Source: The Daily Herald
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo has introduced a bill in Utah’s 2017 legislative session that has some people worried about giving one political party too much power.
House Bill 11, which would remove political party affiliation requirements for certain state boards and commissions, was recommended by the Government Operations Interim Committee on Tuesday. Some of the boards affected include the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, the Board of Oil, Gas and Mining and the Drinking Water Board.
Right now, each of those boards have limits on how many people from one party can serve on the board at any given time. For instance, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission is currently composed of seven commissioners. A maximum of four of those commissioners may belong to the same political party.
HB 11, if passed, would do away with that limitation.
Thurston says the bill would allow the governor to appoint the most qualified volunteers to state boards and commissions without regard to their party affiliation.
“If we ask people during the application process (to serve on boards and commissions) what party they belong to, it reinforces the idea that things are partisan,” Thurston said. “If we don’t ask, if we say we’re looking for an engineer, or a parent, then they know they fill a spot on the board related to their experience and qualification.”
Thurston said that, of the 74 state boards and commissions that currently have limits on how many people can serve from one party, he identified 29 where the requirement didn’t make sense.
HB 11 would allow those 29 to be like 340 other non-partisan boards in Utah, Thurston said.
But the nonprofit group, Alliance for a Better Utah, has raised concerns that the bill has the potential to give too much power to one party.
The Republican Party has a majority in both the Utah Senate and Utah House of Representatives, in addition to a Republican administration led by Gov. Gary Herbert.
“It seems to us it could make it to where Republicans could effectively silence more minority party voices in the state, whether Democrat, independent, whatever it may be,” said Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel for Alliance for a Better Utah. “These boards are making important decisions about issues like alcohol policy, air quality and water quality.”
The Utah Democratic Party has joined ABU in denouncing HB 11, calling it a “flagrant abuse” of power and calling on state legislators to vote no on the bill.
“Our society benefits when multiple viewpoints are brought to the table, even on issues such as livestock,” said Peter Corroon, Utah Democratic Party chairman, in a prepared statement. “Utah’s elected political offices are already held by a Republican supermajority. Our state needs more balance in positions of power, not the continued one-party rule which leads to corruption and a lack of transparency in government.”
Thurston said that other checks and balances in the selection process, such as Utah Senate confirmations help keep the appointments from being handed out as political favors and will ensure the most qualified applicants are chosen.
“The reality is, if you say, ‘We’ve got more requirements,’ that’s one more thing that gets in the way of selecting the best people,” Thurston said.
But even the possibility that members of only one party will make decisions about issues like alcohol, air quality and labor is unacceptable, Thomas said.
“Members from all parties have made significant contributions to these areas over the years, and they should be able to continue contributing to the balance we deserve in our politics and governance,” Thomas said.