The Utah Supreme Court just ruled in a unanimous (4-0) decision that (contrary to the opinion of the Attorney General) HB 174 could not stand alone, separate and apart from HB 148. Read the full decision (pdf).
Before reading the decision to those assembled, the presiding Justice prefaced his comments, including the following (as best I could keep up):
The decision is not the opinion of the court, the reasoning is still being fleshed out. The decision we’ve reached is unanimous.
For those of you familiar with the process of the court, we rarely do this in hours—we usually do it over a period of weeks.
The full written opinion may not be available yet for several weeks.
Some highlights of the decision include:
We are required by law to presume that the ballot title prepared by the legislative staff is an impartial summary. We are not allowed to change the wording of the ballot title unless we are clearly convinced by the sponsors who challenge the wording that the ballot title as proposed is either “patently false” or “biased”. … The fact that all the world is confused by the ballot title, alone, is also not enough. To modify the title language, we must find by the heightened standard of proof that the proposed title is clearly false or clearly biased. Summary of Decision, Case No. 20070417-SC, page 3
… [W]e find nothing in the work of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel suggesting any intentional or even inadvertent bias. Further, the ballot title prepared by Ms. Taylor and her legal staff appears to accurately and correctly reflect the precise nature and content of the ballot referendum submitted to the Lt. Governor. Ibid., page 4
Ms. Taylor is correct that it is not within her power as Legislative General Counsel to interpret the ultimate consequence of the referendum vote on HB 148 on HB 174. It would have been inappropriate for the proposed ballot title to speculate on the resolution of that legal question. Ibid., page 4
[W]e have concluded that HB 174, “Educational Voucher Amendments” is dependent upon HB 148, “Educational Vouchers” for meaning. It is the clearly expressed intent of the legislature that the provisions of HB 174 were to modify the provisions of HB 148. Should HB 148 be rejected by the voters under the referendum before us, HB 174 would be without legal meaning. Specifically, we conclude that HB 174 was not intended by the Legislature to stand alone as an independent act creating an educational voucher program, and therefore it does not. Although HB 174 is not subject to referendum by the voters, it is subject to the consequences of the referendum on HB 148.
Furthermore, now having the benefit of that legal conclusion regarding the dependence of HB 174 on HB 148, we are able to resolve any doubts that might have lingered about the accuracy and completeness of the proposed ballot title. If the voters choose to reject HB 148, HB 174 will not create an additional voucher program. If the voters choose to accept HB 148, the amendments of HB 174 will automatically be applied. However, automatic application of the HB 174 provisions in that would not require changes in the proposed ballot title.
Ibid., pp 4-5
Finally, please note that while this statement reflects the unanimous decision of the court, it does not substitute for the official opinion of the court yet to be issued in writing.
Ibid., page 5
And finally, my favorite line from the statement:
We fear a small forest somewhere has given its all for this case. Ibid., pp 1-2