Legislature Set to Duke It Out Over SB 54

The sponsor of 2014’s SB54 tells UtahPolicy that he sees the need for only “minor, technical” changes to the law in the 2015 Legislature, and he doesn’t believe the GOP-controlled Senate will postpone the law, repeal it or make major changes to it.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, notes that returning to the 2015 Senate are enough “yes” votes on SB54 from a year ago to ensure the primary election reform law will survive.

A few senators, however, have other plans.

Sen. Scott Jenkins,  R-Plain City, has already introduced two bills – one a constitutional amendment – which, if passed, would significantly change SB54.

SB54 is the “grand compromise” bill Bramble worked out between the GOP majority House and Senate caucuses last year that, in effect, ended the Count My Vote citizen initiative effort.

While complicated, the new law provides two pathways to a political party’s primary ballot.

A candidate could gather a certain number of voter signatures in his district to get on his party’s primary ballot.

Or he or she could go through the traditional caucus/convention process, and if he or she gets enough delegate votes advance to the party primary.

Five returning GOP senators voted against SB54 in the 2014 Legislature.

But 16 GOP senators who voted for the bill a year ago are returning for the 2015 Legislature, Bramble noted.

In addition, two Democratic senators who voted for SB54 are back this upcoming session. And the State Democratic Party recently held a press conference endorsing SB54, with party leaders saying it should not be repealed or greatly changed.

Fifteen votes are a majority in the 29-member Senate, and Bramble already has 18 “yes” votes from returning senators in the 2015 Legislature, which begins Jan. 26.

 “I don’t think the (GOP) Senate caucus, nor the Senate as a whole, will go against the (SB54) agreement reached last year,” said Bramble.

Bramble is working with state Election Office officials to see if some “minor, technical” changes should be made to SB54 in the 2015 Legislature.

Part of SB54 is an exact, word-for-word, repeat of the CMV petition wording – including some grammatical mistakes.

Bramble said upon reflection, and in consultation with election officials, it may be that some of the SB54 wording should be changed.

But the basic premise of SB54 – the dual candidate pathway to an open party primary ballot – would not be changed, he added.

Nor would SB54 be postponed until after the 2016 elections.

Utah State Republican Party officials believe SB54 is greatly flawed.

In addition, says party chairman James Evans, SB54 violates the Utah and U.S. Constitutions by restricting the party’s right of free association (deciding how its candidates are selected).

The state GOP filed suit against SB54 in federal court recently.

As part of Evans’ complaints against SB54 is his and his attorneys belief that the state party can’t meet required deadlines – specifically county and state parties can’t call delegates together in time to make changes that SB54 requires to get Republican candidates on the 2016 primary and general election ballots.

But Mark Thomas, chief state elections officer, told UtahPolicy last week that all state party leaders have to do to meet SB54 requirements to get candidates on the ballots is to file a certified “registered party” letter with the state.

Bramble said Evans’ real political problem is not party registration deadlines set in SB54.

Rather, when Evans calls delegates and/or his Central Committee members together, said Bramble, it may well be that those groups will refuse to make changes to party bylaws – and that by refusing to do so GOP candidates could face real difficulties in their 2016 elections.

All that can be avoided, however, said Bramble and Thomas, by party leaders timely filing of the “registered party” certification letter.

“I will stand firm to the agreements we made with Count My Vote in SB54,” Bramble said.

“Neither the Senate nor the (GOP Senate) caucus will change its mind on SB54,” Bramble said.