As the 2015 Legislative Session comes to a close, one thing is abundantly clear: Legislators don’t care what voters think. Whose thoughts, exactly, do they care for? Donors? Delegates? We may never know for sure, but we do know that despite overwhelming public support or opposition on several key issues, lawmakers are ignoring the will of their constituents.
Polls have shown support for Healthy Utah, the Governor’s Medicaid expansion plan, as high as 88%. The Senate agreed with the people, but the House, in mostly closed door meetings, refused a full public debate and instead passed their own Utah Cares plan (a misnomer if ever there was one). We’re facing the very real possibility of no compromise and no agreement before the session ends.
Opposition to the Count My Vote compromise remains in some quarters of the legislature. The latest attempt to thwart the will of the people would allow parties to pick the candidates if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. Only 14% of Utahns want the parties to make their choices for them, but that’s exactly what will happen if House Republicans have their way.
And then there’s the case of State School Board elections. Some 56% of Utahns want the state school board to stay non-partisan. Although a nonpartisan option is slowly working its way through the legislature, there have been more than twice as many bills that either make the board partisan or Governor-appointed.
Medical cannabis was a new topic this year, but Senators rejected the proposal as being far too big of a policy shift for them to manage. Did I mention that 66% of Utahns support legalizing medical cannabis? One Senator even argued that our right to own guns could be thwarted if we allowed people struggling through major illnesses to use cannabis.
It may finally be the year for a statewide non-discrimination ordinance now that the LDS Church has come out in full support. Their support, alongside the 72% of Utahns who want their fellow citizens to be protected from discrimination in housing and employment, should cause the bill to be a shoo-in. Of course, it still needs to pass and could easily stall in the less-than-supportive House.
Attempts to tear down the Zion Curtain, the controversial and ineffective attempt at pretending Utahns don’t drink alcohol, went nowhere, despite the support of 62% of Utahns. The bill never even received a hearing.
And let’s not even get started on Clean Air legislation. Prior to the session, Utahns ranked air quality as their number two concern, yet it has been an abysmal year for clean air bills with the vast majority of bills getting stalled or killed. Those that barely survive have been so diluted as to be ineffective.
No legislative session ends with everyone getting everything they want. That’s how it should be. Good policy comes from discussion, negotiation and compromise. Instead, this year has shown that compassionless grandstanding wins over statesmanlike policy making, and that partisan divisiveness trumps the will of the people.