SALT LAKE CITY — A bill creating a new legislative entity to oversee state and local governments was pitched at a news conference Friday despite having failed to pass out of a House committee.
"Obviously, none of us like to be scrutinized," the sponsor of HB175, Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said, describing his proposed Joint Committee on Governmental Oversight as "ensuring transparency, efficiency and accountability."
Stratton said the bill's failure to advance Thursday in the House Government Operations Committee was the result of "healthy tension" between the branches of government.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the committee's lack of action doesn't mean it's "dead by any stretch" and pointed out that legislation often undergoes many revisions throughout a session.
"Stay tuned," Bramble said after being asked how the bill might be changed.
HB175 would give a nine-member committee made up of six House members and three senators subpoena power to investigate a long list of entities, including local governments, school districts and those within the state executive branch.
What they look into would be up to legislative leaders, but the bill spells out a number of reasons, including "investigating waste, fraud, misconduct or abuse" by a state or local government entity, and whether they're complying with state law.
Stratton said he doesn't want "to air the bad laundry of the state," but he believes the new committee could save taxpayers money. He said a legislative standing committee has the same authority now as the committee would have.
"One of the criticisms is this is redundant," Stratton said. "Don't we want redundancy?"
Given the size of the state budget, it's important to ensure "every penny" is properly spent, he said, and he referred to the "audacity" of suggesting governments be accountable to the public.
Later, Senate leaders said they were unfamiliar with the bill and questioned the need for the oversight committee.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said there is already a legislative auditor to dig into concerns about government agencies.
"When we’ve had some difficulties with an organziaiton or a program, we send the auditors," Niederhauser said. He said he hasn't "seen any kind of deficiency" in how the Legislature currently handles oversight.1 comment on this story
At the same news conference, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, brought up a bill he is sponsoring to make it easier for citizens to petition for a change in county government structures.
Froerer said HB224 is intended to give petitioners in certain counties a "clear path" toward a study of moving to a different form of county government without interference by the existing commission.
He said groups in both Weber and Utah counties are trying to expand the three-member county commissioners currently in place.