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Friday, August 25, 2006

Special Sessions Threaten Good Government

By Howard Stephenson
Utah State Senator, District 11

Several legislators and the Governor’s office are pushing for a special legislative session in September to consider a dual income tax proposal and light rail sales tax hike.

Special legislative sessions are the most dangerous time of the legislative process as rules are suspended, mischief is enabled, and mistakes are often made in the rush of getting things through in a single day or sometimes two. Taxpayers and ordinary citizens are almost always losers in special sessions.

Special sessions are pressure cookers where the will of the loudest and most persistent often carries the day, instead of wise decisions being made on sound principles with adequate time for debate and public input. Often, as the special session extends late into the evening and early morning hours, legislators give in to agreements which the next day they wish they had not made. For example, a few years ago there was a special session regarding sales tax exemptions and the legislature was deadlocked on the solution. Leadership kept both bodies up past midnight. Around 1:00 a.m., seeing no end in sight, many legislators became grumpy and wanted to go home. They successfully pressured other members to capitulate. This is not how the people’s business should be conducted.

The challenges to legislative staff by special sessions are even greater than challenges to legislators, as amendments which during the general session might be drafted and vetted over a few days, are required to be drafted in hours or sometimes minutes. Accurate fiscal notes are even more difficult to obtain than quality drafting.

Special Sessions often lead to embarrassment of the legislature. For example, in the last special session the press had a field day with the legislature regarding our refusal to fund Medicaid dental. It is possible and perhaps likely that the public will have similar criticisms of the legislature in a September special session.

Special sessions should be avoided like the plague. They are dangerous places. The legitimate purposes of special sessions include natural or economic disasters which need immediate attention, or for correcting mistakes made in general sessions on issues for which delay would cause undue harm.


Anonymous Todd said...

It is always surprising when Sen. HS and I agree on something. I hope he holds to this conviction and convinces a few of his colleagues to join him.

I count 17 extra legislative sessions in the past 10 years. 15 of those have come in the past six years -- since the Bush economy began. Certainly, some were needed. But it has been overdone.

And dare we mention that seven of the Senate and fifteen in the House are either lame ducks or recent appointments since the session.

Aiding the Intuit software company is not enough of a reason to justify the timing.

While I personally prefer that the actions proposed be defeated, I am enough of a political realist to know that some version of this is likely to pass sometime soon. Even if the legislature is set on making bad policy, at least take the time to get input to make sure that unintended consequences are minimized and that your constituents have the time to give some input. The general session will come soon enough.

8/26/2006 3:20 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Agreed, laws passed through tricks like special sessions, riders, etc.., tend to be bad laws. A special session just before an election is guaranteed to lead to grandstanding.

8/28/2006 10:50 AM  

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