Royce Van Tassell, Vice President of the Utah Taxpayers Association, received a bit of special treatment Wednesday when he was allowed to take 20 minutes of the Government Operations Interim Committee’s time to air complaints about possible election violations that took place in Pleasant Grove.
According to Utah law, agenda items for committee hearings by lawmakers must be posted publicly at least 24 hours in advance in order for lawmakers to take any action on the item. That way, interested members of the public can be in attendance and voice their support or opposition. New agenda items can be added last minute, as long as no action is taken on them, but it’s extraordinarily rare for last minute agenda items to be presentations from lobbyists. Van Tassell’s time was never part of the agenda, and was separate from regular public input. Senator Margaret Dayton (Republican – Orem), as Senate Chair of the committee, gave Van Tassell nearly 20 minutes of time under “other committee business.”
Van Tassell’s presentation objected to the special election’s proposed tax increase, which would go towards increasing the ability of the local police and fire units. Van Tassell had seen some rumors on Facebook that uniformed police officers were escorting voters from their car to the polling booth. If true, Van Tassell contends, this activity would equate to electioneering in front of a polling location in an attempt to sway the vote in favor of the bond—a bond that ultimately failed by nearly 2-1 in the Utah County city. The Utah Taxpayers Association were opposed to the bond.
Current Utah Law makes it illegal to electioneer within 150 feet of a polling location, however there is no punishment for violations. Representative Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City) questioned Van Tassell on the possibility that officers really were electioneering or simply there to vote. Van Tassell admitted that he did not witness the event itself, simply that he had received reports of police engaging in possible electioneering, but he is lobbying for a new law to increase penalties for electioneering in front of polling locations.
Representative King (Democrat – Salt Lake City) said in a Tweet to Utah Political Capitol that “[Van Tassell] told me post-hearing that he asked for time on the agenda several days ago [and did not] know why it wasn’t listed.” While Van Tassell is the vice president of the special interest group, the president is Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper), who presumably will bring the legislation forward soon.