How long does it take legislators to figure out the complex issues surrounding the recent school district splits? More than one week of preparation and one day of actual special session apparently. About the only results produced from dragging legislators together for a day was a bunch of meetings, tabling the real grunt work until the next regular session and cutting the county out of the decision-making process entirely. Oh, and we witnessed Henry's Law, the so-called "puppy torture" bill, go down in flames yet again because of the huge amount of work to be done in such a short time. With so little accomplished and so many people upset, I have to wonder what the legislature was hoping to accomplish.
First off, it was simply foolhardy to think that there would be a solution by the end of Wednesday's session. All that was accomplished is that the east side cities got to fast-track their ill-conceived split proposals without waiting for necessary clarification. There's no way that the split is so urgent that it can't wait a year for more study and this should be a big warning flag to all of us. I give a special raspberry to the Salt Lake County Council for setting out of the way of this political hot potato to let the Legislature decide it. