Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Good election night for education--two moderates beat out ultra-conservatives and Doogie Howser C.P.A. loses

Way to go Weber and Davis counties! We couldn't quite get the moderate Republican candidates over the hump at the county convention here to even hold primary elections, but two challengers from the northern Wasatch Front beat out two of the same ol' pack of far-right, voucher/omnibus/stadium, power-abusing crowd in the legislature.

Ryan Wilcox surprisingly put the hurt on Glen Donnelson with 61% of the vote.

And Becky Edwards pulled out a close one with Paul Neuenschwander.

And most satisfyingly, though still scratching my head on how this even happened, Richard Ellis defeated Mark Walker for the Republican nomination for State Treasurer with 59% of the vote.

I still can't figure out exactly why all of the leadership was gunning for the treasurer position. I hope word leaks on what proposals they were considering that would require the acquiescence of a 32-yr-old salesman managing 12 billion dollars of state investment funds without even being able to accurately understand (about half way through his long interview) basic investment concepts.

The whole bribe thing was a sideshow, though it does show how desperate Walker was for the help of the qualified man he was criticizing. Seriously...what were they thinking? I'm sure Speaker Curtis, President Valentine, and Attorney General Shurtleff would not allow Walker to manage their personal portfolios, so why allow him to manage the state's multi-billion dollar portfolio?

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm back and a dead guy's campaign sign

I'm back after visiting some family and some heavy encouragement to relax a little from so much reading/blogging. I'll be busy now, but have a lot of things I would like to write about. We'll see.

An annoying, but darkly amusing incident: A gentleman down the street died a couple months ago. (That's not the amusing part.) He didn't have much family and several people from the neighborhood have been helping his sister who lives out-of-state with various things around the house as she tries to figure out what to do with it. She has been stressed out during her brief visits and is definitely NOT interested in local politics. I got back from my trip and a Chris Cannon sign has appeared on the lawn........I hate politics!

Friday, June 6, 2008

A list of the bills contained in SB2, the omnibus education bill, that shows the majority would have passed easily on their own

This is my last omnibus post for awhile…probably. I compiled this list of the separate bills that were wrapped up into SB2, the education omnibus bill, that shows the dates of important actions taken by the House or Senate on these bills prior to their being reconstituted as part of SB2. 7 of the 13 component bills had passed a House or Floor vote unanimously and where stalled either after reaching the Senate, or in the House or Senate Rules Committees waiting for the day when bills requiring large amounts of money can be passed. Two more had passed a House or Senate vote by a smaller margin, one had only been been passed in committee, and three had failed votes either on the House floor or Senate Education Committee. I don’t know how the winds were blowing on Senator Stephenson’s SB 35 when it disappeared; I know there were a lot of concerns with the bill. However, the other 8 bills awaiting a final vote would have passed easily if allowed the chance.

Senator Bramble claimed the fiscal note rule was why they waited on many of the bills. Bills with a Fiscal Note of $10,000 or more cannot be passed until the 40th day of the session, which fell on Wednesday, Feb. 27th this year. (Most of the SB2 bills fit this category. I marked bills costing at least $10,000 with a triple asterisk.) If a bill costing more than $10,000 passes all of its votes but the last, previous to the 40th day of the session, it is sent to wait in the House or Senate Rules Committee until that day (Feb. 27th) when it becomes eligible to be called back with a motion and voted on. SB 35 disappeared Feb. 5th until mysteriously getting a fiscal note March 3rd just before being put into the omnibus, HB 67 and HB 270 never emerged from the Rules Committee after receiving unanimous votes up to their tabling on Feb. 14th, and the other bills passed votes no later than Feb. 25th. They could have been voted on more simply and with greater chance of individual public scrutiny on Feb. 27th rather than keeping the bills hostage in order to pass the controversial HB 200 and HB 278. I also think these key legislators knew something was up, because I don't believe Rep. Dougall, Rep. Hughes, head of the Conservative Caucus, and Rep. Last, the House Majority Leader, would have just let their popular bills just sit their un-acted upon for days without reassurances that their bills would be passed.

Each bill will be followed by the dates of action on the bill. Generally, a bill has to pass 1 committee vote and 1 floor vote in the House, and 1 committee vote as well as 2 separate votes on the Senate floor as it is read the 2nd and 3rd times. If the House or Senate amends the bill, it also goes through a Coordinating Committee and has to be voted on again. However, some of the intermediate steps are sometimes skipped through suspensions of the rules. I don’t know specifics on why certain bills were rushed through the process or not, unless it was the last day. (Many vote totals will have different numbers because representatives and senators often miss votes in committee and on the floor.)

