One of the sad realities about our government is that citizens often don’t trust that their representatives are working for the people, but rather are crafting legislation that benefit themselves or their friends. Even if this is completely false, in politics perception is reality, and if the public doesn’t trust its government, no amount of placation from lawmakers is going to change this fact.
In recent years, the issue has only gotten worse. Though the Swallow scandal was the most obvious of reasons as to why people may have started to lose faith in their government to work for the people, several small scandals have popped up over the years to tarnish the executive and legislative branch.
Adding to these woes is the fact that some of the rules that govern how the legislature is actually run can create an environment where conflicts of interest appear to be ignored – even if these rules were created with good intention.
One example of a rule causing potential problems is the current legislative rule that requires that all members of the House of Representatives must vote on legislation – abstains simply are not allowed. Even if a lawmaker has a conflict of interest that may cloud their judgement on any particular issue, rules require a vote. Current protocol is that lawmakers simply announce to the body, and by extension the public, that a lawmaker has a conflict…before casting an up or down vote.
Though this practice requires participation, and therefore representation, it has the negative effect of forcing lawmakers who benefit from legislation to (presumably) vote in favor of said legislation – hurting the publics image of the legislature in the process.
It is for this reason that we turn to HR 2 – House Rules Resolution on Voting Procedures from Representative Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber). As you might suspect from the lead up, the legislation would allow members of the House to abstain from voting on any abstain on any piece of legislation they so choose.
It should should be noted that, under Powell’s proposed rule change, however, a lawmaker would not have to disclose why they were abstaining from a vote – though they would be required to disclose a conflict of interest prior to a vote taking place on any particular piece of legislation. This means that lawmakers could simply choose not to vote on controversial issues, avoiding the duties of being a representative, while lawmakers with conflicts of interest could still participate in a vote – even if it is known that the legislation could potentially benefit.
Because of this, the rule change is far from ideal. But we can’t discount the fact that Powell is attempting to create a legislative culture that at least allows for personal discretion. Hopefully, lawmakers will be proactive with such a rule change and use it properly when conducting the peoples business. Until that time, however, the political reality is that it is much more difficult to pass this rule change if conflicts are the only reason one can get out of a vote. Powell’s bill is a step in the right direction, and could create better rules down the road.
The Senate, by the way, has no abstain rule either, and there is currently no sign that that will change in the near future.
To contact Representative Powell, click here or call 435-654-5986.
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