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Monday, June 02, 2008


In Sunday's Daily Herald:
A group suing over an omnibus education bill passed this year by the Legislature should take their complaints to the venue best suited to decide such issues: the ballot box. Their beef is more about politics than law.

. . . legislative bodies can go too far with "catch-all" bills. The U.S. Congress is one of the worst offenders -- note the recent omnibus farm bill, which granted huge subsidies to millionaire farmers and also gave handouts to race horse owners. We'd say that's distasteful, but not unconstitutional.

And the remedy is for voters to register their contempt at the polls for any senator or congressman who went along with the bill.

The Utah Legislature has created a parallel case with SB 2. But it was far more restrained than Congress.

At the beginning of the session, almost all observers agreed that Utahns were demanding action on education. That's Job No. 1 for any legislative body: respond to the wishes of the voters. So it's hard to criticize lawmakers for trying to address education.

Well, then, is SB 2's title, "Minimum School Program Budget Amendments," clear according to the state constitution? We'd say it's not exactly a model of clarity, but neither is it obfuscatory. Omnibus bills always have title troubles.

Is the bill about "one subject"? Defenders say yes -- education. The bill ranges from a major appropriation ($2.5 billion for the Uniform School Fund) to a host of lesser matters, including the powers of the State Charter School Board, various education programs, school transportation funding and more.

But all of them deal with education.

Let's look more closely at the bill. Does it hide items in a huge package that no human being can reasonably read? No. The bill is not enormous. It runs a mere 40 pages printed out, which isn't haiku but isn't too bad as laws go.

Numerous news accounts about the bill have been published since it was cobbled together. Those reports seem fairly clear and complete; so Utahns had some notice about what was in it.

The bill was passed in the last few days of the Legislature, but last-minute bills are normal for all kinds of legislative bodies.

So, all in all, we don't see what all the fuss is about.

. . . It's been said that this lawsuit is more political than legal, a charge disingenuously denied by the attorney for the plaintiffs. If you were to view a few dozen plumbers unclogging drains or installing hot water tanks, you'd have no hesitation in saying they were engaged in plumbing. Here, seeing a few dozen people trying to reverse an action of the legislature, we have no hesitation in saying they are engaged in politics.


Anonymous Tom said...

The Herald editorial is something of a lone voice on this one. (They also misinterpret facts to their benefit, and resort to exaggeration to try and make their point.)

Reader's should note the following editorials which oppose the omnibus approach and support the suit:
* SLTrib, 2008-04-19, "Power and politics: Court should throw light on omnibus"
* SLTrib, 2008-05-30, "Forcing the issue: SB2 must not be allowed to set precedent"
* DesNews, 2008-04-19, "Omnibus bill tips power"
* Standard Examiner, 2008-06-01, "Legislative grab-bagging"
* Standard Examiner, 2008-03-09, "2008 legislative report card"

6/02/2008 9:27 PM  
Blogger The Senate Site said...

Thanks Tom. One common thread running through most of these editorials is that omnibus bills are a political mistake, not a legal breach. "Congress-like behavior" is not a label anyone wears with pride these days, but that doesn't mean the law, or the constitution was violated.

Courts are the wrong venue - unless you are hoping for free political advertising for an election campaign. In that case, the candidates who signed onto this lawsuit seem to be getting their payoff.

6/03/2008 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

I'm a bit surprised to hear you say courts are the wrong venue. When one is offended by a breach of the constitution, what other remedies would you suggest?

Some legislative leaders have stated their offended at not being asked to call a special session. It's a nice (but rather late) thought on their part, if one ignores the fact the legislature doesn't have the authority to call itself into session in this matter. The governor was asked by USBE to handle the omnibus issues separately in special session before he signed the bill, but he refused. In a system of checks and balances, an appeal to the court seems completely reasonable.

While you accurately characterize the misinformed Herald editorial, the Trib notes the omnibus action was likely illegal ("It [the lawsuit] rightly argues that the legislation appears to violate the Utah Constitution, ..."), and the DesNews agrees the omnibus approach may be a legal breach ("... state lawmakers should be sensitive to the fact that omnibus bills may very well violate the state constitution").

(For those following along at home, the two constitutional sections at play are Article VI Section 22 and Article X Section 3.)

Part of why I bristle slightly at the suggestion of the suit being used solely to further campaigns is that many of the complainants are either not running for office or are in relatively secure seats. Some may view it in that light, but in my conversations with those who've attached their name, the idea of free political advertising has never come up. Of the nearly 40 names attached to the suit, only a handful of names have been published in the press so I'm confused how you might suggest members are "getting their payoff."

6/03/2008 2:57 PM  
Blogger UtahTeacher said...

I agree with Tom. Both the Tribune and the Deseret News editorials say the move was dirty politics and contrary to the state constitution. The D-News also hits Speaker Curtis and the legislature hard for opposing reasonable checks and balances and wielding more than its fair share of power.

And while I think the legal basis for the suit is clear, let's say you're right and the court rules "Education" is good enough for a single subject and that the title is clear. Are you really happy being, as the Herald's editorial puts it, “distasteful,” “not a model of clarity,” not any worse than Congress, “horse traders," and “not particularly appetizing, but not illegal?”

You know that the legislators would be screaming bloody murder (and rightfully so) if the Democratic majority in Congress passed some unpopular education mandate in a federal omnibus bill. Let's try a little of the golden rule. I would hope that the Senators can be transparent and honest in the future, and not use omnibus bills as bully tactics.

6/03/2008 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Sen. McCoy said...

The continued comparison to what the Utah Legislature die with SB2 and omnibus bills passed by the federal Congress are inappropriate. The federal constitution does not have a single subject rule. There is not federal constitutional provision that governs that practice, though I still think it a flawed one. In contrast, our state founding fathers found the issue of omnibus bills and legislative "log rolling" such as SB 2 to be bad process and included in our state constitution a provision that prohibits the practice. This difference renders comparisons to federal Congressional practices inappropriate.

As for the ballot box v. the courts remedy arguments, if the Legislature passes a bill or uses a process that arguably contravenes the state constitution, the judicial process is the appropriate venue to remedy that violation. Since Marbury v. Madison, this has been the province of the judiciary. Not sure why this is so hard for Legislative leadership to understand. Both Pres. Valentine and Speaker Curtis are lawyer and I assume took a Con Law I class where Marbury v. Madison is the first case read and studied.

By the way, we Plaintiffs have always said that the lawsuit would go away if they would call a special session and pass each of these bills separately. We simply want to vindicate the process. Each bill may well pass on its own; or maybe not. I frankly don't care. What I care about is not setting such a bad precedent in terms of process. So let's have a special session and fix our own mistake if you don't want the courts doing it for us.

6/04/2008 9:17 AM  
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7/23/2008 8:23 AM  
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7/23/2008 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a topic about politics. This will change next time. We should talk about this.
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8/13/2008 7:53 AM  

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