Staff Column: Rantings and Ravings
I hate to over saturate an issue. In the past week you probably have seen many articles and TV news stories about HB 477. In a matter of days the Utah Legislature pushed through a bill that severely limits what electronic and other documents that the public has access to dealing with legislative issues.
Now backroom deals can happen as long as the parties communicate with e-mails, tweets and texts. Why would they do it any other way now?
But the governmental secrecy enacted in this one legislative session is more widespread than that. In the same bill that shifted liquor permits to allow more restaurants to be able to obtain one, they also put a provision in that the liquor commission could go into executive session as they decided which one they want to grant.
Never before have they been able to do that. Now it is easier to allow personal agendas to steer where those very coveted licenses are doled out.
You would think that the state budget process should be something debated in public. After all, it is our money they are spending for us. But you would be wrong to think that.
In the final weeks of the legislative process, meetings on the budget are closed to the public and press. Three out of seven meetings were attended by only the Executive Appropriations Committee comprised of 12 Republicans. No members of the minority party were invited. The other four meetings lasted an average of 10 minutes each.
The actual voting is at a public meeting, but the decisions were made and the budget was already set behind closed door. And all the records for those meetings are off limits.
Our representatives did a pretty good job of steering us through the recession that hit other states much harder. We are not teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. None of the social agencies relying on state funding was hit as hard as they might have been. Wisdom prevailed not to increase the sales tax on food.
But there is something highly unnerving about the fact the processes used to make decisions that affect us all are becoming more and more secret. I would even have a little less heartburn if the process included every legislator that we sent to the Capitol. But it does not.
As the legislature becomes more clandestine, they continue to set more barriers to letting the masses add initiatives and referendums to the ballots for us to vote on. E-signatures are no longer allowed on an initiative to put a issue before the voters. The number of signatures needed to get an initiative on a ballot continues to increase. Finally the last session of our legislature set some new weird little rule about what initiative packet that a person gathering signatures can sign their own name to. They cannot sign the same one they are passing out or the whole thing is thrown out. Don't write messy if you are signing a petition or they can invalidate your signature if they think it doesn't "match" the way you signed it on your vote registration card years ago.
I am very disillusioned about the process right now. But I will continue to step up and advocate for everyone to get involved. It is apathy that angers me the most.
It is our government. It is our money and it is our needs wants and desires for a quality of life. It is our job to stand up and make our voice be heard and quit letting a small group speak for us, even if you agree with what they decided in the end.