SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to change Utah's attorney general from an elected office to an appointed position is moving forward at the Legislature this session.
The Senate's Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee voted 6-0 to approve the proposal on Friday, according to the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1gNh1FM).
The bill now advances to the full Senate for consideration. If two-thirds of the Senate and House approve the proposal, it will appear on the November ballot for voters to decide.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, is sponsoring the measure, which he said he has been considering about for years.
Weiler said he was prompted to introduce the measure after allegations of misconduct surrounded former Republican Attorney General John Swallow.
Swallow, who resigned late last year, was accused of offering several businessmen protection in return for favors, among other accusations. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.
If the attorney general were appointed rather than elected, that could free the state's top law enforcement officer from the influence of political or financial interests, Weiler said.
He notes that during the 2012 election cycle, Swallow raised significantly more money than others who won statewide office.
In 2012, Swallow raised more than $1 million before his election in November, while Republican Richard Ellis, who was elected state Treasurer, raised almost $23,000 before November 2012.
"The state treasurer can do nothing for his donors," Weiler said. "The attorney general can."
The only constitutional officer who raised more than Swallow in that 2012 period was Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who collected $2.3 million.
Because the attorney general's office represents the governor, the governor should make the appointment, Weller said. If the two offices have different agendas or views, it can be counterproductive to the state's interests, he said.
The attorney general has been an elected office since Utah gained statehood in 1896.
Seven states and the District of Columbia appoint attorneys general rather than elect them, according to a list from the National Association of Attorneys General. In five of those states, including Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii, the governor makes the appointment.
In Tennessee, the state Supreme Court makes the appointment. Maine's state Legislature elects someone to the office.
Weiler said his proposal is not perfect and is a tough sell to some, but he said it's worth debating.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, a West Valley City Republican, voted for the bill during Friday's committee hearing but said he doesn't think he'll support it next time.
Thatcher said it's an intriguing proposal worth discussing, but he thinks it could send more money to the governor's office and obscure any influence those dollars will have.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, a Republican from Logan, said he supports the idea but thinks voters are unlikely to approve the measure because they'll lose the right to choose the candidate.
SJR 3: http://1.usa.gov/1gVIrrI
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com