Brandon Loomis
November 2, 2010

Four Utah constitutional amendments, including one establishing an independent ethics commission, prevailed in statewide voting Tuesday.

Amendment D • Mandates a commission of five people — none of them legislators — to make initial recommendations on the validity of ethics complaints lodged against lawmakers. The Legislature then will have final say on disciplining members. The measure won voter approval easily.

Last winter the Legislature enacted rules for the commission. They conflicted with those that would have been on the ballot had Utahns for Ethical Government succeeded in collecting enough signatures.

The Legislature mandated that all complaints be kept secret until judged for merit and that public leaks would lead to immediate dismissal of complaints.

While the citizens’ group wants more than what lawmakers have authorized, member Kim Burningham said the amendment is worthwhile. It creates the commission, whose rules can be changed later by ballot initiative, he said.

“It’s an improvement over no commission at all,” Burningham said, though he called the secrecy component “a stupid provision.”

House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, sponsored the amendment when it was before the House. He said its passage may be the cornerstone of changes he promised when elected. Locking it into the Constitution shows how serious the state is about fair play, he said.

“This will prohibit other [future] legislatures from changing it,” Clark said.

Amendment A • Requires secret ballots for employee authorization of unions.

AFL-CIO Utah President Jim Judd said currently employers may decide whether to accept unions authorized by open collection of signatures or to require secret balloting. The amendment conflicts with the National Labor Relations Act and will require a lawsuit, he said.

“The voters have spoken. We’ll see what the courts say,” Judd said.

Royce Van Tassell, the Utah Taxpayers Association’s vice president and an activist for the amendment, said the measure is about fairness.

“This is strictly about the right to cast a vote that is a vote of conscience without undue influence from anybody.”

Amendment B • Requires a three-year Utah residency before a person can be appointed to fill a midterm vacancy in the state House or Senate, and a six-month residency within the district in question. It coasted to victory.

Amendment C • Grants a $400,000 property tax exemption to private nonprofit water companies or associations, shifting the burden to other taxpayers.