When 60 percent of Utahns voted down the Legislature's private school voucher law in November, there was much talk about how the 2008 Legislature would react.
It's still only one week into the 45-day general session, but there are indications that while the GOP legislators who approved vouchers (all Democrats voted against it) are going to fund public education and help teachers a great deal, there are lingering feelings.
On the one hand, if legislators give teachers another $2,500 raise next year, as they did this year, then the average teachers' salary of $39,000 a year will have gone up by 13 percent over two years very healthy raises.
On the other hand, several bills in the 2008 Legislature may be coming because of the bitter voucher ballot fight last November.
Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, has introduced a bill that would require all 29 counties to post their election results on their Web sites and allow the Utah Elections Office to mail voter information pamphlets to every Utah household. It would also require that the office include in the referendum voter pamphlet a copy of the law that citizens will vote on either to approve that law or strike it down.
Of course, Utahns struck down the Legislature's voucher law last November.
And all during the debate which saw a record $8 million spent for and against vouchers in expensive media and information campaigns voucher proponents kept urging Utahns to just read the voucher bill.
Pro-voucher legislators also asked voters to read the voucher bill in the privately funded town hall meetings they held across the state.
Most voters probably didn't read the voucher bill, even though it was available (as are all bills) on the Legislature's Web site.
"I don't know" if the voucher vote would have turned out differently if every Utah household had had a written copy of the voucher bill, Dougall said as his bill would provide for. But, he added, it just makes sense that any future voter information pamphlets on a referendum carry the actual law.
Dougall said that when a Utah constitutional is change on the ballot, the state's voter pamphlet carries a copy of that change word for word.
And when an initiative is on the ballot, the wording of that initiative is also included in the pamphlet.
"It's only right and fair" that a referendum ballot question also carry a copy of the actual law, he said.
But what if the law is 50, even 100 pages long as some laws passed by the Legislature are? (Constitutional changes and initiatives are usually just a few paragraphs long, if that.)
Joe Demma, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who by law oversees Utah's election process and the voter information pamphlet, said his office hopes that legislators will be "reasonable and flexible" should any future referendum law be dozens of pages long.
"Perhaps we could in the pamphlet just refer to a Web site where the whole law would be found," Demma said.
But that is not how Dougall's bill is written.
In any case, both Dougall and Demma agree that the state should have the flexibility to mail copies of the voter information pamphlet to all Utah households. "That would get much more penetration into the populace," Demma said.
Currently, state law says that the pamphlets must be widely distributed, either through local newspapers, libraries or in other manners. But it doesn't say state election officials can mail it.
Mailing to every residential address or post office box probably would actually save money, Demma said. The traditional method of stuffing newspapers with the pamphlets cost just over $315,000, while mailing the pamphlets to all Utah households would cost just under $300,000.
In 2006 the voter information pamphlet was actually mailed out, because a new federal election law demanded it. But for the 2007 voucher referendum pamphlet, the small brochure was distributed as in years past.
A number of pro-voucher advocates said that the "nonpartisan, unbiased" assessments of the law found in the pamphlet were soundly drowned out by the expensive claim and counter-claim media campaigns by those for and against the private school voucher program.
Dougall, one of the high-tech gurus in the House, said that political leaders can't assume that all Utahns can use a computer or have access to the Web."A lot of people just want the pamphlet in print before them so they can feel it and study it. We have a generational issue, some older folks are not on the Web, and so can't read a referendum law there," said Dougall.
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