SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers approved a bill Monday that would bar anyone convicted of a sexually abusing a child from serving on the State Board of Education or a local school board.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, sponsored the bill after a sex offender who spent five years in prison unsuccessfully ran for the Granite School Board last year.
Richard Wagner Jones was convicted in 1990 of second-degree sexual offense of a child and spent 10 years on probation after his prison term.
He had fulfilled all court obligations but was listed in the sex-offender registry.
By a wide margin, he lost the spot on the Granite School Board to the incumbent, Dan Lofgren.
Moss told lawmakers that many of her constituents were disturbed by Jones' candidacy and could not understand how it was legal.
"It really upset a lot of people thinking that there was a possibility that this particular individual could have been elected," she told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday.
Moss said that while some voters were aware of Jones' past and did not choose him, it was concerning that about 5,000 people did vote for him.
"I doubt very much they know about his background," she said.
The committee delayed voting on the proposal for a few days to allow Moss to restrict it to those who had committed sexual abuse against children, rather than all sex offenders.
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Organization and other groups said including all sex offenders would include a broad array of offenses, including lewdness.
Moss said she felt the bill was now narrow enough to address her chief concern, and said it didn't bar offenders from running from any other office.
It only ensures that someone who has abused children will not hold an office that puts them around children, she said Monday.
Lawmakers on the committee approved the bill during a hearing at the state Capitol on Monday afternoon.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, was the only one to vote against the measure, arguing that Jones lost the election, which proved the system worked.
The government should not take that decision away from voters and try to protect them from a candidate, he said.
Greene said he understands the concerns people may have, but he said that doesn't mean a new law is needed.
This situation "has only applied one time that we know of with somebody in your particular district," he told Moss on Monday.
The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.