The Legislative Wild West

By Maryann Martindale

Published February 05, 201

If the Utah State Legislature was a spaghetti western, it would The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly.

With a 45-day session, time on the hill is precious. With a record-breaking 900 bills opened this year—a statistical impossibility to pass—one has to wonder if the legislators were paying attention during the State of the State when Governor Herbert declared education as the session’s top priority.

The Good, and yes, there are actually good bills proposed each session. They don’t always get the press they deserve but here are a few of the best.

Rep. Arent hits a double with pro-education HB65 for enhanced college and career counseling, and again with HB70 to establish a much-needed air quality task force. Rep. Dunnigan gets a do-over with HB33 correcting last year’s bill extending fireworks season, no doubt after hearing from every dog owner in the state. Sen. Morgan is pushing for SB31 to ensure smaller K-3 classroom sizes. Two bills, HB89 by Rep. Powell and SB45, by Sen. Romero would open caucuses, which unfortunately for fans of open and transparent government, Senate President Waddoups declared “dead on arrival”.

In an attempt to take on predatory payday lending both Rep. Nielson and Senator McAdams have bills HB206 and SB90 respectively. And last, but certainly not least is HB59, Sen. McAdams bill seeking a state-wide non-discrimination ordinance. All examples of how good legislation is possible.

The Bad is a sampling of the bills that are unnecessary, overkill, overreach, or just plain dumb (see 2011, Wimmer, State Gun). Rep. Nielson goes after the scourge known as daylight savings time with HB199. Yes, it can be annoying, but is this really a pressing issue? HB209 is Rep. Cox’s plan for reclaiming national parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, etc.) under the guise of saving education. The fact that Utah has NEVER owned these lands and as is stated in the Utah State Constitution would never claim that we did, is apparently irrelevant. Rep. Dougall is proposing HJR 10, a constitutional amendment to do away with residency requirements for legislators. Rep. Sumsion is hoping to cut his commute by increasing the speed limit in the already-confusing HOV lane with HB264. Rep. Anderson wants to make sure hookah parties are outlawed in the Capitol rotunda. And in a real head scratcher, Sen. Anderson’s SB34, says that if you grow, distribute, and consume food in Utah you can ignore any federal regulations, you know—the ones regarding safety. You may still get charged with a crime but don’t worry, the officer will also be charged with a misdemeanor, and on the off chance you’re sighted and they aren’t, the state will pay for your trouble. Really, we couldn’t make this up.

The Ugly are bills that are just plain bad for Utah. We see far too many of them each year, and this year is no exception. Our first winner is Rep. Herrod’s HB300. He described his revisions to existing immigration law as a “compassionate” approach but after reading the bill we are sure he misunderstood the definition of the word. If the legislature is looking for mean-spirited, overly punitive law, they need look no further than this bill.

Every year, as part of a strategic plan to eliminate any autonomous opposition to legislative control we see bills that erode the authority of non-legislative groups. This year, Sen. Reid has two bills, SJR5 and SB39 that would give the Governor authority over higher education and Sen. Dayton takes a sledgehammer to environmental oversight with SB11 and SB21.

In an effort to improve the bad rap of lower voter turnout, HB253 is Rep. Powell wants to improve statistics by removing you from the voter file as a penalty for not voting. And in the latest bad news, Sen. Osmond confirmed he is running a personhood bill this session, no doubt mirroring the many similarly negative attempts across the nation.

These lists will no doubt grow over the next four weeks. With all the negative, mean-spirited, and just plain bad legislation being proposed, it begs the question—if they aren’t listening to their constituents, who or what is behind it. Perhaps the legislators are bigger fans of a different spaghetti western, “A Fistful of Dollars.”


Maryann Martindale is executive director of Alliance for a Better UTAH.

© 2011 The Salt Lake Tribune

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