Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lawmakers Debate Removal Of Elected Officials Over Mental Fitness

Julia Ritchey, KUER

Lawmakers considered legislation on Tuesday that would provide a mechanism to remove elected officials from office due to mental incapacity.


The bill stems from concerns over Salt Lake County Recorder GaryOttafter an audit last year raised critical questions about his ability to perform the basic functions of his office.


Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, is the bill’s sponsor. She said it’s a sensitive and rare issue, but one lawmakers should’ve mulled long before this case came to light.


“It’s better to consider how we should handle a question of diminished capacity in the hypothetical instead of being in a place where the reputation and the well-being of an individual is hanging in the balance," she told the House Political Subdivisions Committee


"But the situation is here, the public asks why, and the challenge is before us,” she said.


Currently, state law has no provision to recall an elected official for anything besides ethics violations or malfeasance.


Chavez-Houck’s proposed bill would’ve first required a signature-led petition from voters, then a public hearing of the official’s legislative body and finally a district court hearing.


But some lawmakers were skeptical of the measure. Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan said he’s worried it could be used as a form of political retribution.

“Here’s a person that was voted in by the electorate," he said. "And anybody that has a grudge can go out and start gathering petitions. And if that petition is successful, and it goes to the governing body, let’s say it’s the city council, and the city council hates the mayor, they can all vote, ‘Let’s get rid of that guy.’”


Some disability rights advocates also expressed concern about potential conflicts with patient-privacy laws.  


Members of the House Political Subdivisions Committee agreed to hold the legislation to give Chavez-Houck more time to refine some of the bill’s language and incorporate feedback from Tuesday’s hearing.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.