Everyone's talking about changes for the new century. And Utah lawmakers are no different, as some seek different pay scales and the length of legislative sessions.
What's best for Utah's part-time branch of government: a general session that goes from 45 days to 90 days? An automatic two-day special session in the spring to "clean up" mistakes made in the general session?How about lawmakers being able to call themselves into special session to solve a problem the governor won't deal with?
And who should be banned from legislative service? Top state, city and county bureaucrats? Registered lobbyists?
Friday, the Constitutional Revision Commission will begin discussing these and other legislative topics with an eye toward making some changes in how the Legislature works.
At the very least, "something must be done" to allow the 2002 Legislature to properly conduct business at a different time than the 16-day Winter Games in February, says House Speaker Mel Brown, a member of the CRC, who asked the commission to study legislative constitutional issues during 1998.
The state Constitution requires lawmakers to convene the third Monday in January and adjourn 45 calendar days later. That would mean the 2002 Legislature would be right in the middle of its work when the Olympics are held.
Voters must approve any constitutional change in a general election. Since no change is on the 1998 ballot, lawmakers must put something on the 2000 ballot if they want to make a change by the 2002 Olympics.
Brown, R-Midvale, suggested last year that perhaps the general session should be extended from 45 days to 90 days, with legislators recessing to hold special hearings or travel to their home districts while in session.
Under that plan, in 2002 legislative leaders could adjourn for two weeks during the Winter Games and still have time to do their work.
But a number of fellow lawmakers balked at Brown's talk of spending more time in session.
The speaker then asked the CRC to look at a number of legislative issues, the length of session and the Olympics.
It's better that the CRC - "a group of distinguished minds, some former legislators," he says - look at the issues rather than the Legislature itself bringing forward a plan to change how it meets, perhaps how it's paid.
"You and I know it will get ugly" if lawmakers try to meet during the Games in 2002, said Brown. Legislative leaders will be committed to a number of Olympic-related appearances, and no doubt rank-and-file lawmakers will want to participate also.
If no change is made, lawmakers could just adjourn early in 2002, with work unfinished, and then have the governor call them back into special session. But the governor alone sets special session agendas - what issues can be considered - and so could manipulate what legislation is finally sent to him.
There's real value in an amendment, regardless of the Olympics, that would let lawmakers call themselves back into a special session and set the special session agenda, says Brown. "In most other states legislators can do that; but not here."
And the perpetual question of who can serve in the Legislature will also be looked at. The CRC in the early 1990s spent a lot of time studying the matter, coming up with a proposed amendment that banned state, federal and local elected officials and their top aides (among others) from becoming legislators.
The bill failed, perhaps one reason being that Sen. Blaze Wharton, D-Murray, was at the time the top aide to Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horicuhi and thus would have had to leave the Legislature if the amendment passed. (Wharton is retiring this year.)
Recently Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, and Brown have questioned the wisdom of having registered lobbyists serving in the House and Senate.
Currently only one legislator - Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper - registers as a lobbyist. Stephenson is president of the business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association. The UTA gets involved in any number of tax issues.
But other lawmakers have been lobbyists in the past or lobby non-state agencies. Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, is president of the Utah AFL-CIO and before being elected was a registered lobbyist. Sen. Nathan Tanner, R-South Ogden, was a registered lobbyist for Intermountain Health Care before his election. (He's since retired from IHC.) Wharton belongs to one of the state's leading lobbying firms but says he doesn't personally handle any clients who do business with the state.
Lobbyists as lawmakers "does raise the question of conflicts of interest," says Brown. In some other states, once a legislator has declared a conflict on a certain bill, he can't vote on it. But Utah law says a legislator "must" vote, even if he's declared a conflict, if he is present in the Capitol when the vote is called. Perhaps the mandatory vote law should be changed, says Brown.
"It's a difficult issue, if a lobbyist (and lawmaker) is involved in the legislative process," says Brown.