Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has gone too far in establishing a commission that will examine legislative ethics, House Speaker Dave Clark said Monday.
Clark, a Republican from Santa Clara, told the Deseret News editorial board he was concerned the governor's recently named Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy was involved in issues that are the Legislature's responsibilities.
"Quite frankly, the governor has reached over the line in trying to say, 'I'm going to do from the executive side' what he has asked us not to do," Clark said, referring to Huntsman's veto last year of a bill that would have restricted his ability to make interstate agreements.
"I am very, very protective of the legislative branch of government, as the governor was of the executive branch last year and I hope he will respect that," Clark said.
Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the commission's purpose is to look "at reasons why Utahns aren't participating and don't have the necessary confidence in their government system. This group is not intended to look solely at ethics or even legislative ethics."
Lawmakers are struggling to settle on ethics reforms this session. Senate Republicans have said there's little hope they'll agree as a caucus on any particular bill.
Clark said it's going to take time. "It's not going to happen in this session," he told the newspaper board. "This is going to take, I think, through this next summer."
He said when lawmakers started rolling out their proposals, "gosh, all four tires were flat. I hope the people of Utah will have enough patience to know we're sincere and determined in what we are doing."
Ethics became a focus last year when a House Ethics Committee heard charges against Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. Although the committee cleared Hughes of any wrongdoing, the closed-door hearings have prompted a number of bills restructuring how lawmakers are policed.
Huntsman's 18-member commission, headed by Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, is charged with finding out why Utah's voter turnout in the November 2008 general election was among the lowest in the nation.
As part of their effort to determine why the state's residents lack confidence in their political institutions, the commission members will look at legislative ethics. That could include how campaigns are finances and how lobbyists influence lawmakers with gifts and meals.
Clark said many of the same policies governing lawmakers' conduct were in place when voter turnout was high. "Tell me," he said, "what's different."
Contributing: Arthur Raymond