Monday, March 2, 2009

Legislature 3-2-09 on HB 312: "Of course diverting an ethics reform bill to an unrelated committee in order to kill it is ethical. Trust us."

The Senate Education Committee is apparently the ideological right-guard of the Senate; a non-education bill is being re-routed inappropriately to this committee to die. Things like this just fill me with confidence that the Senate Education Committee is making well-reasoned, non-ideological decisions to improve education.

After passing the House on a 55-15 vote despite any lingering bad feelings towards sponsor, Rep. Sheryl Allen, from Republican legislators upset over her involvement in the ethics charges against Rep. Greg Hughes, HB 312 has taken a curious turn.

The Senate Rules Committee and its House counterpart evaluate bills and send them to the appropriate Standing Committees to be debated. (Revealing my ignorance here…I have no idea WHEN the rules committees make their decisions. They have no meetings listed and the calendar is full of other things. It’s just one of those mysteries I guess.) A look at the list of ethics reform legislation (which is just unnecessary appeasement of the gullible public whipped up by the sensationalistic media says House majority leader, Kevin Garn) shows that the vast majority of the bills are stuck in committee, generally Rules or the House Ethics Committee. The Senate has allowed only two of six Senate-initiated ethics bills out of Rules Committee so far, SB 156 and SB 162. They Rules Committee sensibly sent both bills to the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee, which then sent both bills to the Senate floor and eventual passage in the Senate. They were sent to the House and assigned to the House Ethics Committee.

Now three House ethics bills have passed a House vote, two after also passing through the House Ethics Committee, and arrived to be debated in the Senate. HB 345 and HB 346, compromise ethics bills from Rep. Brad Dee with many loopholes that nonetheless represent a step forward, arrived in the Senate and were assigned to Rules on Feb. 25th. They have not yet been assigned to a Standing Committee.

Rep. Allen’s HB 312, Amended Campaign Finance Filings, arrived in the Senate the day after on Feb. 26th. It passed via the House Government Operations Committee. (HB 312 is a no-duh, common sense change that requires legislators and lobbyists to submit an explanation when they amend their financial reports after filing them. Changes in reports happen as a matter of course—all for totally understandable administrative mistakes according to legislators—but this bill would help limit possible abuse of amendments to conceal donations or expenditures until after the election. It costs nothing and adds a reasonable safeguard.)

The next day, HB 312 was immediately assigned to the obvious choice…The Senate Education Committee?! Hmmm. Let’s see. The Senate Rules Committee composed of:

Sen. Margaret Dayton, Chair
Sen. D. Chris Buttars, Vice Chair
Sen. Curtis S. Bramble
Sen. Gene Davis
Sen. Peter C. Knudson
Sen. Mark B. Madsen
Sen. Scott D. McCoy

…saw that the appropriate and logical destination for HB 312, the relatively moderate (by Senate standards) Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee, composed of:

Sen. Peter C. Knudson, Chair
Sen. Gregory S. Bell
Sen. Jon J. Greiner
Sen. Scott K. Jenkins
Sen. Daniel R. Liljenquist
Sen. Scott D. McCoy
Sen. Luz Robles

…had already passed the other two ethics bills and stood a very good chance of passing this common-sense bill as well. They therefore skipped the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee and shipped HB 312 to the Senate Education Committee, composed of:

Sen. Curtis S. Bramble, Chair
Sen. Margaret Dayton
Sen. Brent H. Goodfellow
Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard
Sen. Scott K. Jenkins
Sen. Karen W. Morgan
Sen. Howard A. Stephenson

Do the members look familiar? Sen. Dayton sent the bill to her own committee where ethics reform stalwarts such as herself, Sen. Bramble (also, on Rules Committee), and Sen. Stephenson can proceed to vote down the bill. I can think of no other explanation for such obvious, purposeful, and expedited routing of a campaign finance bill to the inappropriate committee while other ethics bills with high-profile support languish in Rules. But remember, it’s all the media’s fault anyone thinks there are ethics problems in the legislature.

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