1. H.B. 67 ***
Extended Year for Special Educators -- Menlove, R.

1-25 Passed House Education Committee Vote 11-0
1-30 Passed House Floor Vote 62-0
2-7 Passed Senate Education Committee Vote 4-0
2-14 Passed Senate 2nd Reading Vote 22-0
2-14 Sent to Rules Committee because of $10,000 cost

2. H.B. 270 ***
Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative Centers -- Bigelow, R.

1-25 Passed House Education Committee Vote 10-0
1-31 Passed House Floor Vote 73-0
2-6 Passed Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee Vote 3-0
2-14 Passed Senate 2nd Reading Vote 22-1
2-14 Sent to Rules Committee because of $10,000 cost

3. S.B. 61 ***
Financial and Economic Literacy Education -- Jones, P.

1-28 Passed Senate Education Committee Vote 7-0
2-5 Passed Senate 2nd Reading Vote 24-0
2-6 Passed Senate 3rd Reading Vote 28-0
2-18 House Education Committee Vote 11-0
2-18 Sent to Rules Committee because of $10,000 cost

4. S.B. 118 ***
Education Transportation Amendments -- Peterson, D.

Passed Senate Education Committee Vote 5-0
2-4 Passed Senate 2nd Reading Vote 23-0
2-5 Passed Senate 3rd Reading Vote 26-0
2-18 Passed House Education Committee Vote 12-0
2-19 Sent to Rules Committee because of $10,000 cost

5. H.B. 212 Second Substitute ***
Educator Salary Adjustments -- Dougall, J.
(Teacher Raises)

2-15 Passed House Education Committee Vote 15-0
2-22 Passed House Floor Vote 66-0
2-22 Sent to Senate where …. mysteriously, no action of any kind is taken on unanimously passed teacher raises until they reappeared attached to failed bills.

6. H.B. 419
Public School Textbook Evaluation Amendments -- Froerer, G.

2-25 Passed House Education Committee Vote 9-0
…sound of wind blowing…tumbleweed rolls by…

7. H.B. 329 ***
High-ability Student Initiative Program -- Last, B.

2-18 Passed House Education Committee Vote 11-1
2-25 Passed House Floor Vote 64-0
2-26 Sent to Senate

8. H.B. 278 Substitute
Charter School Funding Amendments -- Bigelow, R.

2-18 Passed House Education Committee Vote 8-1
2-25 Failed House Floor Vote 33-41
2-26 Passed Motion to Reconsider
2-26 Circled

9. H.B. 363 Substitute ***
Beverley Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts Learning Program -- Hughes, G.

2-13 Passed House Education Committee Vote 10-0
2-21 Passed House Floor Vote 71-0
2-22 Sent to Senate
2-25 Sent to Senate Education Committee
2-27 Returned to Rules Committee

10. H.B. 436 ***
English Language Learner Family Literacy Centers Program -- Hughes, G.

2-22 Passed House Education Committee Vote 10-0
2-27 Passed House Floor Vote 55-9
2-27 Sent to Senate and read 1st time (Introduced)

11. H.B. 266 ***
Accelerated Learning Program Revisions -- Moss, C.
($300,000 for International Baccalaureate Program)

1-30 Passed House Education Committee Vote 11-1
2-8 Passed House Floor Vote 72-0
2-21 Failed Senate Education Committee Vote 3-3 (Featuring the infamous anti-American agenda remarks from Senator Dayton)

12. H.B. 200 Substitute
Early Childhood Learning and Evaluation -- Last, B.
(Laptops and software for pre-schoolers)

2-18 Passed House Education Committee Vote 10-2
2-29 Failed House Floor Vote 31-37

13. S.B. 35 Substitute ***
Differentiated Pay for Teachers -- Stephenson, H.

1-22 Passed Senate Education Committee Vote 5-1
1-30 Passed Senate 2nd Reading Vote 23-5
2-5 Passed Senate 3rd Reading Vote 19-7
2-5 Sent to House
2-27 Sent to LFA for Fiscal Analysis
3-3 LFA sends note (results?) to sponsor

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Governor Huntsman openly stated that he views most of the omnibus bill as "statutory"...which is clearly prohibited by the Utah State Constitution

From the Utah State Constitution, Article VI, Section 22:
Except general appropriation bills and bills for the codification and general revision of laws, no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.
"Appropriation" and "codification" bills can have more than one subject. If a bill addresses more than one subject of statutory change or addition, it is not legal according to the Constitution of the State of Utah. The fact that our National Congress passes pork-laden omnibus bills all the time because our national constitution doesn't explicitly prohibit them is completely irrelevant. In fact, doesn't relying on that argument admit that SB2 is in fact an illegal statutory omnibus bill as defined by the Utah Constitution?

The legislative leadership's argument that the bill address only one subject, education, is laughable on face. (See my last post) And claiming that the title "Minimum School Program Budget Amendments" clearly states the subject an adjective here ...impossible ...absurd ...dishonest ...desperate ......wrong.

