Utah lawmakers discuss the constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot

A constitutional amendment is on this year’s ballot in Utah. The amendment would change the amount of money the state legislature could appropriate during a special session. (Preston Crawley)

This Tuesday, Utah voters will decide whether Constitutional Amendment A will find its way into the Utah State Constitution.

The amendment would give the House and Senate power to appropriate up to 5% of the money from the previous fiscal year in a special session. Currently the limit is 1% of the previous year’s total.

The amendment responds to a situation the state legislature found themselves in at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when the legislative session had just ended, but the House and Senate were suddenly left with the problem of allocating federal stimulus.

The 63rd legislature called six special sessions over the course of the pandemic to work out problems, money being a major one.

Adam Robertson, State House representative from district 63, said that while the amendment gives the legislature a bit more power, there are still checks and balances in place to prevent that power from being abused.

“It’s especially important to note that if we go to a special session in the legislature and we need to make significant changes,” Robertson said, “it would take a two-thirds majority of the House and a two-thirds of the Senate to pass. So it has to have pretty broad support for something to happen.”

On the other hand, Robertson said some of the legislature’s checks and balances, like public input, are bypassed in a special session. In that way, the new amendment would take some power from the people.

Robertson thinks the amendment is a “knee-jerk reaction” to an unusual situation like a pandemic, and that the state can rely on their existing reserves in emergencies instead of allocating more money.

“It’s not usually good policy to govern by knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “We have significant reserves in the state of Utah that we set aside, called rainy day funds, to deal with exactly things like pandemics, economic recessions, etc.”

While “unprecedented” could describe just about everything with COVID-19, Utah House representative Norman Thurston said the amendment is not only unprecedented, it is unnecessary.

“Since the state constitution was passed in 1896, this question has to come up exactly once, and somehow we managed to deal with it,” he said. “The idea that we would need to change our constitution because this is going to happen again, seems a little bit of a stretch.”

Even so, Rep. Thurston encouraged voters to look into the amendment and make an informed decision.

“People should be paying attention because it is on the ballot,” he said. “I would rather that they get informed and have an opinion and either vote yes or no.”

Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels said voters can look into the Voter Information Pamphlet from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. With all policies and candidates on the ballot, he reminded voters of the importance of casting an informed vote.

“I’d also encourage voters to look up each candidate, read about them, visit their website and social media accounts,” he said.

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