The lawsuit against the education funding bill (SB2) surprised us, but it shouldn't have. Serving in the Legislature means accepting the fact that you can please some people some of the time but not all people all of the time.
Litigants are now trying to explain why we should stop dollars from flowing to the classroom. They say they support education funding but they just don't like that we did it in an "omnibus" bill.
We think that's an excuse. Almost half of the 38 litigants are running for election, and their legal brief is written like an extended press release. Some of their arguments are reasonable. Others are simply untrue.
They make their most obvious mistake when they say that good bills were "held hostage" until the end of the session so they could be combined with "bad" bills in an omnibus package. The fact is that all bills dealing with funding are held until the end of session. That is not a violation of our rules. It is exactly what our rules require and what we do every year. That is how we ensure a balanced budget each year. Legislators know that.
SB2 does include language from bills that didn't pass the first time through. Welcome to the legislative process where ideas continue to circulate.
HB200 was one of those bills. When its language was included in SB2, Rep. Karen Morgan tried to amend it out. The House debated it for 30 minutes. She couldn't persuade a majority to vote with her. Sen. Scott McCoy tried to amend the same provisions. He failed, too.
There were several more attempts to amend SB2, but you get the picture. The fact is that every single word in SB2 was subject to discussion and amendment. Welcome to an essential (and potentially frustrating) element of democracy: You need a majority. It seems the political message here is if you lack the votes, take them to court.
Our so-called omnibus bill was 42 pages hardly the thousand-page congressional monstrosity the litigants try to invoke.
No one likes "omnibus" bills. They have been used in the past, but we use them sparingly. We avoid them for the same reasons enunciated by those who have filed a lawsuit. However, we have much to accomplish in 45 days, and time-saving tools are sometimes necessary. The final days of the previous session was one of those instances.
SB2 didn't happen in the dead of night. It was the result of an entire session of negotiations. The news media reported these in detail. We posted the information on our official Web site and on our blog site. We passed out the details to all legislators, reporters and the interested public. We made staff available to answer questions. The two chambers and the governor's office were in constant communication. The entire debate is archived online for everyone to witness.
The only way this anti-democratic lawsuit makes any sense is as a campaign stunt. Sixteen of the plaintiffs are currently running for office. Others like McCoy are running for leadership positions in their caucus. As the vice chair of the state Democrats recently said, "If some of the plaintiffs on this suit win their elections due to 'earned media' then so be it."
We think that is pathetic. Let the money flow to the teachers and classrooms. We hope our board of directors (aka voting citizens of Utah) will recognize this lawsuit as election-year grandstanding, pure and simple.
We believe that the root cause of the litigation is not so much about process as it is about innovation and change. Public education is a sacred cow for many people. Attempts to modernize, incentivize or test new programs are usually met with resistance.Knowing we can't please everyone, our goal is to provide a world-class education for Utah's families with the funding available. Sacred cows must be examined for efficiency and new ideas will be piloted where appropriate.
Sen. Howard Stephenson is a Republican from Draper. Brad Last is a Republican representing Hurricane.