On Wednesday, lawmakers in the House debated the controversial HB 11 – State Boards and Commissions Amendments, sponsored by Representative Norm Thurston (Republican – Provo), that removes the political party affiliation requirement for 24 state boards and commissions, meaning that board appointments would be made without considering political affiliation. One of the reasons Thurston stated for the bill is that the state has been having trouble finding enough people to serve.
Representative Jeremy Peterson (Republican – Ogden), feeling that the bill could “neuter” diversity, made a motion to substitute to keep the requirements for the Air and Water Quality boards, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the Public Service Commission, and the Commission on Service and Volunteerism. “As the bill is currently written, I know that for our minority party this bill looks like a free trip to the veterinarian,” said Peterson. Thurston acknowledged receiving a lot of feedback from constituents, but urged the passage of HB 11. The motion to substitute passed on a voice vote.
Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper) applauded the bill for making the process more “fair and balanced” and representative of “the will of the people.”
“Why do you have to apologize? Why is it okay for this body to have a majority and a minority? Why is it okay for ‘We the people’ to elect and, again, if it’s principled and if you take the high road and everyone chooses the principles and the values that they want to espouse and advocate and represent and then all of a sudden can you imagine having a family gathering and saying ‘We’ve got a problem. We’re too united as a family. We need to mix it up, and we need someone to be this way and someone to be that way.’?” I don’t want to offend anyone. I think we’re naturally, lovingly diversified. I think we love all people, we care about all people. But sometimes it just seems like principles just get lost and they just fade away,” said Christensen. “All of a sudden at one level, we’re going to have a debate on the state school board but we interact as the elected representatives of the people. Why would a legislative body represent the will of ‘We the people, We the parents’ and then go off and be told mandatorily that they’re supposed to somehow interact with another group that can’t be?”
Representive Sue Duckworth (Democrat – Magna) called for a point of order. “The representative is discussing a bill from a previous session that is not germane to this bill,” charged Duckworth. “The principle is, it’s just a passing comment,” responded Christensen. Speaker of the House Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) ruled with Christensen. “Thank you. It speaks to the underlying point, whether it be the third substitute, the first substitute, the bill as originally submitted, or anything that’s related thereto going forward. This is a recurring principle,” said Christensen.
Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Millcreek) said the substituted bill was a bit better, but still opposed it. She feels that the change is being made with too much haste. “Maybe these [rules] are outdated. Maybe some of them we do need to look at, and I applaud the effort to start looking at these. But before we make sweeping changes in dozens of boards, we need to have more information. Our legislature generally likes to take a cautious approach before changing the status quo. This bill was heard in a very busy interim committee in November. We should have tried to get more information at the time. I am truly sorry that that did not happen. But these are boards and commissions that make critical decisions that impact the daily lives of Utahns,” said Arent, who made similar points when the bill was being debated in committee.
“The current bill, as amended, is still a great bill. It moves us in the right direction of removing party labels when they are not necessary. As for it being a sweeping change, I would beg to differ. We are now talking about 24 boards out of 414. If you’re better than me at math, you know that’s just a little over 5 percent. We have a long track record of boards and commissions that have no partisan balance: city councils, local school boards, board of trustees, board of regents. There are lots and lots of them out there. It works much better when we’re able to choose the right people for the right reasons and not have them think that they are representing a party or a group of people other than the entire community when they’re sitting on these boards and commissions,” concluded Thurston.
HB 11 passed on a 51-21 vote and now heads to the Senate. All Democrats voted against the legislation, as well as eight Republicans.