Remember the SB2 lawsuit? (Refresher on the year-old discussion here and here. )
The court just drove a stake through its heart. They dismissed the allegations relating to the single subject rule and the clear title provision. The complaint about the Legislature delegating powers to the Department of Human Resource Management that might have gone to the State School Board is still being litigated.
Friends, the Special Legislative Session launches at 2:00 p.m. and I can't see how watching the event will be anything other than mercilessly boring. We may play golf tournament reruns just to liven up the action.
However, never underestimate the legislative process. We may be pleasantly surprised.
We have seven bills that smooth out a few rough spots. Almost all are technical adjustments to language in the budget and code. One fixes a House Bill the governor vetoed.
This afternoon, Governor Jon Huntsman and Lieutenant Governor Gary Herbert discussed the transition to new leadership. We recorded it. You can listen to the entire press conference here (MP3) or at Senate Radio.
The Legislature gets back into action this week with a special session and a full slate of interim committees on Wednesday. Expect a lot of buzz on Capitol Hill about Gary Herbert’s lieutenant governor selection and the 2010 gubernatorial race. The special session is Wednesday at 2 p.m. See the governor’s proclamation calling the session and listing 15 items to be addressed. See the legislative calendar for agendas, and meeting times and locations of interim committees. Dozens of interesting issues will be discussed in the various committees. The Ethics Interim Committee will discuss the legislative ethics guidelines and processes. See agenda. On Tuesday, the Executive Appropriations Committee meets to discuss bills that will be introduced in the special session and to look at the current budget status. See agenda. Check out all the week’s political events at the Utah Policy.com calendar.
Political Drama Ahead in Utah
Utah political junkies will enjoy some fascinating political drama over the next several months as Jon Huntsman is confirmed as ambassador to China and leaves the state, as Gary Herbert takes over as governor with a new lieutenant governor, and as Herbert sand others position for the 2010 gubernatorial race.
These events will force a number of prospective candidates to make decisions about running very soon. Given Utah’s nominating process, which unfolds early in 2010, anyone who waits too long will fall behind. Developing relationships with thousands of prospective delegates takes a lot of time and shoe leather. Check out the Pignanelli-Webb analysis from Sunday’s Deseret News.
If a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor occurs, the Governor shall, with the consent of the Senate, appoint a person as Lieutenant Governor, to serve:
(A) except as provided in Subsection (3)(c)(i)(B), the remainder of the unexpired term; or
(B) until the first Monday in January of the year following the next regular general election after the vacancy occurs, if the vacancy occurs because the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor under Article VII, Section 11, Subsection (2).
The person appointed as Lieutenant Governor under Subsection (3)(c)(i) shall be from the same political party as the Governor.
I was recently invited by the courts to attend a summit sponsored by the American Bar Association to discuss the national and state specific problems of judges losing their independence (or at least the public perception of that attribute). Tom Wells, the current ABA President, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor were the hosts and keynote speakers. We met in North Carolina for 1 ½ days of meetings and discussions. Each State was invited to bring a team representing the courts, the executive and the legislative branches. They mentioned that 37 states were represented. The Utah team was made up of Chief Justice Christine Durham, Ron Gordon, head of CCJJ, representing the Governor, Rep. Kraig Powell and myself from the legislature, Dan Becker and Rick Schwermer from the court administrator’s office, and Nate Alder, current president of the Utah State Bar. As I visited with the people there, I was very impressed with the quality of the people. Here is a rundown of the problems discussed.
The main concern was about the cost of hotly contested judicial races, both partisan and non-partisan. The spiraling costs and the source of this money astound me. In a recent race for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, the total spent by the two candidates was $9.3 M.
The second concern was about the negative political attacks on nominees. We have seen this in the past and I am sure that we will see it in the future. Most candidates avoid answering what they consider “political” questions and unless someone has a history as either a judge or an elected official, it is hard to guess how they will decide specific issues. That has become the focus of many federal and state judicial confirmation proceedings. The Utah Constitution forbids “partisan political” considerations and again the issue in Utah has never been a political issue when a candidate has been review by the nominating committee, the Governor, or the Senate.
Another area of concern was the recent State budget cuts, with the dropping tax revenue and the impact it is having with the court’s ability to function. Some states are raising filing fees (Utah, for one), but that is having an unintended consequence. People who cannot afford filing fees can file a different document and, if accepted by the Court, they can proceed without paying the filing fees. These same people often end up not being able to afford an attorney, so the judge must operate with one, and often both, sides acting as their own attorney without any real knowledge of the process or how to act.
The last issue will be a serious concern in Utah. We already have four district court judges retiring and one way to help cover the budget reductions is to not replace them, or at least delay the new appointment. This will be felt by the remaining judges in that specific district. Judges are overworked and cases are not being heard. We have good judges in Utah but we need to make sure that everyone who needs access to justice has it and faces a judge who has the time and the tools to quickly address the problem and render a just and effective ruling.
As always, I am open to any comments on how to better the access to those who really need it.
By the way, I was glad to learn that Chief Justice Durham is the President-elect of the National Conference of Chief Justices. That is a real honor to her and to the State.
I spend a lot of time after each session meeting with groups and discussing what we did and why. I generally like to begin my discussion by letting the meeting attendees ask me questions so I have some idea what they want to hear. I am also interested in finding out what they have heard about the session. I am always amazed at how many small things that have never passed become the focal points, while the really important issues are missed. For example, one question asked me recently was how we were going to enforce the bill that passed that taxed caffeine. When I explained that this was suggested by a House member in what I thought to be a more tongue-in-cheek effort and no such bill was even seriously discussed, the person seemed truly surprised. Often - especially with the more weighty bills - I would love to have intelligent and thoughtful input from the public, but I can generally only find it by calling people I know for their opinions.
With the Internet and the access given to people all over the state to follow what we do on an hourly basis, we still don’t do a very good job about educating the public about the process or the issues. I guess the press has found the best way to get people involved; pick up the oddity, such as a comment, and only portray that oddity. Then it leaves the impression that the oddity was the only thing we did. I have found that public meetings during the session are either very poorly attended or attended only by special interest groups with an agenda to influence us, thus not receiving the public input we need on some of the weighty issues.
Give me your thoughts. What can we do during the session to make the general public more aware of the issues we are really considering and receive their suggestions and input?
"Saturday Morning's "Inside Utah Politics - Setting the Record Straight" radio show with co-hosts Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Greg Hughes will review leadership changes in county Republican parties with interviews describing how new party leaders intend to make the GOP more relevant. The hosts will also discuss the recent Salt Lake Tribune op-ed essay by David Irvine, "LDS lawyers, psychologists had a hand in torture policies"
Another topic will be “the double standard of the media's treatment of Energy Solutions.”Sen. Curtis Bramble will give a report on his recent representative democracy training in Iraq. The program will also feature the usual critique of this week's political coverage by the Utah press. The show airs 8-10 a.m. on AM630, KTALK or http://www.k-talk.com."