Saturday, February 09, 2008

More Info on Rep. Hansen's Controversial HJR-15

A few things Hansen critics neglected to mention

By Curmudgeon

The Salt Lake Tribune this morning has more information on Hansen's proposed legislation to couple fixed annual legislative salaries with a gift ban, including some important elements of his plan strangely not mentioned by those disparaging his proposal on WCF. From the Trib article:

One Utah lawmaker suggests banning all lobbyist gifts on one condition - that senators and representatives receive an annual salary rather than the current pay per day in session. At present, Utah's legislators get paid $130 per day in session or interim meetings plus an allowance of $54 for meals, $94 to $107 for hotel (depending on time of year) and 48.5 cents per mile.

Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, presented HJR15 to the Constitutional Revision Commission Friday, saying he got the idea from a newspaper editorial urging a gift ban and pay raise. Hansen's joint resolution also would require that, if approved by two-thirds majority in the Legislature, the question be put to voters this November, when the presidential election would draw a large turnout.
Still not sure the idea is a good one, but kudos to Rep. Hansen for proposing that the annual salary provision go before the voters as a referendum. A proposal to shift to full time legislators should go before the people first. [Compare, for example, the Republican majority in the last session ramming through a school voucher bill that the public did not want, and forcing voters to mount a difficult and expensive petition campaign simply to get the right to vote on the matter. Which when the public got enough signatures to put the voucher plan on a referendum ballot over the annoyed opposition of the legislature, they voted down resoundingly.]

Why does it not surprise me that it's a Democratic member of the Utah legislature who wants the people to decide, in the end, if the basis for legislators' pay should change or not?

I have to disagree with Hansen on this though: his tying an annual legislative salary to a ban on lobbyists' gifts. I understand the tactical advantage of doing that -- it increases the odds of a gift ban passing significantly. But they really are, or ought to be, separate issues. The legislature ought to pass a gift ban straight up, now, with no strings attached. And it should send Hansen's plan to the voters for their decision, straight up as a stand alone referendum. Each proposal should be considered on its merits, independent of the other.

Comments, anyone?

15 comments:

RudiZink said...

Hansen's resolution is mentioned in a Std-Ex article this morning under the headline: "Two constitutional amendments rejected," which I don't think accurately characterises the resolution's status.

As set forth in the text beneath the headline:

"The Constitutional Revision Commission recommended rejections of the two separate proposals sponsored by... Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden.

The commission makes recommendations to the Legislature about the resolutions but does not have a final say. [...]

Hansen wanted to look at a different way to pay legislators.

He is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 15, which would have allowed legislators to receive an annual salary and forbid them from receiving any gifts from lobbyists.

The commission did not approve the resolution."


Reading this text together, it would appear that Hansen's resolution remains alive in the legislature, despite the Std-Ex's misleading headline.

Having made that clarification, I'll add that I believe it's a mistake to tie together these two issues, and wonder whether ANYONE in the legislature has the guts to propose a free-standing gift ban resolution.

As to the concept of a full-time legislature, the idea gives me cold chills. Our legislature causes more than enough mischief in its short 45-day session, I believe. Imagine folks like Chris Buttars making lawmaking a full-time job.

Yikes!

J. Spencer said...

"I understand the tactical advantage of doing that -- it increases the odds of a gift ban passing significantly."

I'm not sure I agree with that premise.

It seems to me that the patching of these two measures would decrease the appeal of Hansen's measure for Utah voters. I think a gift ban would have great appeal to the average voter, but I agree with Rudi that the prospect of a full time legislature would kill the deal at the polls.

Bill C. said...

You're nuts if you think these guys would let the voters decide on a stond alone gift ban. How long has it been discussed all ready? How many times has it been tweaked?

ozboy said...

Bill

Legislator ethics discussions, and the legislator's inaction on same, has come up every year for at least the last twenty years that I have been following the annual clown convention known as the Utah State Legislature.

I rather suppose that it goes even further back than that, perhaps to the very beginning. Graft and self dealing with politicians is certainly not a new phenomenon.

I am with Rudi on these blood suckers meeting one second more than the 45 days the State Constitution mandates. In fact, I would recommend that the annual session be cut to ten days, that they be limited to 10 bills, and that for every law they pass they have to rescind one.

We already have way way too many damn laws.

UtahTeacher said...

I am for a gift ban and term limits. I agree with Ethan that this amounts to paying them to stop taking kickbacks. It seems like linking this to a salary and full-time legislature is a way to try and make it look like the voters rejected a gift ban. According to the senators who spoke at a meeting I attended last month, "the voters should be offended" that the media would suggest they are influenced by gifts and campaign donations.

Curmudgeon said...

J. Spencer:

I should have been more clear. Combining the two as a package deal increases, I think, the probability of the legislators approving the package, and sending the pay proposal to the voters. Whether it would improve the chances of the voters okaying it is, as you pointed out, a very different matter.

Curmudgeon said...

Rudi:

As Oz noted, gift ban bills have been submitted every session for the past few years... and solidly supported by the Democratic minority. And all have been voted down by huge thumping majorities on the Republican side.

The gift ban... an annual Democratic proposal in the Utah legislature... Olsen on fiscal responsibility in contrast to pork-meister Rob Bishop [R-Utah].... time to say again, Rudi, that you're in the wrong party.

Curmudgeon said...

Rudi, J Spence and Oz:

I haven't read Hansen's bill, but when proposals like these are made, they do not so far as I know involve the legislature being in session all year long. What they propose is that being a good legislator is a year round job and requires a year-round salary. Not that the House or Senate would meet continually.

Consider, for example, the huge crush of bills that jams up the legislative session every single time in the final days. And the bills that are never gotten too at all because time runs out. [Very often because the legislators waste precious time debating Sen. Buttars or Mr. Christiansen's latest "feel good" message bills.] But suppose the committee work on those bills, or much of it, could be done well in advance of the legislative session. Presumably, the annual crush in which sometimes good bills, and important ones, die without ever being voted on could be avoided.

Legislators spending their work day on hearings, constituent service, research, etc. could [arguably] produce much better legislation when the legislature does come into session. [I said arguably; I have as I said not thought this through yet.]

Nobody, but nobody I know, is proposing or has ever proposed that a state legislature meet in continual year round session. The point of the reform Hansen proposes [if it is a reform and not just a change] would be to produce better laws, drafted with more care, researched with more thoroughness, debated more seriously. It would not be to produce more laws. Just better ones.

oink oink said...

I am concerned about the gifts and perks to legislators, but I am more concerned about huge campaign contributions to politicians. Look no further than our own Mayoral race, where Godfrey was lavished with huge amounts of cash from hopeful pigs waiting at the trough.

Minor Machman said...

I agree with Curmudgeon and Oink. But first let me try to straighten out what the Constitutional Review Commission said. They told Rep. Hansen the Constitution does not dictate current compensation practices. In fact the State Constitution actually refers to "salaries" and it also anticipated yearly wages for full time legislators. And I think it was for all the reasons Curmudgeon and Rep. Hansen also anecdotally pointed out. So Hansen need only get enough legislative support to face down the Legislative Compensation Committee. He certainly was not turned down nor in any way rejected as seems to have been mistakenly reported. Annual salaries are a statute controlled issue and not one controlled by the State Constitution. Rep. Hansen was given the run around by legislative staff who misinformed him.

Now, "Oink" points out my first concern. And Rudi is spot-on also. There are actually at least four issues here and each should (in my own opinion) stand alone without gaming any systems by tying them together or obfuscating any of them.

Legislators should have to let us constituents know, in other words, precisely where they stand "as individuals" on each issue; (1) Are you for a yearly salary? Y/N (2) For gift receiving of anything of value? Y/N (3) Are you for campaign contributions other than from major party PACs or individual donations of say $100(or some low set number)? Y/N

Those who identify themselves by voting "Y" should face the wrath of the electorate in November. And the pounding by the news and media, followthemoney.org, etc. should continue until they are "drummed out of office".

Then there is the fourth COI issue. It is an issue driven partially by part time legislators. Whatever they do for "their day job" is a near automatic incentive for placement, ironically, on this committee or that committee. They are considered "interested" and informed on say School Districts, Real Estate, Tax law, etc. This is simply wrong headed and also needs significant revision. We end up with 20 to 40% self interest BS legislation when we should have public interest legislation. Put a butcher on the candlestick maker committee, a baker on the school district committee. They must learn and always consider Joe Six Pack and Susan Q. Public first and foremost. Instead we get what we are getting...corruption, graft, self interest and hence public disdain and broken confidence.

And as a bonus I see yet another (a fifth) issue. There are standing Commissions which have members so stagnant in their thinking it is virtually impossible to get past them with any new, updated, or creative solutions or more efficient methods. These Commissions need to have their "water changed" or their "Depends" changed more often too. Change for change sake is ridiculous, before anyone attacks me on this point, but change to enable new thought processes and solutions are usually a good thing.

But, back to gifts and campaign contributions. In other words BOTH gifts AND thinly veiled influence buying/selling (campaign contributions), under any other name, is only for the ethically challenged. And ethically challenged people must be replaced if we are ever to regain any vestige of confidence in our legislature. So many there now have totally destroyed public trust and confidence, few of us are willing stand for office and thus appear to "lay down with the dogs" for fear of being accused of complicity. MM

Curmudgeon said...

