Welcome to The Senate Site

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Constitutional Remedy

Don’t love a Utah Law?

You're a citizen. Our state's founders gave you two direct remedies.
  1. Referendum
  2. Initiative
Referendums are built to strike down specific pieces of legislation that receive less than 2/3 of the vote. Initiatives put citizens in the driver’s seat as legislators and, as such, you can add, rewrite, or delete ANY combination of words in the Utah Code.

An initiative can erase the entire voucher program.

A referendum, as you’ve heard, can only erase the first voucher bill. It can’t touch the second unless, of course, someone like the legislature or the courts provide the legal acrobatics to make the referendum mimic an initiative.

Interestingly, the education entrenchment reacted to vouchers by jumping into a vehicle that can not get them where they need to go. A referendum cannot provide clarity at the ballot box and does not offer the legal remedy they seek.

But, by design or through bad advice, a referendum is what they chose. . . and then quietly tip-toed away when folks started blaming the legislature for causing the confusion.

An initiative could have - and still can - erase the entire voucher program, if that is what the voters want. Straight up or down.

2 --> 1

Yesterday a second challenge was filed against the ballot language on the HB 148 referendum. Today the Supreme Court issued an order that combined the two lawsuits.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next Friday (June 8th).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another Lawsuit

Word from Orem

Word from Texas

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rumor Patrol

By John Valentine, President of the Utah Senate,
and Curt Bramble, Utah Senate Majority Leader

According to Paul Rolly, the GOP is "brimming with rumors" about Curt Bramble gearing up for a run against John Valentine for president of the Utah Senate.

To our discriminating readers, we offer the following: It's not true.

What is true: President Valentine and Senator Bramble work well together. So does the rest of the Senate Leadership Team.

Also true: President Valentine and Senator Bramble are totally committed to Stan Lockhart as the next Utah Republican Party Chairman. No questions, no reservations.

Another nugget: The Valentines, Brambles and Lockharts are long-time friends and do a lot of things together off of the Hill. In fact, the annual fishing & backpack trips with the three families and their boys are now almost legendary. (And yes, the fish stories are all true!)

And finally: Senator Bramble is not running against President Valentine in 2008. John Valentine intends to run for Senate President again, and Senator Bramble for Majority Leader.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

Lots of nice Memorial Day videos out there. My wife and I liked this one because it speaks to responsibility and hope without denying the tragedy of war.

As I write this my kids are playing and laughing together and running past my desk in the living room. They are safe and free. And I am grateful.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Second Statement

The Governor's Office released this statement today:

"When voters enter the polling booths in November they deserve a clear pathway forward on Utah's voucher policy.

"Right now there are several lawsuits moving through the judicial system and I will be watching with great interest to see if clarity results. If the voters of Utah are not given understanding from that judicial process within a reasonable amount of time, I will do whatever is necessary to ensure an up or down vote.

"I consider the public's voice on the HB 148 referendum to be the ultimate decision on Utah's voucher policy. I will call the Legislature into a special session if necessary to assure the finality of the November vote."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It’s your call, Ref

By Curt Bramble
Senate Majority Leader

The voucher debate has progressed to the point that Utah needs a referee to blow the whistle and make a call. We have confusion on the field. Emotions are high, people are yelling, and no one can tell exactly where the lines are.

Today the co-sponsors of the original voucher bill, Steve Urquhart and I, brought the issue to Utah’s ultimate legal referee, the Utah Supreme Court.

To my thinking, there are two possible outcomes – one I like, one I don’t.

1 - The outcome I support and that I think is consistent with the applicable statutes and the Attorney General’s opinion is this: The Court may rule that only part of HB 148 is subject to referendum - the part not superseded by HB 174. People will then know, without confusion or argument, that supporting the referendum only means they are deep-sixing the mitigation money that holds schools harmless when a student leaves.

2 – Alternately, voucher opponents hope the Court will decide that the two bills are inextricably tied. Thus, a vote on one will seal the fate of the other. In that case people will know that supporting the referendum means they are voting against Utah’s current voucher program. I like this alternative less because it seems the Court would have to ignore the plain language of the applicable statute. As a strict constructionist I believe the text and the rule of law should be respected.

Either way, clarity will be helpful. We need definitive, authoritative answers to the questions we’ve been arguing about for months. Voters need clarity to make a deliberate choice. Legislators need clarity so we can interpret the referendum results, and act accordingly.

Once the ref makes the call, we will continue to play - by the rules.

Here's what we're thinking

Governor Huntsman, Speaker Curtis, and President Valentine met yesterday to discuss how we can make the meaning and impact of November's voucher referendum clear for Utah voters.

This is the joint statement we just sent to MSM statewide:
Statement by Utah’s Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House of Representatives

Salt Lake City - The following is a joint statement by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, President John Valentine and Speaker Greg Curtis:

Citizens bear the ultimate responsibility for how their government operates and how their children are educated. As elected officials, we support the constitutional right of the people of our state to ratify or reject legislation through the referendum process.

We encourage a healthy process and a clear public decision on Utah’s Voucher Policy in November. In order for the referendum process to be effective, the electorate takes on the obligation to make an informed decision when casting their vote. We hope people become educated on this issue and engage in a manner befitting the citizens of a free republic.

