Committed to Promoting the Principles of Limited Government, Constitution, Representative Government,
Participatory Republic, Free Market Economy, Family and Separation of Powers
Annual Report Card on Utah Legislature
PDF version (Contains ratings charts and rankings)
How Did Your Representatives Represent You in 2014?
Big Government Strikes Back Part II
Last year the GrassRoots report showed a significant decline in overall scores; the decline continued this year with scores dropping well below last year’s averages and even last year’s results.
GrassRoots believes that one of the drivers behind this drop is the sheer number of bills which are being introduced. This year, legislators introduced more bills than had ever been introduced; and passed the third most (for more details please see our article on Page 8).
The State Senate passed at least two bills which would have increased the amount citizens pay the government by $111 million over the next two years. Both bills passed overwhelmingly in the Senate (the House did not consider either).
Both the House and Senate passed a bill which expanded state and federal spending in the state by $6.2 million (H.B. 88).
The session did have its high points. Bills which protected citizen’s fourth amendment rights and which required police officers to identify themselves prior to entry passed the body overwhelmingly.
The House defeated bad bills which would have curtailed the citizens’ first amendment rights by limiting campaign donations.
While some preschool programs which did expand government spending did pass, others were defeated.
Of the 486 bills passed by the legislature, Governor Gary Herbert vetoed three bills. Governor Herbert did not veto any bills which made the GrassRoots report.
Wilcox Tops House; Dayton Leads Senate
House Summary: Ryan Wilcox (R-Weber) received the top score of either body in this year’s GrassRoots report. Wilcox received an 88%. Rounding out the top seven were Dan McCay (R-SL), Jacob Anderegg (R-UT), Ken Ivory (R-SL), John Knotwell (R-SL), Marc Roberts (R- UT), and Brian Greene (R-UT).
Senate Summary: Margaret Dayton (R-UT) scored a 80% to lead all Senators. Mark Madsen (R-UT) and Scott Jenkins (R-Weber) rounded out the top three.
Governor: Governor Herbert received a score of 27% which was below his lifetime average of 53%. Last year Governor Herbert also received a score of 27%.
Averages: The House received an average score of 40%; compared to members’ lifetime average of 51%. The Senate received an average score of 36%; compared to members’ lifetime average of 54%.
What is GrassRoots?
GrassRoots has been issuing an annual legislative report card since 1992. The Constitutions of the nation and state are the guides which GrassRoots uses in picking issues for its legislative report card. Bills are picked without regard to any particular individual. GrassRoots has no paid staff.
Analysis of Bills for 2014
Bills are listed by number with house bills listed first. The sponsor of the bill is in parentheses. The tally on bills from each house is listed by yeas, nays and those absent or not voting. Text of all bills can be found at http://www.le.state.ut.us/.
A) H.B. 16 (C. Webb) Creates inequality under the law by carving an exception for government officials from lien laws. While GrassRoots does not disagree with the idea of protecting people against wrongful liens, we question why government officials are awarded protections that ordinary citizens are not. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (61-11- 3), Senate (24-0-5) and was signed into law by the Governor.
B) H.B. 38 (P. Arent) Enlarges government by creating the position of coordinator of resource stewardship. Ultimately it only creates a position that makes recommendations but has no power, hence it is not needed. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (54-16-5), Senate (21-5-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
C) H.B. 55 (M. Poulson) Creates a tax credit for the purchase of certain types of transit passes. Public transit is already paid for by public funds. Giving individuals tax credits puts further burden on the government; and ultimately could lead to higher taxes or prevent a tax cut. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Defeated in the House (29-45-1).
D) H.B. 70 (M. Roberts) Protects citizens by requiring law enforcement under certain circumstances, to identify themselves before forcing entry into a building; also by raising from “reasonable grounds” to “probable cause” the standard of evidence on which a forcible entry is justified. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (69-6-0), Senate (26-0-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
E) H.B. 77 (D. Lifferth) Provides a tax credit of up to $500 for home school parents. Parents who choose to home school their children are saving the tax payers money, much greater than the $500 tax credit in this bill. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Defeated in the House (32-37-6).
F) H.B. 88 (R. Menlove) Enlarges government spending on health programs in Utah by $6.5 million ($2.1 from Utah General Fund and $4.4 Million from federal government) to fund autism programs. These programs are best funded through charitable organizations, not further enlarging our growing national debt. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (62-3- 5), Senate (25-2-2) and was signed into law by the Governor.
G) H.B. 96 (G. Hughes) Allocates $3 million per year to create the School Readiness Board to negotiate contracts with private entities to fund early childhood education programs. Bill expands the role of government in early childhood education. GrassRoots approves of a No vote. Passed the House (55-17- 3), Senate (17-10-2) and was signed into law by the Governor.
