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Utah Affirmative Action Ban Moves Quickly Through House

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers moved quickly Friday to place a ban on affirmative action in the Utah Constitution, despite little evidence the practice is being used or has caused problems.

A resolution that would prevent local governments, state agencies and public colleges from discriminating or providing preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin sailed through a legislative committee only two days after it was made public.

To amend the constitution, the resolution would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate and be signed by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert. Voters also would have to approve the measure this fall.

The proposal is likely to have little trouble getting the necessary votes for passage in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

A House committee approved the measure known as House Joint Resolution 24 with a 10-4 vote Friday. The full House will likely vote on it next week.

Opponents said there was little time to seek public input about the proposal by Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield.

"To pull this bill out two days ago, and ram it down the throats of this community, is awful," said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City. "This is big, and it deserves public input."

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, said she wasn't made aware of the proposal until Thursday night.

"He's trying to kind of do it in a backdoor approach, which I find very offensive," Williams said.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to delay the measure by suggesting it undergo study during the summer.

Republicans said they want to pass the measure while Ward Connerly, a former member of the University of California Board of Regents who has worked to pass similar legislation in other states, was in town to testify for the bill.

"The implication is that those of us who are ... minorities cannot compete and therefore society has to bestow its benevolence," Connerly, who is black, told lawmakers. "Sometimes we don't realize that's a double-edge sword. We demean people."

Connerly was joined by Jennifer Gratz, who successfully sued the University of Michigan for denying her admission, saying she was put at a disadvantage because she wasn't a minority.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the measure will help ensure Utah colleges don't discriminate.

"We're not getting necessarily the most qualified students there because of the quota system," Waddoups said.

Kay Harward, University of Utah senior associate vice president for enrollment management, said minorities don't get any preferential treatment when it comes to admission.

State agencies also have policies in place that prevent them from giving preferential treatment when it comes to hiring or promotions.