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Utah Legislature: Committee passes anti-affirmative action resolution

SALT LAKE CITY — It was standing room only Friday as a House committee passed a controversial resolution calling for an end to affirmative action in Utah.

Democrats tried to delay the proposal to provide more time for discussion, but Republicans dismissed their concerns.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, said it was "irresponsible" to approve the resolution without more information.

"I'm surprised the first time we're talking about this is in a committee," he said. "This is not an adequate fact-finding context to talk about amending the constitution."

Opponents pushed the bill's sponsor, Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, to provide specific examples of preferential treatment in the state. He replied, "I couldn't name names, but I think we all know people who have dealt with this."

Under the proposed HJR24, state entities "may not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin with respect to public employment, public education, or public contracting."

African-American activist Ward Connerly helped Oda present the proposal and has worked on similar resolutions around the country.

"Diversity is an amorphous idea that is simply in the eye of the beholder" and should not be an end unto itself, he argued.

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, attended the hearing and said the resolution is based on false assumptions.

"They assume that diverse means unqualified," he said. "Diversity is part of the quality at our institutions."

The legislation, which was proposed two days ago, is moving too quickly, Litvack said.

"This is an issue that will divide our community," he said. "Having a dialogue once the amendment is on the ballot is having a dialogue with a gun to you head."

NAACP spokeswoman Jeanetta Williams said the measure would be detrimental to opportunity in Utah.

"We've fought against Connerly's proposals in every state," she said. "We would oppose any such legislation here, even if it means we have to go to court."

A constitutional review committee was scheduled to consider the proposal at noon Friday.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com