Utah lawmakers are gluttons for punishment. Either that or they love to study obscure things - like whether morticians are protecting themselves from AIDS and what to do with old tires.
At the end of each legislative session, lawmakers pass a study resolution, a huge bill that details what they will study - or attempt to study - during the upcoming 10 months when they aren't in session.Lawmakers meet once a month, usually the third Wednesday, in interim meetings. Most attend two meeting sessions, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.
This year they have about 270 study items - more can be added during the interim - plus seven full-blown task forces to keep them busy.
In fact, they've placed so many items on the interim study list that legislators won't come close to actually discussing all of them. Richard Strong, director of Legislative Research and General Counsel, the staff for the study committees, estimates they may get to a third of the items.
Politically speaking, the interim study schedule has become a catch-all, a political out for House and Senate members who for whatever reason can't get a certain bill passed.
As one legislative leader says, "If we can't solve a controversial problem, we'll just study it or maybe just promise to try to study it." By promising to study a matter during the interim, lawmakers can sometimes appease disgruntled constituents who want some kind of action.
The seven task forces are: information practices (what government information should be given to the public and what should be secret); domestic violence (mainly wife and child abuse); Bear River development (who gets the water from this last underdeveloped source, and who pays for it?); adoption law; Indian relations (how does Utah government deal with the Ute Indian Tribe and other Indians in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions?); special improvement districts (are these "shadow governments" really accountable to the people?); and tort and insurance reform (are juries giving too large awards; how can insurance costs be kept down?).
The task forces are all pretty heady stuff. So are most of the 270-odd study items. But not all.
For example, lawmakers say they'll study aquaculture (Webster defines this as the cultivation of water plants and animals for human consumption).
They'll look into the disposal and recycling of old tires to protect the environment.
They'll peer at whether parents should be notified of sex-education classes in public schools, so they can remove their children from such courses.
One committee will study whether morticians are properly protected from the AIDS virus.
Another will look into homeopathy and whether homeopaths should be licensed (you can look that one up yourself).
Lawmakers will study whether it should be illegal for a person to train another in the use of weapons or explosives when the trainee plans to use that knowledge unlawfully. They'll also study whether it should be illegal to train anyone in paramilitary operations.
Finally - and let's hope they don't spend much time on this - lawmakers will study whether the Legislature's general sessions should be televised, like sessions of the U.S. House and Senate are now.
Can you imagine the kind of speeches we might get if the normally long-winded legislators thought someone was watching them on television?