Utahns vote to remove slavery as a punishment for a crime from constitution

Election

UTAH (ABC4) – Utah voters have spoken, and an amendment to remove slavery as punishment for a crime from the state constitution has passed. The Associated Press confirmed the results.

RELATED: Get latest results of the 2020 General Election here

Back in late November of 2018 Utahn’s were reminded in a report from ABC4 that slavery was still technically legal in the state.

“It’s something that should be done immediately,” Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch told ABC4 News.

Williams said the wording within the article needed to be changed.

“What they’re trying to get around is saying slavery is not OK but then saying ‘except.’ That right there is very troubling.”

Article I, Section 21 of the Utah Constitution reads that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within this State.”

Paul Cassell, a Professor of Law at the University of Utah also spoke with ABC4 News back in 2018, explaining what he believes the article means and who he thinks is affected by it.

“I think it’s pretty clear that this is a provision confined to prison situations. Certainly, no one is going to be able to have a slave outside of prison walls,” he told ABC4’s Brittany Johnson.

“I don’t think it’s fair to refer to prisoners as slaves. We have a sorry history of slavery in this country and that’s African-Americans who were taken into a condition of slavery having done nothing wrong. To say that a prisoner who is duly confined is also a slave is I think to conflate, two very different things.”

Utah’s Constitution was written in 1895. Cassell said the language of the amendment is outdated and punishments that were permitted moral or ethical more than 100 years ago, are no longer acceptable today.

Only a few months after ABC4 first broke the story, a bill to remove slavery from Utah’s constitution passed out of a House committee unanimously.

Following the decision, everyone in the committee room, including committee members, gave Representative Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City), the sponsor of the resolution, a standing ovation.

“I am overwhelmed and I am grateful. I think those are the only two words to describe how I feel after that experience,” Hollins told ABC4 in February of 2019, smiling from ear to ear.

Politicians, religious organizations, the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, Black Lives Matter, and community members all spoke at the hearing in favor of the bill.

Very soon after, Utah’s Senate committee followed suit and also passed the resolution unanimously setting up the potential for Utahn’s to vote the wording out of the state constitution.

Senator Jake Anderegg, joint sponsor of the resolution, told ABC4 he was taken aback that the wording had existed, ​”I was surprised to discover that this provision was still in the Utah State Constitution. I was honored to work with Rep. Sandra Hollins to help it pass, which it did unanimously in both the Senate and the House. Removing this outdated provision sends a strong, bipartisan statement about our values as citizens of Utah, and I encourage all Republicans everywhere to vote for the passage of Amendment C.”

Leading up to the 2020 vote on November 3, the Utah Coalition to Abolish Slavery formally kicked off an education campaign for Amendment C. Public officials, religious leaders, and historians talked about the significance of removing slavery and involuntary servitude from the Utah Constitution.

Fances James and Jenny Magana, part of the Utah Coalition to Abolish Slavery, joined ABC4 on Inside Utah Politics to go in-depth on the issue.

ABC4 will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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