H) H.B. 121 (B. Edwards) Bill would authorize the Division of Air Quality (an executive agency) to create rules that are more stringent than corresponding federal regulations. This would have been a violation of separation of powers, since making such rules is a legislative power, and ought to be left to the Legislature. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (54-18- 3) but did not come up for vote in the Senate.
I) H.B. 140 (B. King) Bill gives preference to homeless by giving a tax credit to those who hire homeless persons. Bill is social engineering; and creates inequality under the law by giving preference to homeless over other individuals. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (38-36-1), Senate (15-9-5) and was signed into law by the Governor.
J) H.B. 223 (J. Nielson) Returns election of state school board members to the citizens by removing the governor and selection committee from the election process for non-partisan elections. Currently a committee recommends candidates to the governor, who chooses the final two candidates. The public, not an unelected committee, should determine who serves them on the school board. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (55-17-3) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
K) H.B. 228 (B. Greene) State School Board members would be chosen by the same process we choose to elect other state officials in partisan elections. As with H.B. 223 this bill returns power to the citizens allowing them to directly choose who represents them on the state school board. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Failed in the House (33-41-1)
L) H.B. 236 (K. Powell) Requires the state school board selection committee to always recommend the incumbent to the governor for the school board if the incumbent is seeking reelection. While GrassRoots disagrees with the current method of selecting state school board members; it also believes that all candidates should be treated equally during the process. This bill creates inequality under the law by favoring incumbents. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (53-20- 2) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
M) H.B. 297 (B. King) Violates individuals’ first amendment rights to free speech by setting contribution limits to political candidates running for office in the state of Utah. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Failed in the House (35-38-2).
N) H.B. 318 (L. Christensen) Protects parents who are faced with having their parental rights terminated by allowing them their seventh amendment right to trial by jury. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (46-27-2) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
O) H.B. 356 (B. Wilson) Provides a tax credit of up to $75 million for the building of a convention hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bill violates the principle of equal treatment under the law, as government is giving a tax credit to one hotel which it will not be providing to other hotels. This creates an unlevel playing field with other hotels. The free market, not the government, should determine if there is a need for a convention hotel. Grassroots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (49-23-3), Senate (17-11-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
P) H.B. 425 (S. Eliason) Prohibits a local school official from entering into a federal education agreement if State Board of Education has disallowed participation in the program. Education policy is not the role of the federal government. Local school officials should not be circumventing elected school boards. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (42- 31-2) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
Q) S.B. 27 (J. Valentine) Extends the sunset date of the massagelicensure act to 2024, a 10-year extension. Why does the government need to license massage therapists? Wouldn’t the public be better served by the industry setting its own standards? Whatever happened to the doctrine of caveat emptor? GrassRoots approves of a NO Vote. Passed the House (63-7- 5), Senate (28-0-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
R) S.B. 39 (A. Osmond) Eliminates instructional requirements for parents who choose to home school their children. Bill reemphasizes that parents, not the government, know best when it comes to the educational needs of their children. Parents have theprimary responsibility for raising their children. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (52-17-6), Senate (23-0-6) and was signed into law by the Governor.
S) S.B. 42 (A. Osmond) Bill enlarges government by allocating $3 million to certain preschool programs. As government takes more responsibility for pre-school children, government becomeslarger and parental rights become further in danger. GrassRoots approves of a No vote. Passed the Senate (20-6-3) but did notcome up for a vote in the House.
T) S.B. 43 (S. Reid) Creates the Intergenerational Poverty Interventions Grant Program to allocate $1 million for programs outside of the regular school curriculum. Government becomes larger, as government assumes roles best filled by parents and volunteer/charity organizations. GrassRoots approves of a No vote. Passed the House (68-2-5), Senate (24-1-4) and signed into law by the Governor.
U) S.B. 46 (M. Madsen) Protects citizens’ fourth amendment rights by requiring a court order to obtain electronic data. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. GrassRoots approves ofa YES vote. Passed the House (70-0-5), Senate (25-0-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
V) S.B. 54 (C. Bramble) Intrudes on political party’s members free speech and right to association by prescribing who may votein a party’s primary (including individuals who are not party members). Prescribes a signature collection process by which a candidate may bypass, or lose in, a party’s caucus convention process, and still be entitled to be in a primary for that party’s nomination. This is unwarranted government interference in the workings and governance of political parties, and with the abilityof party membership to choose who will represent them. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (49-20-6), Senate (21-7-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
W) S.B. 57 (B. Shiozawa) Government mandate that all insurance companies provide coverage for autism. While GrassRoots understands the need to take care of children with autism, is government force the correct solution? For example, Obamacare had good intentions of ensuring all Americans had health insurance coverage, but look at the increased cost and loss of insurance coverage that has occurred. If government can force a private insurance carrier what type of coverage it must provide, what other things can government force private entities to provide? Market forces and voluntary charitable giving are better solutions, which keep government in its proper role. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (69-3-3), Senate (24-1-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
X) S.B. 111 (A. Osmond) Bill raises taxes $12 million in 2015 and $41 million in 2016 according to the bill’s fiscal note. In addition this bill, takes away local control of schools by dictating performance plans and mandating how money should be allocated. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the Senate (16-12-1) but did not come up for a vote in the House.
