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INSIDE STORY - A few odd characters give Legislature a bad image
by Rolf Koecher
Feb 06, 2006 | 474 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
We occasionally have some internal debates about the value of the Utah Legislature's meeting habits. Some on my staff believe that meeting for just a few weeks in January and February is simply too fast to get everything done or to properly iron the kinks out of key legislation. I tend to agree with them that hurried efforts sometimes lead to leaving major holes that have to be fixed during the following legislative session. I also, however, breathe a sigh of relief that it's finally over and we're safe once again. During the nearly 17 years we lived in Texas, the legislature there met only every two years, although for a longer time period. In a sense, it was the best of both worlds: more time to get laws passed carefully, plus a two-year time period when the state could rest from legislative changes. In a sense, there was a feeling of peace and a two year truce.

I especially noticed this when I worked in the Texas higher education system. Rules that governed us seemed to change slightly with every legislative session, but then again, we always had a two-year planning horizon -- meaning that we didn't have to worry that our plans would be changed right about the time we began to implement them.

I'm not advocating that the Utah Legislature meet every two years, but I am tempted. It seems that -- by and large -- the Utah Legislature ends up passing some fairly decent laws, but not without scaring the daylights out of the public due to bills proposed by those with extreme viewpoints.

The trouble isn't with the vast majority of level-headed legislators such Sheryl Allen and Ann Hardy here in South Davis. It's the handful of mavericks who each year seem to have a penchant for pushing their own agendas (or that of lobbyists) rather than serving their constituents. So much of the Legislature's time is spent debating these often silly bills that often more productive measures get short shrift.

We are following a few of these -- some advocated by Davis County legislators other than those I've cited -- and will discuss them more fully on Thursday.

Meanwhile, I'd like to share the results of the latest Clipper Web site poll, which asks the public to rate the Legislature's performance so far.

I gave respondents seven choices, with the ones most favorable to the Legislature listed first to avoid a negative bias. The result astounded me, and underscored that many in the public have qualms about the Legislature when it's in session. Its findings should serve as a reality check to the members of the Legislature:

"Which answer most closely matches your opinion of the Utah Legislature so far?"

3% They're doing great

3% They doing adequately

14% They're pretty mediocre

10% They're doing quite poorly

6% Generally OK, but a few

strange items are going on

13% Pretty nutty stuff, overall

51% It's a looney bin in there

I was astounded at the results. Only 6 percent feel the Legislature is doing adequately or better.

And a whopping 51 percent consider it a looney bin, the number one answer. Adding in another 13 who think there's nutty stuff going on we get 64 percent -- nearly two-thirds -- who question the Legislature's sanity.

When we add in another 10 percent who simply think the Legislature is doing poorly, we find 74 percent, or nearly three-fourths, disapprove of the job being done. That ought to serve as a wake-up call or at least prompt thoughts about better public relations.

While online polls are unscientific, the sheer magnitude of the results should be cause for alarm....and a realization that the public seems to be far from supportive.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that people want the Legislature to forget extremist or oddball ideas and to represent the mainstream aspirations of most Utahns. And I, for one, cannot fault them for seeking a road of common sense and sanity.
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