A Special Session will not be called since an easy and practical remedy does not exist. We, however, are making our intentions clear: we honor the rule of law and will respect the outcome of the election.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heads up: 2 New Audits

Heads up on information coming out of today’s Audit Subcommittee meeting. Obviously the first one carries more immediate political gunpowder than the second.
A Review of the Public Education Costs of Undocumented Children


A Performance Audit of Compliance with UMIFA

You can find audio of the meeting here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Got your thinking cap on?

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

This is too big a subject for a single blog post, but I'm going to try it anyway.

A prominent reporter has given the wrong impression about the Senate Site twice in the recent past. There seems to be a one-sided feud going on. I don't plan on joining it.

That aside, I would like to discuss with our readers how this site is operated and funded. If you see something amiss with the way we’ve structured things, please give me your thoughtful suggestions for improvement.

We created the Senate Site in August and September of 2005. From that time until now we’ve invested a little less than $1000 in the experiment. None of it was paid with state funds.

We decided not to host the site on a state server. We use BlueHost, a phenomenal little internet company in Orem, Utah, which costs us about a hundred bucks a year. The Senate Minority has followed suit and host their blog site there too.

We bought a digital camera for the Utah Senate (300 bucks on Amazon.com), and a digital voice recorder ($150 on E-bay), which are sometimes used for our blog. We paid for those privately, not using state funds. We also bought a little web cam that we place at different spots in the Senate. No tax dollars were there either. (I don’t know why . . . I can only imagine that thing embarrassing me and hurting my election efforts!)

The cash investment in the site is fairly low. However, the time and energy investment has been significant.

Government needs to communicate with citizens – and vice versa. We try to facilitate this a hundred different ways.
  • Award-winning, citizen-friendly web sites;
  • E-mail correspondence;
  • Direct phone conversations;
  • Live streaming video of chamber activity;
  • Streaming audio of chamber activity (both live and archived);
  • On-line audio of our legislative committee meetings (live and archived);
  • Personal meetings with groups and individuals;
  • Etcetera. I’m sure I’ll think of more as I'm going to sleep tonight.
We also work with reporters and give them the information they need, so they can tell the story. I think that is an appropriate use of some staff time and public resources.

The Senate Site is our latest tool to help tell the story, and to engage with the citizens that live with, fund, and are ultimately responsible for their own government. We funded it privately to go an extra mile to avoid the perception of impropriety. However, I do think some staff time spent in this kind of public communication is appropriate - as long as it's not for discussion or events beyond what the state should be funding. More about that in a minute.

Web 2.0 is different than working through a reporter because we can speak directly to the public, in our own voice, and our constituents can respond, anonymously or otherwise. I like the opportunity and the accountability. The limitations, of course, are that the audience is smaller and we’re not always impartial. That’s where a healthy, diversified blogging community becomes invaluable – to provide balance and perspective.

We need that same community to give us some insight into a political and ethical aspect of sharing information here at the Senate.

Almost everything we post here is related to the Senate and/or the policy making process. On two or three occasions, we have mentioned fund raisers and other partisan activities (like party caucuses). They are part of the overall story so it doesn’t make sense to hide it. We think people would want to be aware.

The vital ethical rule of thumb is that no state money should ever be privately appropriated for personal gain (campaigns, fund raisers, whatever).

So, what happens when political information is more private than public, but we still think people interested in the senate would want to know?

Right now, we feel comfortable using the Senate Site for that kind of information, but only under the following circumstances, which we have followed religiously for the past two years: we post it on our own time, on our own nickel, on our own server, by way of our own computer. We do it after-hours. We avoid using state resources. We host the information privately – and in that way try to give citizens more complete information in an ethical manner.

I hope that is the right solution. I am aware that a elected officials and staff can dot all the Is and cross all the Ts and, in fact, be perfectly ethical but still be perceived as otherwise – which can damage the trust people have in their government. That is a concern. So, if there is a better way to run the Senate Site, I would like to hear about it.

We have one or two ultra-partisan bloggers who will respond to this post for political reasons. I am not as interested in hearing from them as I am from readers from all parties who can offer thoughtful criticism and insight on how we manage the site, assuming we continue running the senate’s blog experiment for another year.

I believe we – and by ‘we’ I mean the entire diversified Utah blogging community - are creating something uniquely helpful to citizens of Utah, and to some degree, citizens nationwide.

This is new territory. There are few mentors and no rulebooks. So, help us out. Let’s craft the rules for the new paradigm and make sure it’s done right.

I would sincerely appreciate your feedback.

Help Wanted

Love numbers?

John Massey will be retiring soon and the Legislature is searching for our next Fiscal Analyst.

More info here.

May Interim

Interim Committees met last week. Here are the highlights.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Nominees Confirmed

Yesterday the senate confirmed the following gubernatorial appointments to various boards:

Crime Victim Reparations Board
  • Brian Miller
Solid and Hazardous Waste Control Board
  • Jeff Coombs
  • Ryan Dupont
  • John Newman
  • Michael Brehm
  • Carlton Christensen
  • Craig Forster
Board of Tourism Development
  • Steve Burris
  • Hans Fuegi
  • Pam Hilton
  • Steve Lindburg
  • Jeff Robbins
  • Bob Syrett
  • William Malone
Congratulations all, and best of luck in your assignments.