You can't come up with a title that clearly states the subject of SB2 precisely because the 12 logrolled bills aren't the same subject. Having something to do with with education is not an acceptable standard to meet an objective constitutional test. That would allow the legislature to use titles like "12 Things That Have To Do With Education" (which would at least be more honest than SB2's current title) or "A Bunch of Immigration Stuff." I'm trying to think of a common sense test we could run with a legislator to help them see beyond the blinders. Maybe we could walk the street in any city of Utah and question people on the street. We'd give them a quick overview of what "Minimum School Program" is, hand them a list of the 12 different programs/budgets/policies established by SB2, and ask them if they thought the title, Minimum School Program Budget Amendments, clearly stated each one. I bet 100% would find the assertion ridiculous.

That the process was non-transparent and dirty is unarguable, and I believe the fact that the bill's subjects and title on-face violate the simple language of the state constitution is obvious too. I don't know what the court will rule, but all should remember the legislature's attitude towards transparency, open debate, and education, regardless of whether they successfully split legal hairs or not.

Anyway, here is the text from the March 22nd Salt Lake Tribune article discussing those who were disappointed Governor Huntsman did not line-item veto portions of SB2. I have underlined Huntsman's rationale for signing the omnibus bill into law and another admission from Senator Stephenson that omnibus bills are usually financially wasteful.
Critics fail to derail omnibus school bill
SB2 was a fusion of 12 bills, some that didn't pass on their own
By Lisa Schencker
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 03/22/2008 12:58:37 AM MDT

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a $2.5 billion education bill in its entirety Thursday despite protestations from the Utah Board of Education.
Huntsman signed a second substitute of SB2, which includes $1,700 raises for educators and a 2.5 percent increase in per-pupil spending. It also, however, includes the contents of 12 education bills that were rolled into SB2 late in the session, though several of the bills had already failed in the House.
The school board recently asked the governor to consider using line-item veto power to erase parts of SB2, especially the parts that failed in the House. Board members argued that because the bill appropriates money, Huntsman should have the power to veto parts of it.
They sent the governor a letter recently saying they were "appalled" by the process of passing the omnibus bill. The letter also suggested the process might have been unconstitutional.
Huntsman, however, signed the bill without any line-item vetoes Thursday. The governor's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said vetoing parts of the bill was not an option.
"Line-item veto only applies to appropriations items, and most of [SB2] was actually statutory," Roskelley said.

Kim Burningham, the state school board member who led the charge to send Huntsman the letter, called Huntsman's signing of the bill without any line-item vetoes "disappointing."
He said it's not fair to roll so many bills, including some that were already defeated, into one. He said that forced legislators to vote for the whole bill even if they didn't like parts of it.
The omnibus bill included the contents of several bills that failed on the House floor, including one to fund an at-home software pilot program for preschool-age children and another that asks school districts to help pay for charter school students. A third bill included in the omnibus, to pay math and science teachers more, didn't pass out of a House committee.
"We ought to be debating each item on its own merit," Burningham said. "That, to me, is the bottom line."
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who sponsored the bill, said it was the best way to pass many major education reforms in a coordinated way as the end of the session approached. Stephenson said, however, that he generally doesn't like the idea of passing omnibus bills, and there were several parts of it he didn't like, even though he was the sponsor.
"Overall, I felt the package was good legislation," Stephenson said. "But I would want to avoid omnibus bills in the future. I think they disallow the scalpel approach to precision budgeting."

Monday, June 2, 2008

With friends like these…The Daily Herald sets a new—low—standard with June 1st editorial on the omnibus lawsuit

I generally like the Herald’s editorial page. They usually are well-reasoned and don’t usually seem to have an ax to grind, tweaking both conservatives and liberals at times. The exception is education. On that score, Jim Tynen, the editorial page editor, has some serious rightwing opinions, logic or evidence be hanged. Tynen explained that he was the driving force behind their old-fashioned, weeks-long series of pro-voucher editorials before the referendum last year which employed every possible justification for vouchers. It was like the early 19th century when a paper was explicitly “Whig” or “Democrat” and served as a propaganda organ rather than aspire to any pretense of objective reporting.

But Tynen and the Herald may have just raised…err, lowered the bar. Their latest masterpiece addressing the lawsuit against SB2, the education omnibus bill, literally made my jaw drop open in shock as I read it. That’s really what they’re going to argue? That is the Sunday edition editorial from this semi-major paper? Really?! All of that to say “Well you’re right. The omnibus was trashy and and unethical…but at least it wasn’t as bad as the US Congress.”

The editorial seriously has two points. It agrees with Sen. Stephenson that the suit is “political grandstanding” rather than a substantive violation of the state constitution, then admits that omnibus bills are generally bad policy, but concludes that SB2 should not be opposed because it wasn’t as bad as the national farm bill. And the real thing comes off even sillier than my little summary here. This is what happens when you are determined to write in defense of a bad decision, regardless of the evidence. Ouch.

