SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker wants to remove an exception to the Utah Constitution's ban on slavery and involuntary servitude that allows prison labor without pay.
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified after the Civil War in 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, but with an exception for punishment for a crime.
Utah, like many states, adopted language to reflect that in their own constitutions. Utah's 1895 Constitution read: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within this state."
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said it's time to change the "troubling and outdated" language in the Utah Constitution.
“Regardless of how we feel about the criminal justice system, it should be clear that it shouldn’t be slavery,” Hollins said.
"We need to be clearer about what prison is for, and what prison is not," she said. "The notion of slavery or involuntary servitude’ should not be imposed on people merely because they are convicted of a crime.
Hollins has opened a bill file to amend the Constitution, which would take a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate before it could be placed on the 2020 general election ballot for voters to decide.
Passing the measure would assert that "slavery is not a Utah value," Hollins said.
Half of states do not mention slavery or involuntary servitude in their constitutions, while the other half has language explicitly forbidding slavery or involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, according to Hollins.
Colorado voters last year approved a ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution to remove “except as punishment for a crime” from the section that bans slavery and involuntary servitude. Colorado voters had rejected a similar ballot measure in 2016.