Home > Issues & Alerts > Legislative Alerts > 1998 State Legislature









Our Site Only
Entire Web


Site Index




1998 State Legislature


February 9, 1998


Eye on the 1998 State Legislature

By Daniel B. Newby

As the 1998 session of the Utah State Legislature advances, two legislative trends are emerging—one toward limiting the size and power of government and a stronger one toward expanding government. A few significant examples of these trends are presented below (bills cited are as originally filed, but may be amended through the legislative process).

Several bills target accountability for government activity and impact. Sections of House Bill 97, for instance, have the potential to return a sense of accountability to Utah's public servants and agencies for their actions. This bill would waive the immunity government entities and employees currently enjoy from suit for perjury, intentional false statements, or making a "false statement with reckless disregard as to its truthfulness." Successful plaintiffs could receive damages and attorney fees from the agency and/or employee responsible. If perjury or a false statement were proven, the court would be required to force the governmental entity to take disciplinary action against the employee.

Another strong measure would be taken through Senate Bill 88, which would take a significant step toward understanding the devastating impact of government regulation on the business community. This bill would require rule-making agencies to consider the fiscal impact a rule may have on businesses. Perhaps this consideration, especially if provided to the public, would halt some of the regulation that tends to cripple segments of Utah's economy.

Unfortunately, most of the noteworthy legislation tends to favor government expansion. In the name of "fulfilling statewide public purposes," there are numerous proposals to fund special interest projects, including:

  • $6 million to the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund (House Bill 209);

  • $2 million to construct the Davis County Conference and Community Center (House Bill 28);

  • $1.5 million to the Species Protection Account (House Bill 199);

  • $350,000 to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum, for construction and preservation projects, including the Carriage House addition (House Bill 87);

  • $150,000 for the Roy City Museum (House Bill 294).

While charitable projects are noble and good, forced charity is not. Money for the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund, for instance, is a form of forced charity, used to "preserve, rehabilitate, build, restore, or renew housing." Nevertheless, this bill has already passed the House with unanimous approval (65-0).

Even more disturbing than the $1.5 million price tag for House Bill 199, this bill attempts to allocate money beyond the '98-99 fiscal year: "Effective July 1, 1998, through June 30, 2004, $1.5 million each year shall be transferred to the Species Protection Account," (italics added). Proponents of this type of language argue that this expenditure could be stopped each year by specifically voting against this allocation. Unfortunately, this dangerous wording brings Utah one step closer to the day when the legislature approves budgets far beyond the constitutional limits of the upcoming fiscal year.

House Bill 200 would advance another type of special interest project by increasing from $1 to $2 the amount of income tax a taxpayer may designate to be paid to the Election Campaign Fund. The practice of funding political parties at the expense of the state budget, not to mention the cost of collecting this special interest political revenue, opens an interesting can of worms. Is it a legitimate role of government to fund political organizations, especially when these organizations use this money to lobby and control the government? Political party leadership, which fought several hard battles to remove state control and influence in party affairs, should be adamantly opposed to this measure on principle.

House Bill 210 would extend state power by forcing local governments to annually review and report on their plans for moderate income housing, and would appropriate $280,000 to the Department of Community and Economic Development for assisting local governments with those plans. While this mandate would not be completely unfunded, it represents another significant incursion of state power over local governments.

Some of the most frightening language to date is found in House Bill 197, which specifies that there shall be "no jury in the trial of any class B or class C misdemeanor or infraction charged under Title 41, Motor Vehicles, or under other traffic offense, including local ordinances." This bill would continue a long series of attempts to eliminate a defendant's right to a jury of his peers. Fortunately, this bill appears to have been halted in committee.

Finally, the legislature has established a practice of passing bills that have never gone to committee for review and consideration, never received any type of public hearing, and have never been made available to all members of the legislature. If this practice is continued, the rules will be suspended in the final hours of the session in order to vote on several unknown bills. Only rumor and hearsay can predict what these secret bills might contain, or what their impact on Utah might be.

Legislators have numerous opportunities to either control the size and scope of government or continue on a march toward less freedom. Citizens can only hope that legislators will seek out and apply the principles of good government, which rely on individual initiative, personal responsibility, the free market, and a belief that people and local governments are best equipped to handle their own needs and problems. These principles can only be enforced by self-restraint and the realization that each new law sets serious precedents for the future.

# # # # #

Daniel B. Newby wrote this article while employed as Director of Operations & Development for the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy research institute.

Permission to reprint this article in whole or in part is granted provided credit is given to the author and to the Sutherland Institute.

Disclaimer: Newby left the Sutherland Institute on January 28, 2003, and has conducted all his efforts since that time as a private citizen.  The Sutherland Institute has officially and publicly disavowed and distanced itself from Newby's political views, tone, and activities.  As a courtesy to the Sutherland Institute, we have posted their e-mail on the matter.


If you have comments or suggestions, please email us at info@accountabilityutah.org.


Home | Issues & Alerts | Mission | AU Team | Reports | Citizen Library | Other Resources

Address: P.O. Box 141, West Jordan, Utah 84084
info@accountabilityutah.org  |  Website: www.accountabilityutah.org

Copyright © 2003 Accountability Utah