And to make things worse, the Senate Site just proudly cross-posted this rhetorical question posing as an argument in favor of the omnibus bill. This is the justification they are going to make too? We’re “distasteful,” “not a model of clarity,” not any worse than Congress, “horse traders” and “political maneuverers,” and finally “not particularly appetizing, but not illegal.” Unreal.

I’m going to quote liberally from it, but here is another link to the whole editorial:

The text of the editorial is in italics. I will add my comments in parentheses.

Look to see if you can find any other arguments besides these two: the lawsuit should be disregarded because it is political rather than a true violation of law and this omnibus is not as bad as some others.

More than three dozen politicians and educators have joined a lawsuit against SB 2, a wide-ranging education funding bill. The plaintiffs say it violates Utah's Constitution. Article VI, Section 22 says (in part): "Except general appropriation bills and bills for the codification and general revision of laws, no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title."

It's true that legislative bodies can go too far with "catch-all" bills. The U.S. Congress is one of the worst offenders -- note the recent omnibus farm bill, which granted huge subsidies to millionaire farmers and also gave handouts to race horse owners. We'd say that's distasteful, but not unconstitutional.

(This is where my jaw started to crack open. The suit addresses the Utah State Constitution which has the language, “no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject,” and not the US Constitution. So their argument is since this dishonest, wasteful, “distasteful” tactic is not illegal for the national congress, that we should ignore that it is illegal under the Utah State Constitution?)

At the beginning of the session, almost all observers agreed that Utahns were demanding action on education. That's Job No. 1 for any legislative body: respond to the wishes of the voters. So it's hard to criticize lawmakers for trying to address education.

(Huh?! I don’t find it hard to criticize using “the voters wanted action” as a justification for lying or breaking the law. And the legislative leadership started surreptitiously tabling all-but-passed bills as early as Feb. 14 once they saw that some of their pet bills were being defeated. They in effect prevented education from being addressed in a timely manner by holding hostage bills that could have passed weeks earlier.)

Well, then, is SB 2's title, "Minimum School Program Budget Amendments," clear according to the state constitution? We'd say it's not exactly a model of clarity, but neither is it obfuscatory. Omnibus bills always have title troubles.

(Would that sentence meet the same standard of non-obfuscation? Omnibus bills always have title troubles? I mean, just a guess here, but I would wager that is because they are about more than one subject that cannot be clearly expressed in a single title. I think the unclear title violation is a black-and-white case. If they had named the bill, “Nine fairly or very well-supported bills we hijacked to pass two unpopular rightwing bills and another popular one Senator Dayton stopped in committee after unanimous House passage because of a UN conspiracy theory, but is now trying to save face after catching national flak because of her uninformed comments, then you might have a fairly clear title. But a clear title would then inherently violate the ‘not more than one subject’ requirement of the state constitution. Darn that transparency clause! Also, notice they never argue that omnibus bills are helpful or necessary as Valentine and Stephenson have. It is taken for granted that they are unethical, but it’s OK because that’s normal for legislative bodies.)

Is the bill about "one subject"? Defenders say yes -- education. The bill ranges from a major appropriation ($2.5 billion for the Uniform School Fund) to a host of lesser matters, including the powers of the State Charter School Board, various education programs, school transportation funding and more.

But all of them deal with education.

(By this argument, mandatory sentences for gun crimes, raises for high-performing judges, funds to laptops for state lawyers featuring a non-compete contract for expensive software from a group Cap Ferry lobbies for, a clarification of the division of funds between state and municipal courts, and a resolution to name the courthouse for Ronald Reagan could all be included in an omnibus entitled “Court Related Budget Amendments.” Could the legislators just step back and look at this from uninvested eyes and see how ridiculous their argument looks?)

Let's look more closely at the bill. Does it hide items in a huge package that no human being can reasonably read? No. The bill is not enormous. It runs a mere 40 pages printed out, which isn't haiku but isn't too bad as laws go.

(See the formula—it isn’t __________ [good example], but it’s not __________ [bad characteristic or example]. Unconvincing in general, but then using haiku to try and tell us a 40 page bill isn’t tough to read and understand is getting weird, especially when they omit that it was an empty bill until the last two days of the session and that the Senate only debated 5 of the 12 component bills in their rushed debate while the House managed one amendment on the last day of the session.)

Numerous news accounts about the bill have been published since it was cobbled together. Those reports seem fairly clear and complete; so Utahns had some notice about what was in it.
The bill was passed in the last few days of the Legislature, but last-minute bills are normal for all kinds of legislative bodies.
So, all in all, we don't see what all the fuss is about.

(Immerse yourself in the logic. Newspaper articles about the omnibus bill in the weeks and months since the session ended were fairly clear and complete (and we'll accept that at face value for the sake of argument), therefore two days was enough for Utahns and legislators alike to read, understand, and fully discuss the bill. It’s just common sense people! And notice once more the refrain: everyone is doing it (omnibussing) so why can’t we?)

