SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House on Tuesday shot down a bill that would have created a new legislative entity to oversee state and local governments, despite being supported by GOP heavyweights.
HB175 failed on the House floor with a 20-54 vote.
It's not the first time the bill has been shot down. Sponsored by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, HB175 faltered in a House committee earlier this month before some Republican lawmakers on the committee changed their votes to give it a chance on the House floor.
But most lawmakers sided with the bill's opponents, including the Utah League of Cities and Towns and Gov. Gary Herbert's office, with both of whom worrying it would create an unnecessary layer of government to oversee local jurisdictions.
But Stratton argued the intent of the bill was to be "helpful and friendly" to local jurisdictions that might want help with an issue but not want to commission a "painful" legislative audit, which cost $200,000 each, he said.
The bill also included an amendment that specified the body would only investigate upon request and consent of a local government entity, Stratton noted.
"By nature, I'm an optimistic person. I look for the good and virtue, and I see a lot of it. But, colleagues, all is not well, and we need to be taking steps to protect and to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities and duties," Stratton said, adding that the state is growing rapidly and lawmakers need to be proactive in creating tools to keep political subdivisions accountable.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, also spoke in support of the bill, saying the Legislature is the "super school board, city" that has oversight under the constitution.
"We're talking about our responsibility as representatives to deal with the subdivisions of this state," he said. "I just don't see this as a major issue."
But Reps. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, both spoke against the bill.
Wilde said the state should treat local governments as "partners, not children," and Nelson argued that the state already has oversight processes in place.
Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, questioned why the sponsor is pushing the bill if 247 cities and towns, 29 counties, 41 school boards, and more than 400 special districts all oppose the bill.
Stratton said he's an advocate for "local control," but he urged lawmakers to look at the bill from a different perspective and see the oversight as a "forum" for local governments to explain their issues and seek input.
"Don't tell me about mistrust. Don't highjack and prostitute what we're trying to do here," he said.
But Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said he "rarely has seen such unified opposition" from local government on a bill. "I don't think this concept is ready for prime time," he said.2 comments on this story
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, House Majority Leader Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and House Majority Whip Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, were among those who voted in favor of the bill.
Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, applauded the lawmakers who voted in opposition of the bill.
"Those 54 House members are champions of local government," he said.
However, Diehl noted that "any bill can always return" before the end of the legislative session, so "we will keep a close eye" on any hint the bill might resurface.