Category Archives: Utah Legislature

To Brandon Beckham: Try a little honey before you resort to vinegar.

Remember the civility initiative that Utah was pushing earlier this year? I wrote about it here on the blog.

The Utah Civility and Community 2011 site states that “In Utah we are committed to respectful discourse and behavior toward all people. Further we are committed to being a welcoming, inclusive and caring community. Now is a great time to pass it on and start the five steps to a more caring Utah.”

Remember that? That was in January.

And this was today, courtesy Brandon Beckham, who called Utah legislators “traitors.” He was talking about his displeasure with the speed with which legislators who passed HB116 and who are moving far too slowly, for his taste,repeal HB116:

“Those who drafted this bill are traitors to Utah and they will be held accountable by voters in 2012,” he said [today].

Brandon Beckham, organizer of an effort to repeal HB116, speaks with a supporter at a press conference urging the repeal of the bill at the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.

Thanks, Brandon. Way to raise the level of dialogue to a new high.

One must wonder: traitors to whom?

To the Republican Party?  Republican state delegates voted 833-739 on June 18 to support a resolution supporting repeal. In other words, about 24% of total state delegates voted for repealing HB116. That’s not a ringing endorsement…especially when you consider that 21% voted against it…leaving over half of the Republican Party unrepresented on the resolution. (Ironically, this is the same group of delegates who denied Beckham’s bid for even a first round shot at Vice Chair for the Republican Party).

Someone ought to remind Brandon that this is a republic (a compound constitutional republic, if the legislature is to be heard on this one, a representative democracy, otherwise), not a democracy. And thank heavens. We select representatives so that they can study out the topic, evaluate all sides of an issue, take testimony and conduct analysis, and make a decision. That’s their job, and Utah legislators, despite their idiosyncrasies, occasional message bills, and generally conservative tendencies, do a good job of it. Utah is one of the best run states in the nation, if not the best run, and it’s due in large part to good governing.

It isn’t the job of the Republican Party to dictate policy to law makers. It’s the Republican Party’s job to choose candidates and help them get elected. Period.

If you don’t agree with the lawmakers, make your case, and make it well. Don’t resort to ad hominem attacks, ridicule, and name calling. Not only does it diminish your ability to persuade, but it destroys any credibility you might have had.

As the cliché goes, you’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar. If nothing, the immigration debate has been fueled, at least on one side, by far too much vinegar, and not enough honey.

If you want to be heard, Brandon, then start listening. Winning a vote for a non-binding resolution with 24% of the body does not equal a mandate. It’s barely even a reason to get a headline during the summer doldrums.

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Proportional Representation: a boost to representation and turnout or a shift of power?

“Now if you think that proportional representation is boring, you are a very silly person because it’s about how we can run the country better.” John Cleese, Monty Python’s Flying Circus

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Does the public really care about HB477?

Does the public really care about HB477 ?

It’s a fair question. Because while the media is stirring a tempest, without public support, it will never get outside of the teapot.

When the bill changing Utah’s decades old GRAMA law was proposed in the closing days of the Utah Legislative session, the press went crazy. Bloggers went crazy (not all…some were just extensive). Radio hosts (cough–Doug Wright-cough) went crazy. We saw public protests, editorials written to and by the newspapers, and a referendum petition. (And yes, the law did fly through the Legislature at far higher than normal speed.)

The Utah Legislature listened, and the Governor listened. Governor Herbert reversed himself (he had signed HB477, and now he wants it repealed), several legislators admitted it was a bad choice and that they will support repeal, and an official working group was formed to reevaluate the law. Finally, tomorrow, at the call of Governor Herbert, the Legislature will meet to consider the law.

But does the public care that much?

I ran into a buddy of mine who was up on the Hill for the official Working Group, in a staffing capacity. When I asked him how it went, the most notable thing to him was the lack of the public’s presence. Sure, there were all sorts of media types, reporters, and camera crews, but the public was noticeably absent. Further, he noted, out of a state of over 2 million, the live stream only had, at max, 70 people logged on to watch and listen to the proceedings.

