Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Call to Action for the House Rules Committee

Many of you have probably already taken advantage of early voting like I have, but with the official election day drawing near I can't help but want to stand here at the podium a few more times. While some of the immediate voting decisions we all need to make revolve around candidates and propositions, the immediacy of some of these decisions also begs some visionary and long-term questions. What do we value, what do we want, what can and should we expect from government leaders?

During the 2008 Legislative session, HB 130 ( outlined a proposal for creating a State Ethics Commission. As an important and necessary call to action for the entire state, hope was high for some real change in legislative oversight. In reality, the bill was summarily dismissed by the House Rules Committee. No policy committee debate, no policy committee work, no progress. The bill was killed.

I can't overstate how much power the House Rules Committee has in the legislative process. In a nutshell, this committee serves as gatekeeper. Proposed bills are submitted to this committee where they are discussed and potentially assigned to an approriate policy committee for further debate, refinement, and progress. Of course, any bill can be defeated even if it is assigned to a policy committee, but at least it has a chance to be debated and reviewed in committee work. And, bills that make it to committee are also more easily brought to the public's attention. However, the House Rules Committee can also cause a bill to be "held" which is, in effect, an immediate death sentence for the held bill. The bill goes nowhere and potentially important change is at least another year in coming.

I realize this is a simplistic and brief review, but the point is that this committee has a responsibility and power that sometimes goes unnoticed and unchallenged by the public at large. With so much current dialogue regarding ethics and another legislative session on the horizon, I thought it would be important for me to take a look at who currently serves on this committee.

The 2008 House Rules Committee ( who reviewed and killed HB 130 calling for an independent State Ethics Commission is currently comprised of the following members:

Rep. Stephen H. Urquhart, Chair
Rep. Gregory H. Hughes, Vice Chair
Rep. Jackie Biskupski
Rep. James A. Dunnigan
Rep. Kevin S. Garn

Rep. Neal B. Hendrickson
Rep. Michael T. Morley
John L. Fellows, General Counsel
John Q. Cannon, Managing Policy Analyst
Stewart E. Smith, Pol Analyst/Spec Projects Mngr

Election results could, of course, change the makeup of this committee. Tuesday will tell.

For now, in my opinion, HB 130 was a call to action for the entire Utah political machine. Since it was "held" and went nowhere, and there will undoubtedly be another ethics reform bill submitted in the future, this post is a very personal call to action specifically for the House Rules Committee during the upcoming 2009 Legislative Session: assign the bill, let there be debate, scrutiny, questions, refinement, public input, and real progress towards objective ethics oversight!