Non-partisan school board election bill is finished for 2017

Utah State CapitolIt appears the Utah House will not hear a bill that would make the State Board of Education elections non-partisan.

HB151 by Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, would take the 2018 board elections back to nominees not representing a political party.

There is a long history – both legal and political – in this battle.

And last year the GOP majority, over objections of the Democrats, passed a law saying the 2016 State Board of Education elections would be non-partisan. But after that, starting in 2018, candidates would run under the banner of political parties, or as independents, if they wished.

Twice now, the House Rules Committee has refused to send Ward’s bill to a hearing for a committee. After the third such rejection, Rules members are not supposed to suggest again that a bill be sent out for a mandatory hearing – and the bill is basically dead.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told UtahPolicy before the session began that he told his Rules members that they needed to do a better job of holding bills whose issues “have been recently decided” by interim committees or recent legislative action.

In that interview, Hughes held up a small report listing various issues as having a red light, yellow light, or green light.

If an issue had a red light, said Hughes – who declined to make the document public – then he wants Rules “to take a hard look at those bills” – for the issues have been vetted by legislators in the recent past, basically decided, and no further time be taken as a result.

“This was decided just last year,” said Rules vice-chairman Jon Stanard, R-St. George.

The two Democrats on the committee, Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake; and Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay; spoke against the holding of HB151.

“We had a successful election last year” under the non-partisan banner. “And it seemed to work well,” said Moss, a retired teacher.

That may be, but there certainly was politics in 2016, with several State Board candidates being endorsed by GOP legislative leaders, including Hughes, and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, while other candidates were endorsed by the Utah Education Association, the main teacher union.

There are 15 board members coming from districts draw by the Utah Legislature after each 10-year Census.

In the past, not much attention was paid to the board redistricting because the members were non-partisan.

Watch for all that to change come 2021 when GOP board members will look to their Republican legislative majority to redraw their districts with partisan voting patterns considered – as lawmakers do in redrawing their own districts every 10 years.