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John Florez: Legislators need to respect law, Constitution

Where are the playground monitors when we need them?

It seems we have some Utah legislators who think the people's house is their playground. Some act as bullies, doing what they want without regard for others. They ignore rules, make their own as they go along and do what they want. They seem to pay no heed to the serious problems individuals and families face such as trying to find jobs, keep the ones they have, feed their kids, get them to school, all the while praying they won't get sick because they could end up homeless.

In the meantime, we have lawmakers who claim to be fighting Big Government. They champion individual liberties, rule of law, accountability, free speech and respect for the Constitution. Some of these lawmakers are the worst offenders when it comes to imposing their power on local governments and school districts. Some call it hypocrisy.

Rather than thinking objectively about the problems our state faces, such as jobs, education, health and the economy, they seem more concerned with flaunting their power, picking and choosing the rules they want to follow.

Worse yet, they seem eager to consolidate their power by pushing a bill to have the governor select the chief justice of the Supreme Court instead of leaving the responsibility in the hands of the justices.

Last week, Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, surprised his colleagues by introducing HJR24, a resolution to amend the state constitution to prohibit discrimination and preferential treatment (affirmative action) by government entities. This resolution reflects the arrogance of some in power by proposing new policies without understanding what is already in place or caring about the consequences of passing this legislation. This resolution shows a lack of respect not only for the Constitution but also lack of involving citizens in matters affecting their lives. Had Oda taken the time, he would have found the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, executive orders, subsequent court decisions, and Utah's anti-discrimination laws already protect citizens from discrimination.

The only mention of "affirmative action" in federal laws is found in Executive Order 11246 that calls for those who contract with the federal government to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." It places no requirement for preferential treatment, rather to remove illegal barriers. Lawmakers should show integrity and respect for the established process in making public policy. HJR24 fails to mention religion, age and disability. To try and rush through such a resolution that duplicates or undermines laws already in place is wrong, mean-spirited, and more an act of showmanship than statesmanship.

An earlier agreement made to consider a pro-gay rights bill and to study it further has now been put on hold, and the proponents of the bill were told by Senate President Michael Waddoups if they participated in any offensive activities in public it would "push legislation in the other direction." This has a chilling effect on free speech. Yet, legislators resist any limits to free speech when it comes to campaign contributors. With HJR24, lawmakers don't see the need for study to do something as significant as amending the Constitution. With respect to gay rights, they are simply putting the matter on hold.

My dear friend and a staunch Republican, the late Alex Hurtado, had it right when he reminded me of the golden rule: "He who has the gold makes the rules."

The playground monitors need to gain control of the playground. It's time our legislators showed respect for the law and the Constitution. After all, the government does belong to the people. That calls for them to make public policy in the public's interest and in public.

John Florez served as staff on U.S. Senate Labor Committee overseeing five days of hearings on affirmative action. He is former deputy assistant secretary of Labor, Utah State Industrial Commissioner, director the University of Utah Equal Opportunity Office and a former member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net.