No doubt thanks to the end-of-year blahs that set in after the election and before the start of the legislative session, not all lawmakers chose to sit in on the final Legislative Management Committee. In an rare turn of events, there were enough lawmakers for a quorum to hold business, but not enough Republican members present to dominate votes and effectively silence Democratic opposition to any action taken.
[pullquote]”How long shall we stay here?” Speaker Becky Lockhart[/pullquote]In the past, Democrats have used such opportunities to wreak havoc in hearings that might otherwise be considered rubber stamp approvals. However, the tune was different in the Legislative Management Committee yesterday.
After a study was released last week stating that it was theoretically possible for the state to make money off of a land transfer from the federal government to Utah, lawmakers sitting on the Commission for The Stewardship of Public Lands voted to request that the Legislative Management Committee start the process of hiring counsel to advise the state if and when a case, inevitably it appears, goes though the legal process of suing the federal government.
“It is my understanding that this is open ended and we could spend who knows what amount of money on an attorney or group of attorneys to advise the commission.” Representative Joel Briscoe (Democrat – Salt Lake) said to the committee prior to the vote, adding that “I am not exactly sure how much money I am committing to this process…people who are in favor of the federal transfer of lands tell me that this could take ten years. I have a great concern to committing us to a process that is that open ended.”
[pullquote]”I have grave concerns about this.” Senator Karen Mayne[/pullquote]Incoming Speaker of the House, Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) acknowledged that the request for proposal (RFP) process is open ended by nature but felt that the process was important to begin due to the pressures associated with the upcoming session.
Due to committee rules, each chamber has to approve of a measure for it to pass. Since both the Senate and the House tied in their respective votes, the motion would have failed.
It was at that time that outgoing Speaker of the House, Becky Lockhart (Republican – Provo), who started the meeting by apologizing for being 45 minutes late, flexed her muscles to show that her final vote wasn’t going to be a loss – and that she was not afraid to wait in order to get the vote she expected.
“How long shall we stay here?” Lockhart asked in a wry tone.
As Chair, Lockhart reserves the right to keep a vote open for as long as she sees fit. Theoretically, lawmakers could be brought from wherever they may be in order to vote on the measure and pass the proposal.
After an awkward 20 seconds of silence in the committee room, Lockhart explained that no money was being approved at the time, just that the committee would move forward with the RFP process. “The money associated with [the RFP] is for future steps as we go down this road.” She added.
“I have grave concerns about this.” Senator Karen Mayne (Democrat – West Valley City) added to the record…before changing her vote. Mayne would reluctantly state that, since there will be a revisiting of the process, Mayne would switch her vote, thereby approving the motion.
Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) originally voted in favor of the motion.
Outgoing Representative Jen Seelig (Democrat – Salt Lake City) and Senator Pat Jones (Democrat – Holladay), stuck to their no votes, along with returning Representatives Rebecca Chavez-Houck (Democrat – Salt Lake City) and Briscoe.
Lockhart would take her victory in stride, thanking Mayne for her flipped vote.
The inevitability of the vote may be a foreshadowing for the next two years. Democrats are down to near-historic lows in the House, holding only 12 seats in the 75 member body. Similarly, Democrats hold only five seats in the 29 member Senate. Lawmakers struggled to place Democrats in all committees – most Senate committee’s feature a single Democrat on six or seven member committees. In the House, the story isn’t much better. Most House committees feature two Democrats, with anywhere from 10 to 14 members sitting on any particular committee.
Editors Note: The headline to this article has been modified from “Dems Cave” to “Dem Caves” to more accurately reflect content. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.