of the people.

History’s lesson is clear: uncontrolled power frequently endangers the public good.

  • King George III used his power to unreasonably tax the colonists without their being represented in the decision.
  • Ruthless dictators throughout history—Hitler to Idi Amin, Stalin to Sadam Hussein--engorged private coffers while trampling needs of the common man.
  • Greedy capitalists feathered private bankrolls while child laborers toiled in sweat shops.
To address such potential evil, wise citizens have enacted restrictions on power. “Separation of power” is vital to control unfettered power grabs in government.

Utah’s constitution provides a check on legislative power.

Our  pioneer grandparents were driven from their homes when power was ruthlessly wielded.  They escaped to this mountain retreat to maintain religious independence.

Utah’s constitution included provisions to limit abuse of power. Among other provisions, one  provided for two ways to make laws. The Constitution is clear: the people themselves—not just legislators—may enact appropriate legislation:

Utah State Constitution, Article VI, Section 1.   [Power vested in Senate, House, and People.]

(1) The Legislative power of the State shall be vested in:
(a) a Senate and House of Representatives which shall be designated the Legislature of the State of Utah; and
(b) the people of the State of Utah as provided in Subsection (2). 

The people exercise their legislative power through the initiative or referendum process. True, most laws are enacted by legislators, but sometimes legislative power needs to be checked; the public may step in and write (or repeal) laws. 

For example in the past decade (2007 General Session), the Utah Legislature by the narrowest margin enacted school vouchers. Overwhelmingly the public disagreed and repealed the ill advised decision of the Legislature.

A current effort would limit the people’s right to speak.

Unfortunately, some legislators seem jealous of the public’s right to intervene; “We know best; the power is ours only,” they seem to be saying. Since the people’s revocation of the voucher law, legislators have made the public’s right more difficult to enact. The number and distribution of petition signers has been dramatically escalated so that it is increasingly difficult for the public to exercise their constitutional power!

I believe legislative hubris was exhibited this last week when Senator Curtis Bramble introduced SB 54. (Interestingly, Senator Bramble was also the Senate Sponsor of the infamous HB 148 voucher bill of the 2007 session). The bill could have the ultimate effect of nullifying the public’s “Count My Vote” initiative. Under the audacious proposal of SB 54 (even if the arbitrarily high petition signature numbers are gathered to place the “Count My Vote” initiative on the ballot) a bill promoted by the legislature could provide for politicians to ignore the public’s will and do “their own thing.”

The approach is doubly abrasive! The legislators making this attempt (several have shown support for the measure) are so clearly conflicted. Legislators are, after all, chosen by the very process they resist changing.

I am appalled. Disagree, if you will--that is your right. But for some legislators to enact a contrived solution to ignore the public will is power unbridled!!!! This arrogant power grab violates, in my view, the provision our founders included in the Constitution.  

I urge readers to speak out. Legislators, do your thing; but let the public do their thing! In my opinion, an initiative to let the public decide if our election system needs changing is the right thing.