Does the public care?

I believe they do, even if they couldn’t all drop what they were doing to watch or drive up Capitol Hill. However, we, the public, could do a better job of making our voice heard.

Do you care?

You should. The transparency of government is important for our democracy (or republic, as it were).  The Working Group has identified 36 issues/questions about HB477 that need to be addressed in the law, posted them online here, and asked for your input. You can listen to the audio of the discussion at the first meeting here.

So do something. Speak up.

If you can find the time to care, put in your two-bits and prove it. Take a moment to say something, to comment on the Utah Senate or Utah House website, however small and short the comment may be.

You can find the 36 questions on the Utah Senate site and Vox Populi, the Utah House Republicans’ site.

APROPOS: For an interesting perspective on GRAMA, HB477, and, of all things, Wikileaks, check out “Killing Conspiracy: Wikileaks and GRAMA” on Phil Windley’s site.

Utah Legislature Watch: The HB477 Working Group is Up

With House Republicans calling for repeal and the Governor saying the same, the Utah Senate announced the working group on House Bill 477 this afternoon.

They will meet for the first time this Wednesday at 9 AM. A website to keep the public updated is planned for GRAMArevisited.com (or HB477.com). Check back there later for more information.

The group is diverse, but still lacking a few notables, such as, anyone from the Salt Lake Tribune. Lane Beattie will chair the effort (and good luck to him).

Here’s the list as posted on the Utah Senate site:

House of Representatives:

John Dougall – Utah State Representative
Holly Richardson – Utah State Representative
Brian King – Utah State Representative
Steve Handy – Utah State Representative

Senate:

Steve Urquhart – Utah State Senator
Curt Bramble – Utah State Senator
Stuart Adams – Utah State Senator
Patricia Jones – Utah State Senator

Governor’s Office:

John Pearce – General Counsel

Attorney General’s Office:

Laura Lockhart – Assistant Attorney General

League of Cities and Towns:

Mark Johnson – Ogden City

Traditional Media:

Randy Wright – Daily Herald
Linda Peterson – Valley Journals
Geoff Liesik – Uintah Basin Standard
Paul Edwards – Deseret Media Group
Jeff Hunt – Utah Media Coalition

New Media:

Jason Williams – KVNU-FTP host and blogger
Jesse Stay – Social media technologies consultant
LaVarr Webb – Utah Policy Daily

Public Members:

Michael Wilkins – Former Supreme Court Justice
Janet Frank – Utah Valley Regional Medical Center
Liu Vakapuna – SLCC Student Body President
David Kirkham – Tea Party Leader
Phil Windley – Web & Technology Pioneer
Lane Beattie – Salt Lake Chamber

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PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 19:  Jimmer Fredette #32 ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Also, Jimmer Fredette doesn’t appear on the working group list. That’s  mistake that I hope doesn’t come back to bite. As if he couldn’t handle the assignment from anywhere five feet behind the three-point line (also known as “Jimmer Territory”). Mark my words: he could teach the legislature how to Jimmer.

When the LDS Church shows up for a press conference, does it jeopardize tax exempt status?

I’m expecting an Utah paper editorial separation of church and state any day now. I’d bet dollars for donuts that it’ll be in the Salt Lake Tribune, too. The Deseret News just doesn’t roll that way.

Yesterday, the LDS Church openly supported Governor Herbert’s signing of HB 116 by sending Presiding Bishop H. David Burton to the ceremony. While many detractors will argue that the Church regularly engages in political activity, citing the Proposition 8 battle in California, it is actually quite rare for the LDS Church to openly engage in politics. Typically, the LDS Church prefers to work in the background, if at all, when it feels the need to support or oppose legislation. (I do not believe that the Church has supported, in recent memory or indeed the last century, any candidates for public office).

