Friday, March 07, 2008

time management

Yesterday, I railed on the "saved by the bell" excuse that the legislature uses every session to justify its actions. But as I have said many a time, those bills that do make it through the gauntlet of the last few days show us where the legislature's true priorities lie. Let's review what bills suffered what Sen. Pres. John Valentine calls "the tyranny of the clock" and which blessed bills managed to "magically" get through.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, tenaciously fought to clarify weapons law, pushing a bill that would allow open carry in all areas but college campuses.
The same can be said for several other bills, ranging from exempting university housing from eviction laws to the prohibition of gang activity.
But others slipped in during the waning hours of the session.
A bill that would increase the minimum auto insurance liability coverage amounts passed late Wednesday night, much to opponents' chagrin.
"Anytime you raise the coverage amount on a person's motor vehicle policy you impact the premium because you are buying more coverage," said Chris Purcell, a claims attorney for State Farm who lobbied against the bill. "People at the current minimum required level won't have a choice."
Also, the Senate allowed a bill that had drawn the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters to die on the calendar. The legislation would have required proof of citizenship to register to vote, and many worried it would deter eligible voters from registering and hamper registration drives.
In another late-night move, the seventh version of a bill to regulate licensed midwives passed just under the deadline.

Another article had the audacity to compare what the voters said they wanted and what the legislature actually did:
The Legislature again failed to act on any legislation aimed at strengthening ethics regulations in the body. Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, introduced legislation this year to limit gifts lawmakers may take and restrict how they can use their campaign funds.
And Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City, proposed legislation to create an independent ethics commission to investigate complaints against lawmakers. The House and Senate now police themselves.
Seventy-two percent of those surveyed supported the creation of such an ethics commission.
This session, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, was replaced by Bell as chairman of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee after Buttars wrote a scathing letter to a judge who ruled against his friend - a case McGee suggested could have been brought before an independent commission.
"There is a denial that there is any problem. Even bringing it up people seem to be insulted," said McGee, who is retiring at the end of the year, but hopes someone else takes up the cause of ethics reform.
Bramble, who is chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said he favors the current structure.
Why would Bramble want to keep the system as it is?
Sen. Curt Bramble, the majority leader, and Rep. Becky Lockhart, the vice chairwoman of the Executive Appropriations Committee asking the president of [Mountainland Applied Technology College (MATC)] whether his students would build a float for the Utah County Republican Party.

It is hard to believe that the president of MATC would not interpret a request from two legislators with enormous power over his appropriations as more than just a casual favor, no matter what they said it was. And why did this request come from these two people and not the chairman of the Utah County Republican Party or the head of a float committee? What are they doing getting involved with a float anyway?

The answer is clear: They knew exactly what they were doing and how they could use their power to gain an advantage for their party. How could [campus President Clay] Christensen say no? How could he not arrange some sort of deal for them?
Remember, Christensen made "a time sheet outlining 29 hours of work that a welding instructor spent on the party's float totaling $580.09, which included parts for the project as well. Another time sheet logged six hours during which Utah College of Applied Technology President Robert O. Brems' son, Chris, a full-time employee at the college, transported the float between Lehi and Spanish Fork. Additional supplies for the float were billed at $416.14." And authorities had the audacity to accuse Christensen of "disregard for the law and use of his position to override internal controls to detect and prevent improper disbursements." I guess it never occured to Bramble that a state-funded college is a separate entity from the Utah County Republican Party. And the irony of this is that the last group that needs help from the state is the Utah County Republican Party. So Bramble was thugish merely for the sake of thugishness.