MM:

Two points. (a) Your last paragraph seems to me to offer an argument for annual salaries for legislators, for turning the job into a full time one, rather than a part time one. Presumably, more [and better?] people would be willing to stand for office if it was a full time job, with full time pay. And presumably, some of the most easily influenced part-timers, who feather their own nests in office, would not be willing to run, because it would mean giving up their main jobs [and main source of income]. That in fact is one of the arguments for going to Hansen's system.

(b) You've put your finger on the real problem, by implication at least: no system, no reform, no rearrangement will work if the voters do not send to office better legislators [however they are compensated]. And I see no reason to believe that voters will vote more intelligently if they are electing full time legislators than they do when electing part timers. [Though the "it will draw better candidates and fewer of the self-servers" argument still stands.]

Thanks for the explanation of the constitutional commission's action.

Minor Machman said...

Yes. I am for full time legislators who are in session only for the amount of time necessary to formally pour over significant and important proposed legislation. Much of the year is spent during the "Interim" doing research, studying issues and at "Interim Committee Meetings" making sure only important and significant legislation bubbles to the top.
And yes, I do think electing full time legislators will cull the crop of candidates to those who are retired, with no dog in particular hunt, and dedicated to Joe Six Pack and Susan Q. Public first.
And yes, I believe it will have the intended nuances of eliminating self-serving, conflicted, under the table gathering, trash we seem to have accumulated.
And yes, I also think a yearly salary without gifts (zero gifts) or campaign contributions (other than specified) or "special compensations" with tax exemptions will draw more honest and credible and a higher quality of candidate.
And yes, I believe by making it a felony offense to offer or accept campaign contributions (other than legally bounded) will drive the best and most honest consultants into the capitol leaving the trash looking for other work.

We are a constitutionally limited republic based upon democratic principles. Our current crop of Rinos have been reared to think in terms of "We are a Republic, and therefore I am elected to do what I think is best for us (and that means me). The end justifies the means."

I want what I think is best for Joe Sixpack and Susan Q. Public, my own interests are simple and without need of wealth accumulation. And I believe I am not alone. I think there are many on a Colberg scale 8 or 9 level (altruistically motivated and truly selflessly public service minded) out there who would make excellent legislators.

But they must have hope they will not be marginalized by the 85% currently in the legislature. Sixty (60) percent is claimed statewide as LDS, but fully half of that percentage are "fifth ward" members leaving 70% "others". It is time, I believe, that the 70% step forward at the polls and the prevailing corrupt majority, whatever their underwear pecularities, be shown the door.

Now that I believe is a straight talk answer. Whether or not it can be accomplished depends on all of us come November, including Joe Sixpack and Susan Q. Public. And whether enough Thoreau's "men of conscience", integrity and honor will step forward to serve.

"A faint heart never kissed a billygoat." MM

Curmudgeon said...

Just found this article in Sunday's Deseret News which bears directly on the topic discussed above. Here are the opening graphs:

One of every four bills introduced in the current Legislature creates an apparent conflict of interest for sponsors, a Deseret Morning News review shows.

That is not too surprising since Utah's 104 lawmakers work only part time in the Legislature, but full time as lawyers, teachers, dentists, Realtors, developers and at other jobs. Many push bills in areas of their expertise — considered one of the pluses of a citizen lawmaking body. While that can take advantage of their knowledge, it can also make them power brokers and leaders in arcane areas of the law, or help their professions.

Minor Machman said...

Like I said. Part time legislators are not good for anyone but the other part of their time.

We must elect replacements who have the fortitude and tenacity and presistence to make reforms. And it will take several years and a broad effort on many of our parts.

Please join with me. For our grandchildren's sake.

MM

RudiZink said...

Yes Curm:

Ozboy mentioned that story in the comments to today's first article, and added a few pithy remarks of his own, including a query to you:

ozboy said...

Once again the DNews puts its finger on a major problem with the annual clown Fest - AKA Utah State Legislature.

This time the DNews points out that 26% of the "substantive" bills introduced this year pose conflict of interests for their sponsors.

I found of particular interest the following from that article:

"Of 799 substantive bills introduced this session, 210 created apparent conflicts of interest for the sponsors"

The immediate question that I had was: There were about 1200 bills introduced, does this mean that 400 of them were not "substantive"? (ie - most of the nonsense morons like Chris Butters puts forth). Does this mean that if you add the 210 bills that have conflicts to the 400 that are not "substantive" you will have 600 of the 1200 bills that our Legislative clowns submitted are flawed? Is fully half of what these Bozo's do BS?

Please Curmudgeon, tell us it ain't so!

Read the article here: Bozos convene

February 10, 2008 1:58 PM


Aside to MM: Great to have you posting here on WCF today! Your comments are appreciated.

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