Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Lawmakers Keep their Promise on SB54

bernick mugMembers of the public and media are quick to condemn Utah legislators when the part-time politicians do this and that worthy of criticism.

So when lawmakers do something right, prudence requires compliments, as well.

And I do so today:

Congratulations to Utah House members – but especially the Republicans – who voted Wednesday to kill an attempt to gut SB54, the 2014 compromise with the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition advocates.

The lion’s share of House Republicans who voted for SB54 two years ago stuck with their promise to CMV and Utah citizens at large.

Several of the new House Republicans, not in office two years ago, tried to argue that no Legislature can bind the actions of future Legislatures (although, of course, they do so through bonding and other legal commitments).

Thus, SB54 “yea” votes in the 2014 Legislature are not binding today, they said.

But of course, this is false.

For if any Legislature – especially the majority members – are not morally bound by promises they explicitly made in the recent past, then what good is the word of any Legislature as a whole or any individual lawmaker?

The old dogs will remember way back to the early 1990s when faced with some difficult political realities; the GOP legislative majority pushed for term limits for lawmakers.

They put term limits for 12 years – that’s 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate – or a total of 24 years if one was term-limited in the House and then elected to the Senate, or vice versa.

And they grandfathered in current lawmakers.

It was a promise made to Utah citizens, who were looking at passing a citizen initiative petition on lawmaker term limits.

And, in fact, when a poorly-worded ballot proposition came up, voters killed it because the Legislature had already voted term limits on themselves.

But when the 12-year limit approached, legislators – arguing they hadn’t been around when the limits were set in law – repealed them.

Clearly breaking a promise made to Utah citizens.

Who knows the future of SB54, now being challenged in both the federal and state courts by the Utah Republican Party.

But at least this week honorable House Republicans and Democrats voted to keep their promise to Count My Vote backers and Utah citizens at large.

Let’s hope in years ahead Utah lawmakers don’t go back on the promise made to allow candidates to take a signature-gathering route to the primary ballot – as they did on term limits.

It may be illegal for one Legislature to bind a future Legislature.

But it is immoral, underhanded, and just plain wrong for Utah legislators to make a promise, strike a deal, and then go back on it when politics change along with legislative faces.

A part-time politician’s promise should be as binding as any other Utahns’.

No, in fact, legislators’ promises should rise to even a higher standard – kept because they represent tens of thousands of Utahns, and a break with them is even more reprehensible.

Well done, Utah House members who voted not to gut SB54, and keeping their promise made two years ago.