Will someone in the press please call legislators on the "oops we ran out of time" excuse next time something the people want--especially ethics reform--dies without a vote? The Republican leadership in the legislature has the power to call up any bill for a vote at any time, and can do so at the last minute so that no one can read the darned thing before they have to vote on it. So please, next I hear about the tryanny of the clock, I am going to ask these legislators if they have a day planner, because clearly their time management is poorly utilized towards things the voters elected them to do.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Sen. President. John Valentine versus his Utah Bar President:
"The leadership of the Utah State Bar is deeply concerned that communications such as Senator Buttars' letter represent more than simple expressions of disappointment and are more appropriately characterized as attempts to improperly influence a judge's decisions based on politics," wrote V. Lowry Snow in on opinion piece in today's Salt Lake Tribune.
"They do see it differently," said Valentine, an attorney. "Really what they have done is restated the facts and put their own spin on it."
Mr. Kettle, stop calling Mr. Pot "black. . . . It's a dark, ugly thing." Oh wait, that was Sen. Buttars. But the point stands. Anyone who didn't fall off the turip truck last night knows what Buttars's intent behind the letter was. I scanned in the letter for you to read it yourself and see if you draw different conclusions that I, or Mr. Snow does.
Chris Buttars Letter

Here's more of what Sen. Valentine and I's bar president says:
We believe that this type of intrusion into judicial decision making is not only inappropriate but also evidences a lack of understanding in the system of checks and balances framed by our forefathers under our state and federal constitutions, and threatens the fairness and impartiality of our courts.
When our founders wrote the Constitution, they purposely shielded courts from political influence so judges could protect the rights of each individual. This was a revolutionary idea. Before then, courts too often were manipulated by the rich and powerful seeking to protect their interests and deny justice to those who had been wronged.
We created a system where judges are able to decide cases free from political pressures; where they consider only the facts and the law in making their decisions, which gives us all our "day in court." We must not turn the clock back to the days of justice only for the few and privileged because of a handful of decisions the few and privileged dislike.
Attempts to intimidate judges are attempts to influence their decisions. If we let external pressure tip the scales of justice, we will lose the only place where we each can be heard on an equal footing.
There's lots more and I highly recommend you read the whole thing, especially elected officials who seem to need a primer on the constitution.

Mr. Snow isn't a partisan and he isn't "spinning." He, like the lawyers in Pakistan who were jailed for protesting, cares about the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. If the judiciary becomes just another political branch, we lose not only our constitutional principles, but what has made this country such an economic powerhouse.

People do business in America because they know they can sign a reasonable contract and it will be enforcible. They don't need to worry about bribing officials or selective prosecution (well, at least until Rove got ahold of the U.S. Attorneys' office). Have a regular set of rules that are evenly enforced and fair makes for a good place to do business. You can't say the same about China or Russia or African or South American countries, where who you know matters more than how good your product/service/price is.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Even though there was a very exciting set of primaries in the presidential race last night, I feel compelled to discuss this St. George Airport land deal that benefited Speaker Curtis's key client and friend. Curtis claims he went out of his way to not be involved in the matter, but this part of the story makes me doubt his claims of detachment:
The solution, contained in SB298, sponsored by Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, emerged 11 days ago and breezed through the Senate late last week without even receiving the customary fiscal impact analysis and less than five minutes of debate in committee and on the floor. It was brought up in House Republican Caucus on Tuesday with just one day left in the 45-day session.
The MO of this legislature for years now has been to bring up controversal matters at the last minute--so that there is no time to examine the bill and think about it--and demand party loyalty from their caucus. The inverse of this tactic is to claim to "run out of time" on popular bills that the leadership doesn't like, like Henry's law. If Speaker Curtis really had no influence in this land sale, it wouldn't have come up in the Senate last week without debate and brought up before the House with a day left in the session.

