|This is the final week of the Utah Legislature’s annual general session. The Utah Constitution requires that all legislative activity end at midnight on Thursday night.
Several hundred bills will be passed by the House and Senate in these last few days of the session. The state’s budget for the fiscal year that begins in July will also be set. Next week I will write a round-up of significant measures enacted by this year’s legislature.
In this week’s column, I would like to focus on what I consider to be the most important bill I am sponsoring this year, in terms of its impact upon the entire state of Utah. My House Bill 90 will prohibit cities, counties, local school boards, special districts and all state agencies from holding any meetings at the same time as the major political parties’ neighborhood caucus meetings.
The neighborhood caucus meetings are held once every two years. At the neighborhood caucus meetings, citizens elect the delegates who will attend the party conventions. Then, at the party conventions, the delegates vote to choose who will be the party’s nominees for offices such as U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor, state senator, state representative, state attorney general, and numerous county offices.
At the party conventions, delegates are also elected to attend the national party conventions, where the parties’ nominees for U.S. president are selected.
Because these crucial decisions all begin with the selection of delegates at the neighborhood caucus meetings, I believe that the day these caucus meetings are held is Utah’s real election day. The delegates who are selected at the neighborhood caucus meetings wield enormous influence, and, in most cases, singlehandedly choose who our public officials will be. This is because, at the November general election, most offices in Utah are safely and easily won by either a Republican or a Democrat (depending on the region of the state) by large margins. So the party’s nominee chosen by the delegates at the convention in April is virtually assured of victory in November.
The parties’ neighborhood caucus meetings for the current Utah election cycle will be held next week. The Democratic party will hold its neighborhood meetings on Tuesday, March 13 at 7 p.m., and the Republican and Constitution parties will hold theirs on Thursday, March 15 at 7 p.m.
Because these caucus meetings are held on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, there are literally thousands of them being held all across the state at the same time on the same night once every two years.
Citizens can find the location of the neighborhood caucus meeting for their area by going to the web sites of any of the Utah political parties. I believe it is the civic duty of every Utah citizen, whether Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated or other, to attend the neighborhood caucus meeting.
I am sponsoring House Bill 90 because once every two years, when the neighborhood party caucus meetings are held, there are always meetings for that night scheduled by cities, counties, school boards, and other public bodies.
Most of these agencies do not intentionally schedule their meetings to conflict with their neighborhood caucuses. Rather, they just do not recognize the scheduling conflict until it is too late to change.
My bill will require the lieutenant governor to announce the dates and times of the statewide caucuses 90 days in advance. This will give the local agencies ample time to put the dates on their calendars and avoid scheduling meetings for those nights. The bill has passed the House, but is being held up in the Senate by a few senators who are opposed to the bill.
Critics of the bill complain that the state legislature should not be dictating this policy to local entities.
My response is that no local entity can have a valid reason to be meeting when a statewide caucus is being held (except for an emergency meeting, which the bill allows). Another objection being raised against the bill is that it improperly mixes the policies of private political parties with the policies of public entities such as cities and school boards. My response to this objection is that Utah law in dozens of instances already incorporates the purposes and practices of private political parties into state law, such as the primary election process (which is a private function paid for with taxpayer dollars).
I am hopeful that enough senators will be convinced this week and agree to pass my bill, which the governor has said he supports.
And whether or not the bill passes, I hope that all Utah citizens and officials, whether Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated or other, will cancel all meetings next week on March 13 and March 15 and participate in what I believe is Utah’s real Election Day.
As always, you may contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 435-657-0185.
BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL