Utah's 104 part-time legislators take off in two weeks for a four-day trip to southern Utah - and for the first time in the six years of the Legislature traveling around the state each summer, this excursion is about as much play as work.
Well, the legislators may not see it that way.But there's no denying that legislators will receive two days' pay for the four-day event that includes official "site visits" of horseback riding, ATV riding, hikes and guided tours of state and national parks.
A preliminary agenda included two golf tournaments as part of the "site visits." One was on a day when legislators were getting their regular pay - and so they would have been paid to play golf for free.
But one of those tournaments was taken off the final official legislative agenda altogether and the other restricted to spouses and guests. Legislators are supposed to be on different tours that afternoon.
Legislators may golf, but it will be on their own time - outside of the daily tour schedules, legislative leaders say.
Lawmakers will be paid their regular $100-a-day salaries for two full days of the events. (They will donate their time the first evening and the final half-day of tours).
They'll get three nights lodging and their $35 per diem for two days. They will also get mileage for driving down and back and miles driven in between. That's standard legislative reimbursement.
When lawmakers went to Moab, Blanding and Monticello three years ago there was one horseback ride up into state forests - limited to a small number of people.
But in the September trip there will be at least two horseback riding events - one down into beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park - plus ATV riding in some local sand dunes (where legislators will be told about endangered species), a hike into Cascade Falls and a special "outfitting" tour.
There is some serious stuff, too - two tours into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one to study the huge land exchange Gov. Mike Leavitt has pushed with the federal government, and tours of local water and electrical power needs. Legislators pick from among four to six tours that take place at the same times.
Still, by previous standards, the four-day trip to Kane, Garfield and Wayne counties - the evening of Sept. 1, all day Sept. 2 and 3 and the morning of Sept. 4 - has a lot of, well, light events planned.
For example, one morning horseback ride is aimed at teaching legislators how that tourist industry operates.
There's a tour of a Western movie set in Kanab (where 1962's "Sergeants 3" was filmed, the agenda says) with the chance to see John Wayne memorabilia at Denny's Wigwam. Legislators will personally see where famous movie stars slept at Parry's Lodge, the planned outline says.
Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, is coordinating the visit. He perhaps anticipated some raised eyebrows concerning the itinerary when he presented a preliminary agenda to House Republicans last month.
"Basically, in our area of the state you don't have a lot of industry" for legislators to visit, Hatch said. There's ranching and tourism.
And tourists like to see things and have fun. So legislators will get a lot of that. "We think you'll have a good time," said Hatch.
All of the previous legislative tours included one or more tours/
events at the local public college, university or applied technology center. But there aren't even any of those in the sparsely populated three counties lawmakers visit next month.
The real reason for the tours, of course, are town meetings where citizens who don't often get up to the Wasatch Front or the State Capitol can come and tell legislators their concerns.
Town meetings are scheduled for:
- 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2, at the Bryce Valley High School, 500 W. Center, in Tropic.
- 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at the gazebo on Main Street in Kanab.
Wasatch Front legislators say the trips are especially valuable and informative because they get to know some of the unique problems with which rural Utahns have to deal.