Utah Supreme Court dismisses legislative 'log rolling' case

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 12:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has directed a lower court to toss out a lawsuit challenging state lawmakers' rolling of more than a dozen bills — including ones that were defeated — into an omnibus education bill in 2008.

The court ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs don't have standing to bring two of their claims against the state under the personal injury or public interest standards. While they did have standing on other claims, the justices ruled that the district court properly dismissed them earlier.

Lawyers David Irvine and Alan Smith filed the lawsuit on behalf of 38 current and former legislators and State School Board members who contend the practice of "log rolling" violates the Utah Constitution. Smith and Irvine, who represent Utahns for Ethical Government, argued that it's one step away from the kitchen sink approach Congress takes to legislation and that it silences the public.

In 2008, the Utah Legislature lumped 14 separate measures into an omnibus education bill, SB2, in the last days of the legislative session, including $60 million for public school teacher raises. Some of the bills had passed the House and Senate on their own, while others were defeated on the floor or in committees.

Lawmakers at the time said the bill didn't happen in the dead of night and was the result of an entire session of negotiations. They said they posted information on legislative websites and blogs and passed out the details to legislators, reporters and interested residents.

Ultimately, the bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The lawsuit claims that SB2 violated state rules that say bills must address a single subject and have clearly written titles describing their content. A 3rd District judge dismissed those claims in 2009. The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday those claims were properly dismissed.

The lawsuit further alleges the measure stripped the State School Board of constitutionally vested power to vet textbooks and turned it over to a private contractor. The bill also transferred the board's power to disburse money earmarked for teacher raises to another state department.

E-mail: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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