It's a mundane political fact that when a wide range of measures are packaged together, a give-and-take process to secure votes follows. And it is easier to pass almost any measure in an omnibus bill than as a stand alone. No surprise here.

The plaintiffs are right about this, but they'll have to recast our entire political system to change it. Horse trading is a normal part of politics.

To this we can only say that sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- political maneuvers do lead to good policy.

(Everyone does it and sometimes it’s good!)

It's been said that this lawsuit is more political than legal, a charge disingenuously denied by the attorney for the plaintiffs. If you were to view a few dozen plumbers unclogging drains or installing hot water tanks, you'd have no hesitation in saying they were engaged in plumbing. Here, seeing a few dozen people trying to reverse an action of the legislature, we have no hesitation in saying they are engaged in politics.

Do they propose an alternative? Do they say the Legislature should have passed a separate law for each section of SB 2, so that each is about "one subject"? We figure the bill could be easily divided up into 170 clauses, which is a lot of laws. Surely the plaintiffs don't mean that.

Then what do they mean? How do they define "one subject?" So far, we haven't heard.

It's been said that one should never watch two things being made: sausage and laws. SB 2, like the federal farm bill, might not be particularly appetizing, but that doesn't make it illegal.

(So by the plumbing comparison, understand that it impossible to justly oppose anything the legislature does, even if it appears to you mortals that they blatantly violated the state constitution. They can’t be wrong; you’re just “grandstanding.”

And the 170 laws argument is just stupid. C’mon Tynen. (And Bramble--in which he argues that you will now have to review every bill passed, challenged or not, and especially—veiled threat—those that benefit the education community. Translation: Don’t cross us or we’ll take your funding away. Just ignore the constitution. Nothing to see here folks. Just keep moving.) No one has claimed the 12 (One source says 13) original bills violated the constitution on their own. Over half of those would have easily passed weeks before the end of the session if they hadn’t been yanked to hitch failed laptop and charter school funding to them.

And do they really want to make repeated comparisons between SB2 and the federal farm omnibus bill? It seems like that weakens their case considerably. Again, the case will be judged on what the Utah Constitution allows, not just the national one.)

There you have it folks. I’m not sure if uninvolved people are actually paying attention to the nuances of the bill, but please remember who is for this bill and who is against. The same people blatantly spinning this unconstitutional bill as legal are the same ones who snuck some extra wording into the amendment of the voucher funding last year, and then righteously and indignantly thumped their chests about following the law when the State School Board correctly delayed implementation by a few weeks until the Utah Supreme Court squashed the dirty attempt at circumventing the process. Seems like a pattern is developing. Will the same scenario have to be played out again?

A couple other interesting articles about the omnibus lawsuit with relevant quotes highlighted

I am adding these articles, and putting relevant text in bold underline as Curtis and Stephenson's stories change.
House speaker defends bundled education bill
Curtis calls threatened lawsuit an attack on legislative power
By Sheena McFarland
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/16/2008 09:04:38 PM MDT
Bundling bills
The Utah Constitution states "Except general appropriation bills
and bills for the codification and general revision of laws, no bill
shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be
clearly expressed in its title."
Posted: 8:57 PM- Usually lawmakers close the doors for candid,
emotional debates.
Today, it was just the opposite as House Speaker Greg Curtis
opened a closed-door Republican caucus to vent over a proposed lawsuit
against an education bill that combined a dozen initiatives -
including several that had been defeated - into a single measure.
Some education proponents are planning to challenge the bill's
constitutionality on grounds it violates a single-subject-per-bill
But an animated Curtis said such a lawsuit would be a direct
assault on the power of the legislative branch.
"There's an attack mentality that the Legislature did something
wrong. There's a threat of litigation that would have the courts
define our single-subject rule," Curtis said to a roomful of House
Republicans. "I have great concerns with that because it's a
significant diminishment of legislative power to have the courts
determine that."

