Utah passes 4 constitutional amendments

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah voters amended the state constitution to ensure secret balloting in union elections and to create an ethics commission to watch over government.Voters on Tuesday also approved property tax exemptions for nonprofit water companies and an amendment to extend the same residency requirements that govern candidates for election to people appointed to office.Supporters of Amendment A, the secret-ballot measure, say it’s not clear that the principle applies to union organizing. They fear Congress could pass a “card-check” law that makes labor organizing easier by allowing unions to openly collect employee signatures.Opponents the Utah Legislature’s version of an ethics commission, say it would be toothless – it could investigate unethical behavior by legislators but couldn’t take disciplinary action. The Legislature would keep the authority to expel members.Amendment D, the ethics panel proposal from legislative leaders, appeared to be inspired by a tougher initiative that failed to make it on the November ballot this year. Utahns for Ethical Government didn’t gather enough signatures in time.Kim Burningham, a leader of the effort to get the tougher measure on the ballot, called the strong support shown for the initiative “a step forward.”Burningham said a voter-inspired initiative could improve on the constitutional amendment, and he plans to redouble efforts for the 2012 ballot.His measure would impose Utah’s first campaign donation limits for legislators. It also would check their power to appoint members of an ethics panel.The watered-down ethics commission didn’t have unanimous support of Utah lawmakers. In a voter information guide, a Republican and a Democrat laid out arguments why even a powerless panel isn’t needed.One of them, Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, called the measure a knee-jerk reaction by legislators fearing a tougher voter-inspired ethics measure on the ballot unless lawmakers showed they were acting.Hansen and Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said voters and elections are the ultimate ethics enforcers.Ethics commission supporters including House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, and former Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, say it will restore public trust in government.The measure doesn’t say how the five ethics commissioners will be appointed, only that none can be a legislator or lobbyist. It leaves the Legislature to decide how to make the appointments.Burningham’s measure would let the Legislature nominate, but not choose, members of the panel. Lawmakers would nominate 20 members, then select five by a blind draw.”We want more independence and believe our approach provides for that,” he said.Amendment C saves nonprofit water or irrigation districts $400,000 a year by exempting them from property taxes. The measure would extend a tax exemption already available to government-run and some private water districts. It would require other taxpayers to make up for the lost revenue.Amendment B requires people temporarily appointed to elected office, along with election candidates, to comply with Utah residency requirements.That would mean appointed officials must have been a Utah resident for three years and, in the case of legislative appointees, a resident of the district for six months.

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