Under the current Utah Constitution slavery is only almost illegal — it is still allowed as a form of punishment for a crime.
Now Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, has proposed a resolution to take the word “slavery” out of the state’s constitution completely.
The resolution, HJR8, was heard Tuesday in the House Judiciary Standing Committee. It received a unanimous favorable response from the committee, which prompted a standing ovation from many at the meeting.
Pastor France Davis of Calvary Baptist Church was one of many present to speak in favor of the resolution.
“Our constitution was designed to be a changing document and now is the time, it seems to me, that is right for us to make this change in the language and to remove slavery from a part of our constitution,” Davis said.
Hollins said the language was added to the U.S. Constitution, the Utah Constitution and constitutions for many other states because of a labor shortage. The clause allowed leasing convicts out to businesses to help fill the shortage.
She said the change would not stop work programs in Utah’s prisons.
“My intent is not to stop prisoners from working … I’m a social worker and I work with a lot of individuals who have been in and out of incarceration and I know that work requirements is a part of rehabilitation,” Hollins said.
Scott Howell, former minority leader in the Utah Senate, spoke in favor of the change. He said he wishes he had known about the issue and done something about it while he was in office.
“Words do matter, the word slavery, the connotation that (the word) brings with it, it just doesn’t fit … what we try to project here,” Howell said.
Many of the representatives on the committee spoke in support of the resolution and commended Hollins for beginning the process of changing this part of Utah’s Constitution.
During public comment, many people spoke and stood in favor of the resolution.
Words do matter, the word slavery, the connotation that (the word) brings with it, it just doesn’t fit … what we try to project here.
“I’m a descendent of slaves. The word slavery belongs nowhere in any policy or law or document in the state of Utah … it’s time that we erase that and any other racist monument in the state,” said Lex Scott, leader of the Black Lives Matter group in Utah.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, said this is the start of a historical event for Utah. He challenged educators in the state to teach about this issue and urged Utah’s congressional delegation to discuss the issue nationally.
“It’s time that we fix this in our United States Constitution as well and I would love for our Utah delegation to use your example to move forward on that,” Snow said.