When former Utah Attorney General John Swallow resigned in late 2013 amid a landslide of corruption allegations, several suitors, including ones with questionable residency statuses, stepped up to take his place.
Tasked by the state’s Republican Party to vet the candidates, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said one of the most difficult tasks was determining which of these actually could claim Utah as home.
In the wake of these difficulties, Weiler drafted Senate Bill 90, which aims to alter state’s residency requirements. The bill was unanimously supported by the Senate Government Operations & Political Subdivision Committee today, and will move to the senate floor for a full debate.
In his presentation to the committee, Weiler said the process of vetting the candidates, which he thought would be straightforward, was anything but. And, as a member of the GOP machinery tasked with putting a list of qualified candidates forth before the governor, selecting a person who didn’t live in Utah would have tossed gasoline on the already large fire burning around the Swallow scandals.
“What became abundantly clear to me was that our residency statute was an abyss of ambiguities,” Weiler said, noting that selecting a nonresident would have subjected the GOP to further “embarrassment.” Weiler said three candidates in particular posed difficulties.
The first was Brent Ward, a former U.S. Attorney of Utah, who had lived out of state for years. According to Weiler, Ward claimed “in his heart” he was always a resident of Utah, though he had voted out of state.
Scott Burns served as deputy drug czar for President George W. Bush. Following his years of public service, Weiler said, Burns took a job in the Washington, D.C., area, where he remained for years, though he continued voting in Utah.
And in the case of Michelle Mumford, Weiler said at the time of her efforts to be appointed AG, she had only lived in Utah for four years and 10 months, two months shy of meeting the five-year residency requirement.
Though Weiler concedes his bill isn’t the answer to all of the problems that could arise when dealing with the technicalities of residency, he believes it goes a long way toward addressing some of the difficulties he came across in the wake of Swallow’s resignation.
The amended code would add the following definition: “Principal place of residence means the single location where a person’s habitation is fixed and to which, whenever the person is absent, the person has the intention of returning.” It also defines a resident as a “person whose principal place of residence is within a specific voting precinct in Utah." New amendments to the code would also explicitly state that if a person votes in another state or voting precinct, their residency in the former state ceases to exist.
Another matter before the committee, Senate Bill 167, which would have regulated the use of drones in the state, was not heard. Committee Chair Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said the bill might not be heard this session. She did not elaborate.
Attempts to reach Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, for comment, were not successful.
To read a version of the bill, click here
To contact Sen. Weiler, click here