Sometimes, the Utah Legislature reminds me of the legend about the Chicano poet who went to the mountains to fast for his people, and when he descended days later, he had gained weight. Similarly, some of our legislators tout themselves as champions of "conservative" principles less government, more local control, integrity and accountability.
But we now have more government, less local control, less accountability and a diminished sense of integrity. Any effort at ethics reform never sees the light of day. We have a Legislature that seems more responsive to lobbyists than to citizens and their local elected officials. My good friend and Republican, the late Alex Hurtado, used to remind me about the Golden Rule, "He who has the gold makes the rules." Some legislators have no qualms about using their power to pass laws best left to local elected officials.
Each legislative session we see hundreds of bills passed, primarily drafted by lobbyists, and there is little, if any, concern given to how they create more government interference in the lives of people. Each piece usually calls for more government writing regulations, hiring regulators that serve only to fatten government and the policy manuals.
"Legislative oversight" is one of the most important duties legislators are required to perform in our form of government. As stewards of our public institutions, they pass the laws that govern our state, yet they are too busy making laws to exercise their most important role "oversight." It's a term some legislators have used to mean "overlook," as with their personal shortcomings, such as not filing expenses and required documents. They also avoid declaring the purpose and intent of the legislation they pass. It's a way of escaping responsibility when things go wrong and allows them to express outrage at public administrators who were left to guess what lawmakers intended.
"Oversight" should be seen by legislators as a regulatory and supervisory duty of their office not something to "overlook." They are to government institutions what a board of directors is to a private corporation. And since they oversee a public monopoly, they don't have the luxury of competition to keep them efficient, effective and able to respond to a changing environment. Rather than making government more cumbersome with more laws, they should take the time to eliminate some and renew those needed to keep pace with change. Short of that, expect government to be bogged down with process at taxpayers' expense.
To keep government lean, flexible and responsive to current state needs, it is important for legislators to renew each state agency's mission. That would include getting answers to the following questions: What was the original problem that required the Legislature to create the agency? Does the problem still exist and, if so, how has it changed? What specifically needs to be done to solve it? How will the agency monitor and measure progress? What legislative changes does the agency recommend? These are tough but important questions lawmakers need to ask if they are to be responsible stewards of the public's institutions.People and businesses want a government that is stable, open, honest and serves the public good one they can count on. Citizens also have a duty to keep government responsive to their needs it's citizen oversight. They should not be so naive as to think legislators will change their own institution. At least that's the way the founders designed our government. How about next legislative session lawmakers focus on getting rid of laws that are useless and creating inertia, renew those that are working, and not pass any new ones until they have finished cleaning house.
Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: [email protected]