Y) S.B. 148 (S. Adams) Creates inequality under the law by giving preference to low income and non-English households for the preschool Upstart program. Continues this expansion of government through 2019. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (52-21-2), Senate (26-1-2) and was signed into law by the Governor.
Z) S.B. 164 (G. Davis) Repeals provisions prohibiting the Division of Air Quality from adopting rules relating to the federal Clean Air Act that are more stringent than corresponding federal regulations. As with HB 121, this puts additional legislative powers into the hands of an executive agency, and is a violation of the separation of powers. GrassRoots approves of NO vote. Failed in the Senate (14-11-4) as the bill needed 15 votes.
AA) S.B. 167 (H. Stephenson) Protects fourth amendment rights by requiring law enforcement to get warrants to obtain information by unmanned drones. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (67-5-3), Senate (23-0-6) and was signed into law by the Governor.
BB) S.B. 228 (S. Reid) Attempts to make it harder for citizens to pass referendum, by setting specific geographic requirements for collection of signatures. In cities and towns, referendums are the citizen’s only check against city council actions. In addition, if city councils do not have geographic requirements, why should citizen referendum? GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the Senate (25-2-2) but did not come up for a vote in the House.
CC) S.B. 243 (S. Adams) Requires utilities to collect $1 from every customer to fund clean air programs. While titled a utility increase, the net result is the same as raising taxes by approximately $26.4 million. Bill also increases power to “alternative fuel vehicle interlocal entities” which seem to advance unrepresentative, unaccountable (to the people) government. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the Senate (15-11-3) but did not come up for a vote by the House.
Quality or Quantity?
Every year GrassRoots passes out a bookmark to state legislators with a series of prompts; one of the prompts states, “Have you read and understand the legislation?”
Republicans have often waived their finger at Washington for passing large pieces of legislation often a thousand pages long, only a short time after the bills release.
While Utah’s legislation is much shorter, Utahans should be concerned if our state legislators are actually taking the time to read and understand all pieces of legislation that pass the body. Are legislators simply looking to pass a quantity of bills while ignoring quality?
What is disturbing is the failure to read and understand all bills that pass the body. One would hope that a bill passing the body means that at least 38 representatives and 15 senators read and understood the bill with all due diligence, and still thought the bill was a good bill.
A March 24, 2014 article in The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the 2014 Legislature passed the third most bills ever (486); fifty-seven percent passed in the last week; with a third passing on the last day. This year legislators introduced more bills than had ever been introduced (784); passing 62%.
The same report showed that one state senator introduced 29 different pieces of legislation.
Reporter Lee Davidson reports, “On that last day, the two houses were in session a combined 26 hours. Members passed 162 bills that day — averaging one every 9.6 minutes in each body.”
Unfortunately bills are often rushed through for political expediency during the session. This year the substitute version of SB 54 was not released until a Sunday night and passed both bodies within three business days. Legislators and the governor openly talked about the possible Constitutional implications of passing this legislation, but proceeded on the fast track anyways. At the Republican State Central Committee meeting on the Saturday preceding the release of the substitute version of SB 54; legislators attempted to get the governor to give his preapproval of the bill only to have the governor report that he had not seen the legislation.
Passage of legislation that has not been thoroughly vetted causes problems. This year the legislature passed SB 254 overwhelmingly. SB 254 was passed because the previous year, the legislature passed a bill which took away important constitutional guarantees. How could a bill get passed that had to be fixed the very next year?
Remember HB 477 in 2011 which rewrote the state’s GRAMA laws; making it harder to get government records? The bill was rushed through and signed by the governor in a matter of days. Once the citizens were able to find what was exactly in the bill the public outcry caused the bill’s repeal in a special session.
The Legislature only meets for 45 days each year, and time is short. Perhaps instead of measuring legislators by the number of bills they introduce, or the number of bills they pass; we focus more on exactly what they are passing? This is what we try to do at GrassRoots.
What would happen if legislators didn’t wait until the last day to pass over a third of the bills brought before them each year? What would happen if legislators took the time to truly understand the bills? The legislative process was meant to be deliberative.
Let’s hope in the next legislative session, our senators and representatives can truthfully answer the question, “Have you read and understood the legislation.” And the answer will be “yes”.