It's curious that House Speaker Greg Curtis says a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the omnibus education bill passed during the recent legislative session would be a "significant diminishment of the legislative power."
If anything, the first-ever use of omnibus bills could be considered a power grab for legislators. The kitchen-sink approach renders it more problematic for the governor to veto. Worse, SB2 included three education bills that previously had been killed in the House. Attempts to amend those bills out of the omnibus bill failed, so legislation that had died under the customary hearing process was resurrected and passed.
Where has it been demonstrated that legislative power is under attack? Time and time again, the Utah Legislature acts as the all-powerful entity in this state. It routinely determines tax policy for cities and counties. It ran roughshod over Salt Lake County, which had resisted using tax revenues for infrastructure improvements at the Real Salt Lake soccer stadium now under construction in Sandy. The county was, due to the passage of legislation, required to use transient room and tourism taxes for this purpose.
In this past session, the Legislature voted property owners in the Salt Lake, Murray and Granite school districts a tax increase to "equalize" the tax burden of splitting the existing Jordan School District.
Perhaps Curtis is referring to the sound defeat of the Legislature's school voucher program by the vote of the people last fall. The law, which narrowly passed the Legislature, would have created the richest private school voucher program in the nation. Utah voters said "No."
Is Curtis afraid that other branches of government will provide checks and balances to the Legislature? Isn't that how it's supposed to work?
Except for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who has veto power, the rest of the executive branch is at the mercy of the Legislature because the elected representatives hold the purse and lawmaking powers.
State lawmakers exert some control over the judiciary, too, because a state Senate committee conducts hearings of judicial candidates and the entire body votes whether to confirm them. This year, the Legislature passed a more comprehensive retention process for judges, which will include committee members appointed by the Legislature.
Seemingly, the Legislature has more than its fair share of power.
It needn't take a lawsuit to solve every issue that pits the legislative branch against the other forms of government. And it's unclear in this case if there is a lawsuit in the works or just rumor. But state lawmakers should be sensitive to the fact that omnibus bills may very well violate the state constitution. Now that it's been brought to their attention, they should refrain from the practice.