Legislation that will result in GOP majorities on two key legislative committees advanced out of the House Tuesday.
HB 220 – Legislative Organization Amendments, sponsored by Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper), adds two additional Republicans to the Legislative Management Committee and the Legislative Audit Subcommittee. An equal number of Democrats and Republicans presently serve on both committees.
The Legislative Management Committee is charged with setting the interim committee schedule, assigning study items to interim committees, approves the creation of subcommittees and task forces, and coordinates the hiring of non-partisan staff. The Legislative Audit Subcommittee handles new audit requests, prioritizes approved audits, and hear and release audit reports.
The Legislative Management Committee was created in 1975 by the passage of SB 218 – Legislative Organization. Sponsored by former Senator Karl N. Snow, Jr. (Republican – Provo), the legislation was born at a time when Democrats held the House, Senate, and Governorship.
Christensen believes having equal representation on both committees ignores the wishes of Utah voters. “I believe and submit that it is a flawed structure to deny and fail to honor and respect the proportionality that should result from the majority vote of the people. This is a matter of principle. It’s not about power. It’s not about partisanship. It’s not about any of that.” According to Christensen, one issue with the 50-50 split is getting audits approved. He said he has seen “profound and necessary” audit requests get turned down due to the even split on the committee.
Calling the bill an “overreach,” Representative Marie Poulson (Democrat – Cottonwood Heights) spoke about the need for checks and balances in government. “I’m firm in the belief that, in order for us to make good policy, there has to be opposition in all things to make proper decisions and proper perspective as we go forth governing.”
Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – East Millcreek) emphasized the importance of maintaining a bipartisan committee structure. “I have the unique perspective of being a member of that non-partisan legislative staff as well as serving on the Legislative Management Committee. These committees are bipartisan because they need to be above the political gridlock we see in Washington.”
Arent also shared her concerns about the effect the bill could have on non-partisan staff. “If the directors of our staff offices are hired by one party, it changes the nature of our staff. Then staff and the work they produce will be beholden to party politics. Our staff serves us well, and impartially. If the committees that manage the legislature move from bipartisan to partisan, we will always wonder whether future management decisions are made for the benefit of the whole legislature, or just for one party.”
“It’s about principles, proportionality, and the true implementation of the majority principle that is inherent in representative democracy that makes this a republic. The voice of the people in the House of Representatives. It will not be abused. The staff that we honor and respect will not be altered whatsoever. That is a mirage. It is a false criticism,” countered Christensen.
The bill passed the House on a 41-33 vote and now heads to the Senate. All 12 House Democrats voted against the measure, as did 21 Republicans.