Well....not really, but I am in a completely separate building so I’m sure it looks that way. To be honest, I’ve been anything but exiled! This week has been both hectic and exciting with people from all over Utah calling and stopping in with a few questions. Here are a few insights I’ve picked up this week.
Highlight of the Week: Umm, that would have to go to Sen. McAdam’s intern Brady with the burnt popcorn! His fiasco certainly bonded all Senators and Interns by somewhat driving them (temporarily) from the offices into the hallway. Who knew how funny the smell of burnt popcorn could be?
Random Fact that You probably don’t need to Know: The Senate Building Office has a unique crayon smell to it. Not sure if it’s the chemicals in the carpet cleaner or the smell of the leather chairs. Either way, if you chance to stop by you might just have a sudden urge to be quite artistic. That, or head back to elementary school.
Representative Christine Johnson and Senator Howard Stephenson introduced an anti-discrimination study bill in the Senate Lounge today. The bill will require a study by a legislative interim committee to assess discrimination in employment and housing. You can watch the press conference by following this link. Or listen to the mp3 of the conference here.
Missed today's Media Q&A? Media members met with senate leadership after today's floor time to discuss the first week of the session and also had an extended talk on the budget. Watch the recording of the Q&A here.
By Billy Hesterman Senate Communications Assistant
Why does the legislature need to focus on Ethics?
The legislature needs to focus on ethics to put in place the right kinds of measures that ensure government officials are acting in the best interest for the citizens of the State of Utah and not for their own interests. This is not a new effort. In the 2009 legislative session, Senator John Valentine sponsored and passed legislation that brought reform to campaign finances and prohibited communication by legislators with judges on pending cases. He also brought forward legislation to create an ethics commission for the legislature. This was long before the ethics initiative began. Legislation has been brought forward again this session to create the ethics commission. This legislation is titled SJR3. The legislature is working on this legislation carefully and responsibly to ensure that the right kind of law is put in place to protect the people of Utah from facing corruption in their government.
How will the Ethics Commission Work?
The duty of the Legislative Ethics Commission, created by SJR3, is to investigate complaints received about the actions of elected officials. For an investigation to begin two citizens or two legislators, with firsthand knowledge of an unlawful action, would need to report the action to the commission. Once the reports have been received the commission will then perform a private investigation on the official in question. –The investigation would be done privately to ensure that the complaints being filed are legitimate complaints and are not a political maneuver by those who may be in opposition to the official or an attempt to embarrass them or harm their reputation. Next the commission would make a recommendation to the Senate based on the findings of the investigation. If the allegations are substantial enough to move forward, a recommendation to proceed is made to the ethics committee. It will then conduct public hearings. If the findings are found unsubstantial, the investigation will close privately to ensure the integrity of the person who was in question. This process is similar to the existing Judicial Conduct Commission.
Who will be on the Ethics Commission?
The ethics commission will be made up of three retired judges and two retired legislators. The commission would be appointed by the President of the Senate, The Speaker of the House, and the minority leaders in both the senate and house.
Why make this a constitutional amendment?
This will give the voters a chance to make a constitutional choice. Making it a constitutional amendment will give the people the chance to choose how they want their government officials held accountable. This displays how serious the legislature is about ethics reform. Also by making SJR3 a constitutional amendment it will protect for the future, independence of the investigatory process of ethics violations. Meaning it will be harder for future lawmakers to alter this law because it would require altering the state constitution.
SJR3 will go through the process any bill goes through to become a law. It is open to scrutiny from lawmakers and from the public. This is your turn to help bring ethics reform to the legislature. What changes can be made to make the process better? What are your thoughts and ideas?
If you have been collecting the water drained from your rain gutter after a rain storm, you may have been breaking the law. Current Utah law states that the water gathered belongs to those who own the water rights and not necessarily the owner of the land that the water falls upon. Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is working to make it legal for you to collect some of the rain that falls on your property.
S.B. 32 has been introduced into the Senate to change the law so that you can use some of the rain water that falls on your property to water your gardens and lawns. Sen. Jenkins spoke with the media about this bill yesterday you can watch that media session below.
Tonight Senator Urquhart - newly-appointed chair of the Senate Ethics Committee - published this about the ethics bills we've been reading, discussing and refining. The best part:
. . . our package of reforms. I’ll start by repeating – first drafts (meaning ideas that have not been reworked by political process) are rarely perfect. Therefore, I don’t pretend that our package is perfect. The proposals will go through the process, and the specifics will be modified and improved. Please participate.
A. We contemplate asking the citizens to amend the Utah Constitution to create an independent ethics commission. Because of the Utah Constitution’s separation of powers provisions, each branch polices itself (and voters police all 3, through elections). Thus, it is necessary to amend the Utah Constitution, to allow for outside policing. This was done, for example, when the Judicial Conduct Commission was created, in order to allow citizen complaints to be considered by a group other than the Judiciary.
