Thursday, March 05, 2009

2009 Utah Legislative Ethics & Liquor Law Update

Progress is being made, however slight

As our Utah legislature moves within five days of the end of its 2009 General Legislative Session, we'll devote a little electronic ink to a couple of areas of legislation which have been favorite topics of discussion here at Weber County Forum. Contrary to the skeptical predictions of at least one of our gentle readers, the 2009 legislature has so far made at least made some slight progress in the area of legislative ethics reform. Yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune story provides the gist:
House members approved two Senate ethics bills Wednesday, with some saying they fell short and others praising their passage as a landmark for Utah's Legislature. SB156, sponsored by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, requires disclosure of gifts over $10 and meals of more than $25, with the exception of events in which an entire caucus, task force, committee or legislative body is invited to dine.
"This is a good disclosure bill," said Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City. "However, I don't think we're going far enough in terms of what the public wants" -- namely a gift ban. Litvack said he hoped for further progress in the future.
There's no doubt in our minds at all that Rep. Litvack has it right. Utahns don't like the idea of having their legislators mooching free meals and gifts from lobbyists. Most of the state legislature still obviously doesn't "get it." Mere disclosure is not enough. In our belief, the legislature should have enacted an across the board gift ban, such as has been regularly advocated here on Weber County Forum: "I will accept no gifts from any lobbyists for any reason. Not so much as a cup of coffee." Maybe Utah voters will have better luck in the 2010 session, we hope.

More from yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune story:
In addition, the House unanimously passed SB162, which defines how candidates can spend residual campaign funds when they leave office. SB162, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, prohibits personal use of the money. If state officeholders retire and intend to use those dollars to run for federal office, they first must declare the money as personal income, pay taxes on it and move it to the federal campaign account.
Whether either of these above bills constitute "meaningful" ethics reform is in the in the eye of the beholder, we guess. At the very least however, we believe it's fair to label these bills "baby steps".

And there also seems to be some genuine progress on the wacky Utah liquor law front. This morning's Salt Lake Tribune story reports that an informal blue ribbon panel composed of "stakeholders" (including lobbyists from the LDS "mother church,") is on the verge of reaching a compromise which would make private clubs and Zion's curtains quaint relics of Utah's "peculiar past":
Utah could see its most sweeping liquor reform in years, including doing away with private clubs and dismantling the so-called Zion Curtain under a deal that is on the verge of approval by negotiators.
"It's not my favorite solution at this point," said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, among the most strident anti-alcohol senators. But it is one that he expects he will be able to live with.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who was one of the negotiators, said a deal is close.
"I'm hoping tomorrow we can have it nailed down," he said Wednesday evening.
Representatives of the House, the Senate, bar owners, restaurants, the governor's office and the LDS Church hammered out the framework during intense closed-door negotiations this week.
Like most compromise bills, the current liquor law makeover has reportedly involved plenty of horse trading. Our Utah legislative teetotallers naturally want some trade-offs:
"The thing I'm hearing most from my constituents is they don't want us to look quirky and they want harsh punishment for DUI," Waddoups said.
In this connection, we'll shamelessly insert a comment gleaned from this morning's SLTrib article comments section:
Dear Senator Waddoups. The best way to not appear quirky is to just stop being so god damned quirky!!!
With respect to the liquor issue, we're still wondering why this whole matter is being made to appear to be so danged complicated. Why not simply pass a law making it illegal for anyone under 21 to drink, and for anyone to drive whilst drunk, we ask? It goes far beyond the meager mind of the lumpen blogmeister, we suppose.

The floor is yours, O Gentle Ones. The blogosphere awaits your own ever-quirky comments, as per usual.

14 comments:

Bill C. said...

I'm with you Rudi. There are all ready laws in place for DUI, public intox, selling to minors and underage drinking. These should not be of concern in the discussion of fixing are illogical liquor laws. It's only complicated because they want it to be.

OgdenLover said...

As I've said before, it's like putting cats in charge of dog food.

Because they live alcohol-free lives, Mormons seem to believe that one glass of wine with dinner or a beer or two will turn normal people into depraved barbarians.

Curmudgeon said...

OL:

You are clearly ignorant of the extensive research that shows, conclusively, that a teenager in a restaurant seeing brightly colored bottles of maraschino cherries on a counter top many yards away will inevitably slide down the slippery slope to degradation, depravity, sin, fornication, hub-cap stealing and voting Democratic.

There are none so blind as those who will not see!

Holier Than Thou said...

Self righteousness is not quirky.

Moroni McConkie said...

Rudi writes: "Utahns don't like the idea of having their legislators mooching free meals and gifts from lobbyists. Most of the state legislature still obviously doesn't 'get it.'"

I'm not sure. I think they do get it: viz., as long as the prophet tells Utahns to keep voting the bastards back into office, they cannot lose.

Machster said...

Gees...Don't these LDS legislators understand? You are not drunk so long as you can hold on to a blade of grass and not fall off the edge of the earth.

Cavendish said...

"An Irish queer; a fellow who prefers women to drink." Sean O'Faolain

W. C. Fields said...

We frequently hear of people dying from too much drinking. That this happens is a matter of record. But the blame almost always is placed on whisky. Why this should be I never could understand. You can die from drinking too much of anything - coffee, water, milk, soft drinks and all such stuff as that. And so long as the presence of death lurks with anyone who goes through the simple act of swallowing, I will make mine whisky.