When it does engage, actively or otherwise, it is usually because the cause aligns with what LDS Church leadership believe is in the interests of the Church membership. In California and Proposition 8, it was defense of the institution of traditional marriage. In Utah and HB116, it was the family.

Proponents of the bill were grateful for the LDS Church’s support. Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, told the Tribune that

There is no question that the Utah Compact, with the church’s endorsement, made a significant difference to me and others in the Legislature who helped craft immigration legislation. It provided the inspiration for our efforts to negotiate and compromise, enabling us to create principle-based legislation the majority of the Legislature eventually supported.

Paul Mero, Director of the Sutherland Institute, speculated that if Utah had been in legislative session right after the Arizona law passed last year, we would have seen an Arizona style enforcement law passed here.

But this is not about immigration. This is about the LDS Church’s involvement in the issue. Almost immediately after the press conference featuring Bishop Burton, questions began to arise, on Twitter and Facebook: did the LDS Church cross the line? Can it engage without forfeiting its tax exempt status?

It’s an issue that comes up every few years, at least here in Utah. Uniquely in this country, Utah is dominated by members of the LDS faith. No other state is so religiously homogeneous and few faiths, with perhaps the exception of Catholicism, place such a value on following the guidance of church leadership. They believe that they are lead by a prophet and apostles that are, like the ancient Christian church, called directly by God and are in communication with Him. With that kind of faith, every action taken by LDS Church officialdom is given that much more credence than might otherwise be granted. As is often said in Sunday School–usually about gospel doctrine, not religions–“when the Prophet speaks, the discussion is over.”

The Salt Lake City LDS Temple in the heart of downtown Salt Lake, with the state capitol up the hill behind it.

So what happens when a prophet speaks about politics? Although it was only Bishop Burton at the signing, and not a declaration from the LDS Church’s current prophet and president, Thomas S. Monson, it was a clear signal about where the LDS Church stands on immigration, and it will change the political discourse in the state, if it has not already.

Legally, the LDS Church is not permitted to support of a candidates for public office under any circumstances. The LDS Church is a tax exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. The IRS website states that such organizations cannot participate in support of a candidate for public office without risking tax exempt status.

The law, however,  is more lenient with regards to lobbying, which in this case would be what the LDS Church did for HB116. Again, the IRS website on lobbying for 501(c)(3) organizations:

In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

At what point does “some lobbying” become “too much lobbying” and risk loss of tax-exempt status? What is a “substantial part” of its activities? The IRS explains that the “substantial part” test looks at

Whether an organization’s attempts to influence legislation, i.e., lobbying, constitute a substantial part of its overall activities is determined on the basis of all the pertinent facts and circumstances in each case. The IRS considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial.

So were the LDS Church’s efforts a “substantial part of its overall activities” or not?

Previous to Bishop Burton’s appearance at the signing, the LDS Church’s support has been minimal. The LDS Church did support the Utah Compact, the guiding principles upon which the bill was written, but actually avoid public appearance or direct support when it was announced. There are allegations that Bill Evans and John Taylor spent a significant amount of time at the Capitol during the last ten days of the session; however, the presence of two lobbyists looking out for the LDS Church’s interest is hardly a substantial part of the LDS Church’s efforts. As Curt Bentley noted on Twitter

With tens of thousands of missionaries world-wide, millions of members, a laity priesthood, farms, dairies, canneries, and charities, the work of two lobbyists is hardly substantial.

So, in the present case, the allegations against the Church retaining its tax exempt status will probably fail. When a church provides guidance to its members, whether lead by a prophet or by a pope, it may indeed present some internal conflict for those who do not agree with it but who ascribe to its faith. However, church’s aren’t founded to make people feel good about themselves–their purpose is to help them become better people. If that means they have to be more compassionate about their fellowmen–including those who were not born here or do not have a legal status here–then churches should, and ought, to do that.

On the other hand, whether the law will survive federal constitutional review is an entirely different question. On that, Democratic state Senator Ross Romero may have the right stance.