He also said those who were pursuing the lawsuit were doing so for
"political purposes."
That brought Rep. Sheryl Allen to her feet to defend the
legitimacy of concerns some in the education community have with the
omnibus bill.
"I think a legislator or a group of legislators and certainly
members of the public have a real question of the constitutionality of
that bill," said the Bountiful Republican, who sharply disagreed with
Curtis' criticisms.
In a later interview, Kim Burningham, a state board of education
member, acknowledged he has been involved in discussions concerning
the litigation, which he said should be filed within the week.
"Whenever you lump a whole bunch of these things into one bill,
and then almost use bribery to get legislators to vote for the few
things they like in the bill even though they disagree with the rest,
it's not good decision making," Burningham, a former legislator, said.
He made it clear he was speaking only for himself and not the board.
But legislative leaders argue they did not coerce anyone to vote
for the bill.
Rep. Ron Bigelow, House budget chairman, said leaders brought up
the bill several times in caucus, provided staff to help draft
different versions of the bill and did not cut off debate about the
"There were no attempts by staff, leadership or bill sponsors to
put anything in the bill that you were unaware of," Bigelow said. "It
seemed to heighten the awareness and the focus on those issues."
Curtis said the omnibus bill honored the constitutional provision
because all of the provisions included were aimed at a single subject:
He claims opponents are playing politics. He points to the fact
that many criticize the inclusion of a charter-school provision in the
omnibus bill, but fail to mention funding for the International
Baccalaureate program "because they agree with the IB program getting
funding," Curtis said.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, said he hopes to avoid passing more omnibus bills in the future. He said legislators combined bills this year to simplify the process so they could pass them all, in a coordinated way, before the end of the session.
"If I had to do it over again and we had more time, I would avoid
it," Stephenson said. "To have every issue stand on its own in a
separate bill is a good idea."
-LISA SCHENCKER contributed to this report.
Education bill flunks constitution test, suit says
A group of legislators, educators wants to alter parts of the omnibus measure
By Lisa Schencker
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 05/29/2008 10:12:16 AM MDT

A group of 38 education leaders, legislators, former legislators and
state school board members say they will file a lawsuit today over an
omnibus education bill lawmakers passed earlier this year.
The group claims SB2, a bill that rolled more than a dozen
education bills into one, is unconstitutional. They want to keep state
agencies from implementing several parts of the bill, mostly those
that failed on the House floor or in committee before being brought
back to life as part of SB2.
"Concerned citizens cannot know how to direct their participation
when legislative proposals are falsely named or otherwise disguised
through omnibus 'Christmas Tree' bills and hydra-headed substitutions
in the last hours of a legislative session," the complaint says.
SB2 sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the complaint
is political posturing.
"I see this as nothing more than an attempt in an election year to
rally support for Democratic candidates and other non-conservative
candidates," Stephenson said.
The plaintiffs include Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful; Rep.
Rosalind McGee, D-Salt Lake City; Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City;
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City; Rep. Janice Fisher,
D-West Valley City; Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City; eight
former legislators; former State Superintendent Steven Laing; and six
Utah State Board of Education members, among others.
The complaint names as defendants Utah Attorney General Mark
Shurtleff, Utah Treasurer Edward Alter, and Jeff Herring, executive
director of the Utah Department of Human Resource Management.
Herring and Chief Deputy State Treasurer Richard Ellis said
Wednesday they will administer the law as they're directed to until
they're told otherwise.
"By statute we are required to defend all state laws," said Paul
Murphy, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.
The complaint says the omnibus bill violates Article VI, Section
22 of the Utah Constitution, which states, "Except general
appropriation bills and bills for the codification and general
revision of laws, no bill shall be passed containing more than one
subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title."
Stephenson said all the measures in SB2 were on a single subject:
education. Stephenson said if lawmakers passed laws the way the
plaintiffs claim they should, they'd have to consider and coordinate
thousands more bills.
"It would create absolute chaos," said Senate Majority Leader
Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.
The complaint also claims lawmakers held on to popular education
bills so they could later put them into an omnibus bill designed to
buoy less-popular bills.
"The process that we followed wasn't as respectful as it should
have been of public input and for the public to be able to understand
what was going on with that very complex bill that was shot out the
last three days," Allen said.
Bramble, however, said legislative rules require lawmakers to hold
on to most bills with fiscal notes until they have a budget.
Allen said she voted in favor of SB2 in March because she worried
schools wouldn't get all their education funding if lawmakers voted
down the entire bill. She said she now regrets that vote.
Fisher also voted in favor of SB2 in March. Other current
lawmakers listed as plaintiffs voted against SB2.
House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, and House Majority Leader
David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said in a statement they're disappointed
the matter will end up in litigation.
"We believe the courts have the right to review laws and strongly
support that fundamental check and balance. However, we are
disappointed that the plaintiffs have rejected our offer of
cooperatively working toward solutions and have chosen as their first choice litigation," they said in the statement.

Janet Jenson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said legislative
leaders never offered to ask for a special session to review certain
parts of SB2, which she said is the only solution other than
litigation at this point.
"We are happy to meet with them, and the filing of the complaint
doesn't in any way affect their ability to ask the governor for a
special session," Jenson said. "If they do that, we would be happy to
withdraw the lawsuit."
Chris Bleak, Curtis' chief of staff, said neither the plaintiffs
nor their lawyers have ever asked for a special session.

A group of legislators, ex-legislators and state education leaders
plan to file a lawsuit today over SB2, which they claim illegally
bundled separate education bills into one. The complaint seeks to keep
parts of SB2 from going forward. Among them:
* UPSTART, which would create a pilot, at-home, software education
program for preschool-age children. HB200, the orignal UPSTART bill,
failed on the House floor before being rolled into SB2.
* Extra state funding for International Baccalaureate (I.B.)
programs. HB266, the original I.B. funding bill, failed in a Senate
* Changes to charter school funding. The original bill, HB278,
failed on the House floor.
* Supplemental pay for qualified math and science teachers. The
original bill, SB35, died in a panel.

