An ancient sage teaches in the Book of Ecclesiastes that for everything under the heaven there is a season: A time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to love and a time to hate.
Now state lawmakers want to add another verse: A time to lobby; and a time to refrain from lobbying."There is a time and a place for lobbying, but the time and place is not on the House floor when we are trying to conduct business," said House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy.
In years past, many lobbyists have perfected the fine art of dodging and weaving through legislative security personnel to gain access to a particular lawmaker. In fact, it's not unusual to find the best-known lobbyists camped along the back row of the House and Senate chambers, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting lawmakers.
After all, that's what lobbyists are paid for.
"But at times the noise is so bad you can't hear what's going on," said Moody. "What we are telling them is that when the House is in session, there will be no lobbying. They can reach us every day from noon to 2 p.m. (when the House breaks for lunch), there are breakfasts every single day and there are receptions almost every single night."
Senators are also concerned about the problem. But the Senate is a small body, just 29 members, and there is little space to lobby on the floor - something that has always been against the rules in both houses anyway but which hasn't been strictly enforced.
Security this year has been beefed up to deny the estimated 800 to 900 lobbyists access to the floor when the House is in session. Anyone wanting floor access must pass at least two security checkpoints and present proper identification.
Lawmakers this year even considered toughening the rules as to who could or could not be allowed on the House floor. One rule change would have revoked the floor privileges of any former lawmakers who are registered lobbyists. Another would have removed the chairs from the back row, where lobbyists crouch, ready to grab someone's ear.
Current rules state that lobbyists may go on the House floor only at the personal invitation of a lawmaker. And lawmakers are supposed to have no more than one lobbyist on the floor at a time.
The tightened security hasn't stopped some unescorted lobbyists from gaining access to the House floor this year. "Rolfe Kerr doesn't need to be sitting back there," said Moody, pointing out the commissioner of higher education during one recent debate. "There is no reason why they can't watch the proceedings from the gallery."
Lobbyists also sense a different attitude among lawmakers. "It sounds like they are serious about keeping us out this year," said one education lobbyist. "They always talk tough, but it never lasts. It looks like this time they mean it."
Some say the changing attitude toward lobbyists goes beyond making access to lawmakers more difficult. Some have grumbled about the loss of the office where lobbyists traditionally hang their coats, make telephone calls and conduct interviews. As a compromise, lobbyists were told that they could share a "smoking room" with legislators. "It's ironic, but in effect, they have relegated lobbyists to the smoke-filled rooms," said one lobbyist. "And they told us if there was even one complaint we would lose that, too. I guess all we can do is buy a big bottle of aspirin and learn to live with the smoke."
Lobbyists this year represent literally hundreds of organizations, professional and trade groups and coalitions comprising virtually every socioeconomic group. This year, the AFL-CIO has the most registered lobbyists, 41; followed by the PTA, 31.