B. We contemplate establishing the particulars for the operation of the ethics commission along the lines of the Judicial Conduct Commission, with judges and former legislators considering complaints and making recommendations for action to the house where the member serves. I have the privilege of being 1 of 4 legislators to sit on the Judicial Conduct Commission, and I believe the process works well and is one to emulate. The key is to create a workable path for complaints to be raised and considered, so that problems can be addressed without unnecessarily ruining careers and reputations with unfounded accusations. In the political arena that is a tough balance to achieve, since a mere accusation can turn an election and, if unfounded, effectively disenfranchise voters.
C. We contemplate further tightening provisions relating to gifts, meals, disclosures, and campaign contributions. We serve at the pleasure of the citizens, and citizens want us to make a change here. So, we need to do it.
Third, the path from here to there. We’ll run these proposals through the legislative process. The process calls for criticism, critique, give and take, modification, etc. No doubt, the media will have a field day writing that the Legislature is about to explode with fights between the House and Senate and Republicans and Democrats. Sure, we’ll disagree some. And you’ll be well served by that disagreement. Hopefully, you’ll help foment some of that disagreement and discussion. Each body and party will complain that the other is moving too fast or too slow or too this or too that. But, we’ll keep it together, and I predict that we’ll take the public’s input and move the issue forward.
I'll post links to specific bills as they become available.
Majority Leader: Sen. Scott K. Jenkins, R- Plain City, and has represented District 20 (areas in Weber County) since 2001. Sen Jenkins was serving as the majority whip prior to his election as majority leader.
Sen. Jenkins is a graduate of Weber State University and is the owner and operator of Great Western Supply, a plumbing wholesaler in Ogden and Salt Lake City and a proud grandparent of 13 grandchildren.
Majority Whip: Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, comes from District 9 (Sandy) and has been a member of the Utah State Senate since 2006. Sen. Neiderhauser was serving as Assistant Majority Whip before his election to Majority Whip.
Sen. Neiderhauser is a Certified Public Accountant and has a masters degree from Utah State University. He loves the outdoors and claims he doesn't spend enough time cycling, skiing, camping and mountaineering. Assistant Majority Whip: Sen. Peter C. Knudson, R-Brigham City, serves District 17 (Box Elder, Cache, & Tooele Counties) and has been working in the Utah State Senate since 1999. Sen. Knudson also served in the Utah House of Representatives from 1995-1998.
Sen. Knudson is an orthodontist and received a masters degree from Loyola University. Sen. Knudson enjoys fishing, hunting, boating, and skiing during the winter, as well as traveling.
In light of the recent difficulties arising from Senator Killpack's resignation, and considering the extremely short time until we convene our general session, and to rebuild unity, a hard-fought leadership race would not be in the best interest of our caucus, the Utah Senate, or the state.
Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for Senate Majority Leader. Regular leadership races will be conducted after the general election in November. I will decide before those elections whether or not to submit my candidacy for leadership.
Senate Republicans will pick a new majority leader in a closed caucus Wednesday morning. Currently, only two candidates are in that race, Senate Majority Whip Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who served as majority leader before Killpack defeated him last year.
Jenkins said if he wins that election, Senate Majority Assistant Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is the only candidate for majority whip.
Four GOP senators have expressed interest in becoming assistant whip if that position is open, Jenkins said. They are Sens. Pete Knudsen, Brigham City; Allen Christensen, North Ogden; Dennis Stowell, Parowan; and Kevin Van Tassell, Vernal.
I spent the evening considering my options and discussing them with my wife, family and trusted friends. My heart weighs heavy. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the legislative process, my legislative colleagues and for my constituents. At this time the Legislature would be a distraction from what is most important and, frankly, I find that I have become a distraction to the Legislature. In light of that I have decided to tender my resignation as Majority Leader and as a Utah State Senator, effective immediately.
I am sincerely grateful and touched for the outpouring of support and love expressed to my family by so many of my constituents and friends. Thank you.
In a press release we sent today, Senate President Michael Waddoups said the following:
Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack was arrested late Thursday night on suspicion of driving under the influence. Senator Killpack was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail and later released. The Utah Highway Patrol is working with the appropriate authorities on what is now a legal matter.
This is a difficult time for Senator Killpack and his family. He has requested privacy as he addresses the situation with those closest to him. When he and I spoke this morning he indicated he is accountable for his actions and I respect him for that. Senator Killpack has served this state, and the Senate, with distinction and he remains in our hearts and prayers.
Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack also made a brief statement:
I am deeply sorry for the impact this incident will have on those who support and trust me -- my colleagues in the senate, my constituents and, most importantly, my family. I am a firm believer in responsibility and personal accountability, and am prepared to accept all personal, legal and political consequences for my actions.
