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.