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Protests could push reform bills and a proposed amendment to remove 'slavery' from Utah's constitution

Utah Constitution
Posted at 2:45 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 20:15:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The recent protests against racial inequality could push legislation on policing to passage on Utah's Capitol Hill, as well as a proposed amendment that officially repeals "slavery" from the state constitution.

"I think a lot of people are surprised to learn it is a part of our constitution," said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City.

Rep. Hollins successfully passed a bill in 2019 that puts the proposed amendment to repeal the word "slavery" from the Utah State Constitution. It goes before voters this November.

While officially abolished after the Civil War, state documents to this day still include "slavery" and references to it. The wording states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within this State."

"What it currently says is a person can be placed in slavery if they’re duly convicted of a crime. What my amendment does is it takes that language out," Rep. Hollins said in an interview with FOX 13.

On Wednesday, Rep. Hollins mentioned the proposed constitutional amendment while at a Black Lives Matter rally. She was joined by fellow lawmakers who represent communities of color.

"It no longer reflects our values as citizens of Utah, so I want them to vote to take this out of our constitution. It’s not who we are," she said.

In response to the recent protests, lawmakers are drafting bills that propose reforms. The NAACP is partnering with a Republican lawmaker for some priority legislation. Rep. Hollins said she and other lawmakers are currently working with activists, Black Lives Matter and other groups on their own bills.

The legislation was still being planned out, but Rep. Hollins said they are looking at dealing with police use of force and restraint.

"I do think we have the momentum right now. When I meet with my colleagues on the Hill, we all agree there’s some things we’re not going to agree on," she said. "There’s some things we are going to agree on. What we do agree on is we want to make sure people in our community are safe. People should not be treated differently because of their skin color in this state."

Governor Gary Herbert on Thursday instituted immediate bans on chokeholds within Utah's Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the police academies. He also instituted mandatory implicit bias training for all state employees and elevated his Multicultural Affairs and Indian Affairs directors to directly report to him.

The governor also promised another meeting with his Multicultural Commission and Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission with policy ideas at the first of next month.

"We can, in the state of Utah, do better," he told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

"I applaud any effort that’s made to start moving us in the right direction to start addressing systematic racism in our state," Rep. Hollins said in response.

She said to ensure passage of bills, supporters need to stay engaged on Capitol Hill.

"You need to stay in contact with your elected officials. Stay in contact with them and let them know your concerns with what's going on in the community. And, of course, I always, always, advocate -- vote. You’ve got to stay engaged. You’ve got to vote. You’ve got to know what’s going on at the local level," she said.