When it comes to making laws, some state legislators want it known loud and clear that they, not the governor and his staff, are in charge.
But a member of Gov. Norm Bangerter's staff says two bills (one of which is 600-pages long) to limit the rulemaking powers of state agencies make as much sense as taking 100 aspirins to cure a headache.State representatives passed HB154 and HB142 by overwhelming margins earlier this week, and Bangerter is busily trying to gather support to defeat the bills in the Senate. At the very least, he wants 10 senators on his side so that he can veto the bills without having to worry about two-thirds of the Senate overriding him.
The Senate State and Local Affairs Committee sent the bills to the Senate floor Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, the governor has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether the bills are constitutional.
To those who support the measures, the issue is a classic American Government 101 question about the separation of powers.
Currently, state agencies can pass rules that affect people as much as any law, said Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem, a co-sponsor. Lawmaking belongs to the legislative branch of government.
He cites a rule several years ago that required people to pass a test before they could lead wilderness activities. The rule did not specify who would write the test or oversee the procedure, creating a great deal of confusion.
If state agencies pass a bad rule, lawmakers now have to pass laws to negate the effects. The larger bill spells out everything each agency would be allowed to write rules about - hence, the 600-page length.
The smaller bill, HB142, would cause every rule to expire each year unless renewed by the Legislature.
"This is not a reflection of anyone out to get Norm Bangerter," McAllister said.
But opponents of the measure say it would destroy the separation of powers. Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief deputy, is particularly concerned about the bill that would cause each rule to expire yearly.
"This would be the same as if the Legislature passed a law saying that all state Supreme Court decisions last only one year and that lawmakers would then decide which ones to keep," he said.
Scruggs envisions high-powered lobbyists persuading lawmakers to let a rule expire because it is disliked by a certain company. A bill would be written to extend all but a few rules, and the governor would be handcuffed.
"If the governor vetoed a bill like that, he's just allowed every rule to expire," Scruggs said.
As it is, an administrative oversight committee looks at the rules passed each year and changes the few that it considers to be unfair. That is known as the "two-aspirin cure," Scruggs said.
The bills have wide support from both political parties, and McAllister is working hard to keep his fellow senators from giving in to pressure from the governor.
"Don't commit to the governor. Don't promise your vote," McAllister told his colleagues during a caucus Tuesday. "Look at the bill on its merit when it comes to us. Now, I like Norm Bangerter, but this is a question about legislative versus executive power.
"If Norm were still speaker of the house, you'd bet he'd have a different position on this one."
Democrats are happy to lend their support, although they admit they probably would not be so eager if one of their own were governor.
"If the Republicans want to hurt their own governor, we're happy to help them," House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said during a recent caucus.
As for Scruggs, he says he's not worried. He doesn't think the Senate will pass the bills.
"If they do, the Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional," he said.