Plus another good one from the Deseret News:,5143,700229897,00.html

Various editorials on the omnibus bill lawsuit

1 editorial in defense of the omnibus:
Daily Herald -- June 1st

And 4 pointing out its unconstitutionality as well as dishonesty:
Standard Examiner -- June 1st

Salt Lake Tribune -- May 30th (Text below)

Deseret News -- April 19th,5143,695271784,00.html

Salt Lake Tribune -- April 18th (Text Below)
Forcing the issue: SB2 must not be allowed to set precedent
Tribune Editorial
Article Last Updated: 05/30/2008 11:39:15 PM MDT

Republican leaders of the Utah Legislature who sponsored and supported
the omnibus education bill, Senate Bill 2, no doubt would like the
legislation to set a precedent.
If the bill, which lumps 14 separate bills together - three that
were defeated either in committee or in the House or Senate - is not
challenged, this underhanded way of making unpopular bills into law
would become commonplace.
That's why a lawsuit brought by 38 current and former legislators,
educators and others is so vital. It rightly argues that the
legislation appears to violate the Utah Constitution, specifically
Article VI, Section 22, which states: "Except general appropriation
bills and bills for the codification and general revision of laws, no
bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be
clearly expressed in its title."
SB2, says its Senate sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper,
contains only one subject: education. While, in a broad sense, that is
true, its 14 separate components can hardly be described or "clearly
stated" in its title, "Minimum School Program Budget Amendments."
It is, more simply, a pig in a poke.
Neither taxpayers, voters, nor many legislators knew exactly what
SB2 contained when it was pushed to a vote in the last days of the
But Stephenson; House sponsor Rep. Brad Last, R-St.George; House
Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy; House Majority Leader David Clark,
R-Santa Clara; Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo; and
other legislative leaders certainly knew.
They knew that SB2 was the only way they could win passage for
certain bills they supported. They knew it because those bills had
already been defeated before SB2 was introduced. So they rolled those
repudiated measures into a complex omnibus bill containing basic
funding formulas for education and several popular bills.
And they know if they get away with it this time, they'll be
driving an omnibus express.
Curtis and Clark say they are disappointed that the plaintiffs
didn't sit down with them to talk over other options. But several
plaintiffs felt railroaded into voting for SB2, and have no reason to
believe that a meeting with the sponsors would result in disassembling
the bill in a special legislative session and voting on each part
That is the only reasonable solution, and only litigation can
bring it about.
Power and politics: Court should throw light on omnibus legislation
Tribune Editorial
Article Last Updated: 04/18/2008 09:25:08 PM MDT

Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis has good reason to worry that the
constitutionality of the omnibus education bill passed during this
winter's legislative session might be tested in court.
But it's not for the reason that Curtis claims.
His blustering that a lawsuit challenging the bill would be an
attack on the power of the Legislature is a red herring. More likely,
his concern is about keeping the shady origins of the bill secret.
Curtis, a lawyer, engaged in some fairly flimsy legal reasoning
last week for why Senate Bill 2 should not be reviewed by a judge. SB2
combined 12 pieces of legislation into one, including two bills that
had already been defeated by Curtis' House colleagues.
He told reporters that the courts do not have authority to
determine the constitutionality of laws. Curtis implied, instead, that
the legislative branch has power both to make laws and to determine
whether they fit into the legal framework outlined in the state and
federal constitutions.
Has he never heard of government's checks and balances, Article
III of the U.S. Constitution, the Marbury vs. Madison Supreme Court
decision of 1803? They all dictate that the legislative branch's job
is to pass laws, and the courts' duty is to decide their
And Utah's Constitution states " . . . no bill shall be passed
containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in
its title."
SB2 was created Feb. 2 as a "boxcar," a bill with a title but no
text. It languished as such until March 1, two days before the session
ended, after Republican leaders had laid the groundwork for it over
weeks of maneuvering.
Several bills ultimately included in SB2 had broad legislative
support. Some had already been passed by one or both houses; one
funding "high ability" student programs and another raising teacher
salaries had passed either House or Senate unanimously. Had they been
allowed to proceed to a vote of both houses, they undoubtedly would
have passed on their own. Instead, they were put on hold until they
could be inserted into SB2.
This ploy forced legislators who had supported these bills to vote
for the entire package, which also included two bills that had been
defeated - one to require school districts to help fund charter
schools and another to fund preschool home learning technology pushed
by the company that would provide the software. And the leadership
wanted those to pass.
SB2 also included formulas for funding the basic school program,
which had to be approved before the session ended.
All that manipulation shoots holes in the rationale given by
Curtis and other GOP leaders that putting a dozen separate bills
together was simply an efficient way to get them passed before the
session adjourned. Left to make their own way, each would have passed
or failed long before SB2 was created.
We don't know how the impending lawsuit will pan out, but Curtis
probably should leave the lawyering to others.

