Legislative leaders decided Tuesday to seek to intervene in a lawsuit filed against the controversial education omnibus bill passed last session, saying their lawmaking powers were threatened.
Members of the Legislative Management Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to have legislative counsel file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed in 3rd District Court in May by a group of nearly 40 Utahns.
The lawsuit said the bill, SB2, is unconstitutional because it violates a provision requiring that bills deal with only a single subject. In the final days of the 2008 Legislature, lawmakers rolled a dozen education bills into SB2.
Opponents complained because some of the bills had been voted down earlier in the session. Supporters said the packaging was necessary to get a last-minute additional pay raise for teachers through the session.
But even members of the Legislative Management Committee who voted against SB2 last session said Tuesday that the Legislature needed to fight the lawsuit.
"I would vote against it again today," said House Minority Leader Brad King, D-Price, said, calling SB2 a bad piece of legislation. But, King said, the case is about the separation of powers.
"It's very important that our counsel represent the interests of the legislative branch," King said.
Another Democrat, Sen. Pat Jones of Cottonwood Heights, said what bothered her most about SB2 "was the process. It was not transparent. ... I'm hoping in the future that transparency will be there."
Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, defended the bill as no different than past legislation on taxes and other complex issues, but he agreed with Jones that lawmakers could do a better job of conducting their business more openly.
Legislative General Counsel John Fellows said the current effort to come up with health-care reform, for example, could be stalled if the court were to limit the Legislature's ability to combine different ideas into a single piece of legislation.
"It may be impossible to enact comprehensive health care reform," Fellows said, if lawmakers lose their ability to broker compromises.The group suing to stop SB2 does include a number of lawmakers, including Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful; Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake; and Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake; as well as current and former state education leaders and PTA officials.