Our legislature needs to be officially full time. I say "officially" because they have hearings and taskforce meetings throughout the year on a routine basis. If for no other reason, a full-time legislature could not use the clock as an excuse for a lack of deliberation or an inability to address legislation.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

why we need ethics reform

Reason number...oh I can't keep track.
Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis said Tuesday that he could not disclose or discuss in public his association with the land developer who is buying the St. George airport before the bids were opened, even though his private law firm is associated with that developer and St. George sought state aid in the deal.
On Monday, St. George officials announced that Anderson Development was the top bidder at $44 million to buy the old airport, which sits atop a bluff between St. George, Santa Clara and Bloomington in Washington County. Because of its beautiful location, the old airport is some of the most prime residential development land in southern Utah.
Curtis' written conflict of interest form filed with the Utah House lists his law firm and Anderson Development as one of its major clients. So the connection with Curtis and Anderson is well-known. What was not known at the time that legislative GOP leaders were considering whether the state would buy the old airport or not was that Anderson Development was one of the private bidders on the airport.
How many fingers does Speaker Curtis have in how many pies? Let's assume for a minute that this was all on the still has the appearance of impropriety. It is nice that we have laws requiring some conflict of interest disclosure, but it doesn't force legislators not to be able to act when they have a conflict (like say a nuclear plant owner/legislator pushing for the state to use more nuclear power).

Moreover, if any scandal were to convince Speaker Curtis not to run for reelection this year, he could pocket the $333,000 in donations he collected in 2007 (who knows how much he will get after the legislature is out of session) and buy himself a new house, or a new boat, or some land. And I am not the only one that says there needs to be a clean up on Utah's Capitol Hill.

From Friday's Tribune editorial:
If anyone in Utah still believes that there's nothing rotten in the state of Utah's legislative branch, then they haven't been paying attention for a long, long time. Perhaps they'd rather hold to the belief that their lawmakers are as ethical and honorable as they keep claiming they are.
Well, many of them aren't, folks, and we take no pleasure in saying so.
But the stench of corruption around the Capitol from all the self-dealing, bullying, power-grabbing, hate-mongering, lavish lobbying and slavish payback, is strong enough to make the eyes smart and the nostrils burn.
How many more cozy deals do people like Curtis's friends "happen" to make before something is done?

The U.S. Congress now waits for federal prosecutors to indict their members before their "Ethics Committee" starts to investigate. Does the Attorney General need to start the same here? Oh wait, this is the same guy that defends payday lenders after going on a free golf trip to the Bahamas in the dead of winter paid for by payday lenders' lobbying association. Nevermind.

Monday, March 03, 2008

thanks but no thanks

I saw this article in the newspaper this weekend and it sent a chill through my spine:
The Ute Indian Tribe will soon move more than a dozen Federal Emergency Management Administration trailers from Texas and Arkansas to the Fort Duchesne area to help ease the housing crunch on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.
Late last year the federal government announced that 1,000 FEMA trailers would be available to Indian tribes throughout the United States. The trailers were originally made available to families displaced two years ago when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Not all of the trailers were used for that purpose.
Remember the blankets given to Native Americans that someone who died of smallpox was once wrapped in?
le the Federal Emergency Management Agency rushes to move thousands of Gulf Coast storm victims out of government-issued trailers, scientists are tearing the units apart to learn why many have exposed occupants to dangerous levels of formaldehyde fumes.
Test results reported this week by the CDC showed formaldehyde levels in hundreds of FEMA trailers and mobile homes were, on average, about five times higher than what people are exposed to in most modern homes. Formaldehyde, a preservative commonly used in construction materials, can cause breathing problems and is believed to cause cancer.
That's why I am worried this is going to be a 21-century smallpox blanket, even if I see this:
The trailers must still be tested before they will be officially released to the tribe, [Tribal Business Committee Chairman Curtis Cesspooch] said.
Cesspooch said the trailers given to Indian tribes are not part of a group of FEMA trailers that were reportedly contaminated with high levels of formaldehyde.
Remember, FEMA bought these suspect trailers from a GOP donor at way above cost, and refused to test them until Congress persisted. Are the Utes going to get the trailers that all have the same key too?

I know the Utes need affordable housing and Congressman Matheson is trying to help, but if I were a member of the Utes, I would say "Thanks but no thanks." I just don't trust the government to not screw this one up anymore.