The Accountability blog outlines the coordinated politicization of the school board selection process and big PCE money poured into races

The Accountability blog posts about the voucher referendum last year inspired me to start blogging and try and make a difference too.

Now the blog has gone back and written an easy-to-understand timeline of how the State School board selction process has changed since 1992, and since 2002 become a joke where the governor just picks people to be on the ballot from a list of committee recommendations, including one case where they didn't choose the incumbent, effectively barring that school board member from running from re-election.

The author also went through the burdensome campaign contribution lists and found that PCE directly contributed over $30,000 dollars to two school board races, where spending $2000 or less is the norm, in 2006. Now we have a record slate of school board candidates as PCE has put candidates into the race in every district, sometimes multiple in the same district. What exactly are they trying to accomplish?

The posts aren't extremely long. Read them and keep an eye open. 2009 is not an election year, and all of those newly "safe" incumbents in the legislature will surely have great plans along with their newly compliant school board and treasurer.

May 18th

May 26th

May 28th

May 31st

EDIT: June 2nd School Board Election Process Fails Us! (Big Surprise)
Sara explains the results of the committee vote and how two incumbents, including the Board Chair, Richard Sadler, were eliminated in the committee process before voters even get a chance to retain them or not. Sara said this:
This is a person who not only won election from his constituents, but was also chosen by his peers to be the person most capable of chairing the Board. And he was ousted by businessmen who don't even live in his district!

Sara made a data chart showing how the business and education representatives voted. (I wish I could tip her. That's a lot of work!) The most relevant question/concern to me is the distinct voting blocks. In every district, there was a distinct block of business people and a separate block of educators voting for different candidates. (Sara called one education rep a "poser" who usually voted with the business rep's.) Why the stark divide? Is that because of attitudes toward one wedge issue like vouchers, or because of their backgrounds, or...something else? I would like to think that I could sit with some business owners and come to some agreements and consensus on quality people. I would love anyone who saw the meeting or previous meetings to comment. What was happening? What were the relevant concerns?

But do Utah voters actually care about education funding?

Or ethics reform? Why do we tolerate what we do? I just don’t get it.

I know the public in general cares about education funding. This comes from personal discussion and many, many polls like this one which show that the public, even Republicans by a 15% margin, prefers increased education funding even more than a tax cut. But does it affect how they vote?

Vouchers were soundly defeated in the general election, largely because of their damaging effects on public education funding. But that has not translated into victories for moderate Republican candidates who oppose vouchers (though I have some hope for Becky Edwards in Leg. District 20), and I am sincerely doubting it will lead to a huge influx of Democrats winning legislative races in November either. Even the Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who is running against Jean Hill, the lawyer who easily defeated him in the highly publicized legal showdown over the voucher referendum petition last summer, is completely destroying her in early polling. He’s even claiming to be a “defender” of education funding. Some rightwing posters have been crowing on message boards how this shows that the voucher debacle is forgiven and forgotten and the leftwing teachers trying to “infiltrate” the Republican party have been beaten.

And as for ethics reform, Pignanelli and Webb unfortunately appear to have it right:

Pignanelli: Voters are practical and decide what is important to them. No candidate has won or lost because of legal lobbyist gifts, campaign contributions or internal party machinations….

Webb: …Despite all the hand-wringing over ethics, coziness with lobbyists, gifts, playing rough with opponents and so forth, Utah has a pretty clean political industry compared to a lot of states. Does anyone have clear evidence of down-and-dirty graft, corruption and vote-selling?”

Webb’s justification of Utah not being as bad as the other states brings me no comfort and seems to me a pretty weasely justification. A friend and I noted that we can only remember Ferrin (passing charter school laws and then building them himself for lots of money—though it somehow hasn’t stuck to his partner, Rep. Morley) and Tilton (nuclear plant speculation and blatantly lying about his involvement at first) getting defeated in convention or primaries semi-recently, and those cases involved very blatant conflicts of interest beyond the normal lobbyist schmoozing, rules fixing, and arm twisting by senior legislators.

So we don’t care unless the legislator is practically writing the check to his business through legislation? Or we support the incumbents for increasing education funding during the years of enormous surpluses as the legislative leadership contends? (see my 5-31 post) We support silly justifications of defeated legislation passed via omnibus bills holding hostage more popular legislation?

What about the voucher referendum inspired the public to come out so firmly against the legislature? And even though I believe less than half of eligible voters actually voted last November, will the passion over that issue ever be duplicated?

I really am looking for opinions here—is the continued support for incumbents support for their records, firm party loyalty (blind or otherwise), apathy, ignorance…? Does the average Utahn even know what the omnibus bill is? And that’s after the recent lawsuit and spurt of editorials…