Better UTAH Beat Episode 41 – March 19, 2013

The following is the transcript from this week’s Better UTAH Beat. It aired on March 19, 2013.
This is Maryann Martindale of the Alliance for a Better UTAH and welcome to this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

It might be tempting to say that the divide in the state legislature is between the right and the left, between democrats and between republicans. But in this session it became clear that the real divide in the state legislature is between those who favor democratic process (debate, compromise, transparency), and those who favor ideology (nullification theory, state supremacy, religious-based morality).

Essentially, it is the difference between those who take a pragmatic view and look at governance as a method for solving problems that we all face, and those who come to governance with a series of predetermined conclusions that bills are forced to conform to. The former is good for Utah, the latter is bad for Utah.

The bills that we followed throughout the legislative session generally fell into one of these two camps. Good bills, like those designed to improve air quality, favor the democratic process, while bad bills, like those expanding gun rights, favor ideological conclusions. But the divide goes beyond bills sponsored, and into the ways legislators debate those bills. Good bills are defended with pragmatic arguments (recourse to social science literature, university studies, constituents’ experiences) while those same good bills are attacked with ideology–anecdotes, scriptural references, and platitudes. And the same holds for bad bills. Those who defend them rely on ideology, those who attack them rely on evidence.

It might sound like we’re setting up a straw person argument in making this claim, but let me demonstrate how this played out in the discussion of one particular bill, Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck’s election day registration bill.

Chavez-Houck’s bill would have allowed voters to cast a ballot on the day of the election even if for some reason their voter registration wasn’t current. Especially in the case of students, and other transient populations, it would have been an important step for increasing voter turnout. In fact, the Lt. Governor’s office held a commission several years ago in which they researched ways to improve Utah’s abysmally low voter turnout. Among their findings was that same-day voter registration would improve voter turnout. State’s with same day voter registration have higher turnout rates than those states that do not. The evidence is solid on this one.

However, when the bill was finally given floor time in the Senate late Thursday night, the bill was defeated. And the arguments against the bill were all of the ideological sort. Senator Howard Stephenson stood up and trotted out well-worn arguments about voter fraud–without citing any evidence (because there is none) that voter fraud exists in the United States. And even if there was voter fraud, Stephenson made no evidential argument for how same day registration would increase that fraud. Senators Madsen and Valentine also relied on ideology to argue that we should make it harder for people to vote in order to maintain a Republican form of government instead of a Democratic form of government. In other words, we want fewer people voting, not more. But in all the opposition arguments, there was no mention of research, just wild, ideological claims.

The legislative session is over for another year to the delight of most Utahns. After 45 days of drama a record number of bills were passed: 524. Of all the bills that worked their way through the session this year, we kept track of about 50 bills.

At the beginning of the session, we told you about our bill tracker system that uses a color coding system similar to that used for air quality alerts. Of those 42 bills, there were 26 green bills, 6 yellow bills, 8 orange bills, and 9 red bills. We’re sometimes accused of being too reactionary because of the watchdog work we do, but as you can see, we’re mostly interested in strong, positive bills–like election day voter registration– that help to make Utah a better place to live.

With the session over, our state government and the many agencies that comprise it will continue to make decisions that affect the everyday lives of Utahns. And even though governance gets less attention during the 10 months that the legislature is not in session, the Alliance for a Better UTAH will still be there, keeping track of policy, and making sure the great majority of moderate Utahns stay informed and protected.

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

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