MEDIA ADVISORY FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 6, 2010
Senate to Consider Confirmation of Judge Stephen L. Roth as a Judge of the Court of Appeals
The governor has appointed Judge Stephen L. Roth as a Judge of the Court of Appeals.
Senate Rule 24.04.1 establishes the procedures of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee. That rule requires the committee to hold public meetings prior to full Senate action. To assist in determining the scope of that public hearing, Senator Scott K. Jenkins, Chair of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee, is seeking public comment regarding the appointment of Judge Roth.
Anyone desiring to submit comment on this appointee is invited to contact Mr. Jerry D. Howe at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, Utah State Capitol Complex, House Building, Suite W210, P.O. Box 145210, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-5210, by 5:00 p.m., Monday, February 1, 2010. Statements from the public should include the presenter's name, telephone number, and mailing address.
In addition to Chair Jenkins (R-Plain City), the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee is comprised of four other members: Senator Jon J. Greiner (R-Ogden), Senator Lyle W. Hillyard (R-Logan), Senator Karen Mayne (D-West Valley City), and Senator Michael G. Waddoups (R-West Jordan).
Joe Pyrah, of the Daily Herald, wrote about Senator Allen Christensen's proposal regarding the tobacco tax:
"The North Ogden Republican will be carrying a bill in the 2010 legislative session that would raise the tobacco tax. It's a controversial issue that has myriad philosophies and powerful lobbies on both sides."
NEWS RELEASE For Immediate Release January 5, 2010
NAVAJO TRUST FUND LAWSUIT TENTATIVELY SETTLED FOR $33 MILLION
After nearly 18 years of litigation, a tentative agreement has been reached to settle a federal lawsuit filed against the state of Utah over its management of a trust fund for Navajos living in San Juan County. Under the proposed settlement, Utah would pay $33 million to the Utah Navajo Trust Fund over the next four years.
“This settlement was a fair way to get funds directly to help San Juan County Navajos and put an end to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for interest and ongoing legal and accounting costs,” says Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. “This agreement is in the best interest of the citizens of Utah and will bring money to the most impoverished area of our state.”
Pelt v. Utah, a class action lawsuit filed in 1992 asked that Utah account for its management of a trust fund created in 1933 by the federal government. The trust was to provide for “the health, education and general welfare” of approximately 8,000 Navajos living in San Juan County. The trust’s funding came from 37 ½ % of royalties from oil found on lands in Utah added to the Navajo reservation in 1933. Utah was appointed to act as trustee.
“While a trial might have meant different results, that would have been years from now and at great additional expense to all involved. Settlement of the case means an end to litigation but more importantly it means money more quickly into the trust to aid the beneficiaries,” says Brian Barnard, one of the attorneys for Navajo beneficiaries. “The eight individuals who brought this class lawsuit look forward to the help the increased fund can bring to San Juan County Navajos in the future.”
Litigation over management of the oil royalties first started in 1960. This most recent 1992 suit claimed the trust fund was mismanaged, kept inadequate records and either lost or spent money improperly. Under the law of trusts, a trustee can be held personally liable for losing money and failing to keep complete records.
Beginning in June of this year, attorneys for the Navajo beneficiaries and the state of Utah began meeting with a court-appointed mediator to see if a settlement could be reached. United States Court of Appeals Senior Judge William C. Canby oversaw the discussions.
Although Utah could account for the money it spent directly, the state could not fully account for royalty money sent to the Utah Navajo Development Counsel (UNDC), a non-profit that was supposed to spend on behalf of the Navajos; and Utah Navajo Industries (UNI), which received more than $11 million and ran some ill advised businesses. Nearly $20 million is for interest because the events happened so long ago.
The lawsuit followed a 1991 legislative audit that alleged mismanagement and accounting deficiencies with the trust. In response to the audit, the legislature passed the Utah Navajo Trust. No allegations of mismanagement or failure to account for funds have surfaced after the 1992 act was passed.
The proposed settlement would provide $1 million on July 15, 2010, $5 million in 2011, $13.5 million in 2012 and $13.5 million in 2013. After payment of court approved attorney fees, expenses and court costs incurred on behalf of the beneficiaries the balance of the settlement would go directly into the trust fund to aid all beneficiaries. No individual beneficiary will directly receive any money from the settlement.
The agreement is tentative and must be approved by Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature, which would also have to appropriate the funds during the 2010 session. Once that occurs U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell is expected to order that notices explaining the settlement be provided to class members.
In the meantime, plaintiffs’ counsel plan to travel to San Juan County to discuss the settlement with the Navajo beneficiaries. “We will make detailed presentations to beneficiaries and the Court on the reasonableness of this compromise and then seek final approval,” says Barnard.
The parties expect that a hearing seeking Judge Campbell’s final approval of the settlement will occur next Spring. Assistant Attorneys General Philip Lott and David Sonnenreich represented Utah in the settlement discussions.