Rep. Sandra Hollins Hopes to Pass Bill to Remove Utah’s Slavery Exemption

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Utah State Capitol. Chronicle archives.

By Katelyn Collett

 

Slavery has not existed in the United States since Abraham Lincoln and Congress passed Amendment XVIII to the Constitution in 1865. Since Utah became a state in 1896, it would make sense that the state constitution would also make slavery illegal. This is not the case.

The Utah Constitution states in Article one Section 21 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.” This means that in the state of Utah, slavery may legally be used as a form of criminal punishment.

Many people in Utah are more than likely not aware that such phrasing exists in their state constitution. It allows for a form of slavery to take place in prisons while still following the United States Constitution.

Rep. Sandra Hollins has decided that now is the time to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would get rid of slavery with no exemptions. Hollins is the first African American female legislator to be elected in the state of Utah.

Hollins represents one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the state. When talking about what she plans to do, Hollins said, “I know that I have unique challenges and different issues that my district faces, that other districts may not face, and so I embrace that. I embrace being on the front line of being able to fight for change for our diverse community.”

Slavery in the United States was no longer legal when Utah became a state, but Utah is also not the only state to include a similar clause in their constitution. Yet, even though Utah is not an anomoly including an exception such as this, it does put the state in a morally debatable position.

Slavery does not exist in the United States as it did pre-Civil War. The Utah Constitution does not allow for that behavior to exist in the state unless it is used as punishment in the prison system. This is where the problems and debates arise.

More controversy arises from the fact that there are current issues being classified by some as modern day slavery. Hollins also stated that “human trafficking is a form of slavery and we need to be having those conversations and we need to be looking at what can we do. And I think that this is one of the conversations that I’m hoping that this bill is going to allow people to have a conversation on that.”

With Hollins’ initiative to pass this bill, conversations about slavery will more than likely increase. With newspapers covering the fact that Utah still has an exemption to slavery written in its constitution and a possible bill to be passed to change the law, it would be hard for a conversation not to start.

University of Utah students should be aware of these discussions and have an understanding of the impact that this bill would have on many people in Utah and what the significance could mean.

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