Machster said...

Ethics reforms. Yeah right! Baby steps...maybe an overstatement.

Where's the beef?

What about an independent ethics commission with subpoena powers and legal assistance/council? The trouble with the majority of the Legislators seems to be they have no clue about what ethical and moral behavior actually is. The concept of a conflict of interest almost always totally escapes them.

They need precedents set by rulings from politically independent and honest people to define what most of us from other worlds/cultures already know.

For example, as any career military officer knows, no gifts of any kind are acceptable. And a violation can land you in Levenworth Military prison. As any contractor for the US Government knows, any gift offered to any Govt. representative whether military or civilian is illegal and unethical - punishable by heavy fines and prison time.
It is called bribery and is a felony.

In other words, to be fair...the utah legislators are simply ignorant in matters pertaining to ethical behavior and nationally recognized consequences.

They otherwise seem to be reasonably intelligent and try to do what is right generally for the public. Except for the near constant feeble minded attempts at legislating their own particular brand of LDS morality...which is more an annoyance than any thing else.
But hey...without those whack-o's to laugh at, Utah would be a VERY boring place - just not very interesting.

ozboy said...

Mr. Machster

You wrote:

"The trouble with the majority of the Legislators seems to be they have no clue about what ethical and moral behavior actually is."

I must draw the line at this and say you are wrong sir. Flat out wrong as a matter of factual present day ziontribe reality.

To paraphrase two of the greatest of all great Americans, one- the original Tricky Dick and the other the Lil Lord of Land of Oz fame:

"if it isn't against the law then it is ethical" Lil Lord

and "it ain't illegal if the President, (Mayor and Utah Legislature) do it" Tricky Dick.

Wm M said...

Do not allow children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth.
-Steve Allen

Bill C. said...

Wm M, last nights news was how the hold up on this liquor thing was regarding how far away from the bar to allow children.(Zion Curtin)
I wonder if a bill shouldn't be introduced to control the exposure of children to fundamentalist Mormons that practice polygamy? Their rationale seems to be that seeing something greatly increases the likelyhood of participation, instantly. Are they affraid that the bartender may serve one?

City worker said...

I read in the D news that Rep. Neil Hansen is the only honest politician on capitol hill.
Here is the article.


Gotta admire odd one in 72-1
By Lee Benson
Deseret News
Published: March 4, 2009
I don't know Neil Hansen, but I've got a feeling we'd get along.
Hansen is a legislator from Ogden, and yesterday when members of the Utah House of Representatives voted 72-1 in favor of giving themselves a 10 percent pay cut, he was the 1.
At last, an honest politician.
Of 73 people voting, Hansen is the only one who, when asked, "Are you in favor of reducing your salary?" answered, "No."
Obviously, the legislators who voted to voluntarily reduce their paychecks figure it will play well in the public arena, improve their popularity and help them get re-elected, particularly when the Dow Jones is falling so fast they now just call it the Dow.
And I'm sure they're right. The public loves a long-suffering politician. Look at the mileage the newly elected Jason Chaffetz is getting out of sleeping on a cot in his office during his first term in Washington. Even though it isn't saving the taxpayers a dime and it makes no sense. For one thing, we the taxpayers are now paying for his lodging. And for another thing, the way to turn around the economy is for people to start spending more, not less.
But in politics, perception regularly trumps reality.
Still, I admire politicians who aren't slaves to image and illusion; who don't bow to peer pressure; who do things because they are substantive instead of what people want to see and hear.
We're already among the biggest cheapskates in the country when it comes to legislative pay. As I wrote in a column a month ago, the basic Utah legislator's average annual salary of $14,750 ranks among the five lowest in America — less than half the national average of $35,404.
And at that, the pay decrease is largely symbolic, not to mention misleading. The headlines say the legislators are taking a 10 percent pay cut, but the 10 percent only applies to their daily pay rate of $130 during the official 45-day session. All other compensation, including lodging and mileage, will stay the same.
A reduction from $130 a day to $116 a day over 45 days equals $585 less per legislator. Multiply that amount by 104 legislators and the grand total saved is $60,840.
In California, where the average lawmaker makes $116,098 a year, they call that ashtray change.
But here in Utah, where lawmakers could make more working at Taco Bell, it adds up to just one more reason why politicians are vulnerable to lobbyists with lures of free dinners and courtside Jazz tickets.
We should pay the elected officials a legitimate wage and cut out all the freebies.
And yet you just know Neil Hansen, the one man who went against the grain, is going to catch a load of grief for voting his conscience.
But not from me. He's suddenly my favorite guy on the hill.
I looked up his biography on the Internet. It says he's a Democrat, 49 years old, married, has eight kids, is serving his sixth term in the Legislature, graduated from Ogden High School, attended Weber State but did not get a degree and when he's not making laws works as a heavy equipment operator for the Ogden City water department.
He is a past president of the Ogden City Employees Association, a past secretary of the Northern Utah Labor Council, a board member of the Utah State AFL-CIO and a past board member for two credit unions.
His official Utah House of Representatives photo shows him wearing, appropriately enough, a shirt with a blue collar.
Exactly the kind of man who appreciates the value of a dollar — and the all-American notion that it's just plain crazy once you get your salary up to a certain level to voluntarily pay yourself anything less.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com
© 2009 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved

Curmudgeon said...

CW:

Thanks for the pointer. I don't as a rule read DN and I would have missed the column.

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