Kissinger’s Aphrodisiac

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Got Ballot Language


Monday, May 14, 2007

Pro-Choice Rally

Word on the street is that a group of parents who hope for a voucher program will be gathering at the Capitol Plaza tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon.

We'll be in Executive Appropriations but the always-vigilant SenateCam is now centered precariously on a pile of books on the windowsill, looking east across the Capitol Plaza.

To log on . . .
Username: life
Password: elevated

Access Questions

By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of the Legislative Process Committee

Representative Barras called me last week. He was just named as the House Co-Chair of the Legislative Process Committee (congratulations Roger!) and we had a good visit with our staff about issues that we need to address this year.

The new Capitol will be a magnificent building - a temple to the idea and operation of our democratic republic - but we need to resolve some questions about how elected officials and the public interface while we try to do our legislative work.

Because of the limited space here in our temporary facilities, face-to-face access has become more difficult. One unintended result was that the people who are paid to have access to us have found the way, by private dinners and socials. I remember when most evenings for the first three weeks were spent in group functions where we had a chance to mingle and hear presentations. Now I find that there are seldom more than 20 or 30 of the possible 104 legislators at such functions. You can’t blame groups for canceling low-turnout events because they can get expensive.

The internet helps people who have an important message, but can’t afford lobbyists to help them share it. E-mail is great but, for many of us, it is frustrating and time-consuming to go through all the spam that pours into the inbox. Are there better ways to screen the spam coming in so heavy on the E-mail during the session? I would sincerely welcome your thoughts about improving the system for better access.

I also believe now is the time to see the impact of the computers. I always prided myself in reading every bill during the session but I have a hard time following bills on the computer. I am concerned that the reading is not being done as carefully as it was when Sen. Rex Black did the job so well. The younger legislators who have grown accustomed to the computers probably don’t have the same problem I do so maybe the solution is to let time take its toll. Do you have suggestions?

There has been some discussion and will be further talk about breaking up the session into 4 days per week or taking a week off during the process. We already have a constitutional amendment in the works to respect Martin Luther King Day by changing the beginning date of the session to the 4th Monday in January.

As soon as all parties appoint their members to the committee, we will begin holding hearings. I hope Senate Site readers will join in and help us find workable solutions to areas of concern.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sports Commission

Steven Price and John Valentine are teaming up as co-chairs of the Utah Sports Commission.

Tomorrow they'll be in Monument Valley.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Word from the Grassroots

You know them as Senator Jenkins, Senator Dayton, and Senator Stephenson.

The world will soon know them as Grassroots Honorees, for their efforts in promoting "limited government, free enterprise and family issues."

More info at UtahGrassroots.org.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Referendum: November 6th, 2007

This just in from the Governor's Office:


Calling a statewide special election for November 6, 2007, and directing that the referendum challenging House Bill 148 - Education Vouchers be submitted to the voters at that special election.

WHEREAS, the Constitution of Utah reserves to the people of the State of Utah the power to require that any law passed by the legislature, except those passed by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to each house of the legislature, be submitted to the voters, as provided by statute, before the law may take effect (Article VI, Section 1);

Etc. Etc. Here's the link.

The Governor encouraged everyone to study the issues. We hope they do.

Monday, May 07, 2007


By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

On Friday, the U of U set 7,166 new graduates loose on the world. Some of the best and brightest were at the College of Pharmacy Convocation, where I was misplaced and lucky enough to be asked to give a speech.

For those who care about such things, here is the text of my remarks.

Congratulations, graduates, and best of luck.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Oil Shale & Utah's Energy Policy



APRIL 17, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007


By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25

This is a follow up to last week’s blog. I appeared before Judge Judkins this afternoon, as requested, to explain why I didn’t appear on April 18th as part of a jury panel. I had filed a response with the court the day before the hearing with documentation to explain the conflict I was in: if I had responded to the jury request, I could not attend interim or the special session the Senate held at noon that day to vote on the Governor’s appointments, which included a district court judge. I had committee meetings that morning and wanted to be in the senate in the event questions came up about a potential appointee.

The judge explained he had not received my written explanation, which in fact had been filed the evening before and again first thing that morning when the court opened. He further explained that had he seen those papers he would have accepted them and would not have issued the order to show cause. He noted that this case had been blown way out of proportion and he allowed me to leave the court without any sanctions, nor did he find me in contempt.

I agree that no one is above the law. My position as a state senator does not exempt me from serving on a jury, nor should it. The jury system only works when juries can be selected at random and represent the general public to determine facts for a court. On the 18th I was caught in a dilemma – how to respond to a call from the Court, which I believe is an important right and responsibility, and at the same time fulfill my legislative duties. I do hope I get another chance to be called and report again as a potential member of a jury.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

4th Judicial District Nominee

Under the Dome introduces Darold McDade.

We're looking forward to meeting him.

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