If you spend time observing the Utah Legislature, you soon learn which tail wags the dog. The state lawmakers who wield the most power are those who control the flow of business and those who control the purse, more formally known as the House and Senate Rules committees and the Joint Executive Appropriations committees.
Today we turn our attention the House Rules Committee. Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley City, wants the House Rules Committee to operate behind closed doors. Rules committees serve a sifting function, assigning bills to standing committees for public hearings or not assigning them, which is, essentially, a sentence of a lingering death for a given proposal. The Rules committees can also send bills directly to their respective houses for consideration. They have considerable power, which is why the House should reject Hendrickson's proposal out of hand.
It is an odd proposal coming from a Democrat. Democrats have long chided their Republican colleagues for closing their party caucuses. They have claimed that doing legislative business behind closed doors enabled GOP lawmakers to play games or placate special interests without public scrutiny. Democratic leaders should remind Hendrickson of the party's position.
Others say the House Rules Committee has become ineffective because standing committees are not doing their jobs of killing unworthy or bad legislation. This does not justify closing the door on the House Rules Committee meetings. It does suggest that standing committees need to do a better job of killing bad bills. Committee chairmen or chairwomen must insist the committees operate more effectively.
As it stands, members of the respective Rules committees know that sponsors of legislation can come to the committee meetings and stare them down as they decide whether to release a bill for debate. It's all part of a healthy legislative process. It's a dynamic activity, and not everyone goes home happy.
It's difficult to know if Hendrickson's proposal will get any traction. Democratic House leaders oppose closing their committee. Republican leaders, too, say they will resist this measure. We suspect that is for good reason.
Rules Committee meetings have been open for 10 years. That practice shouldn't change.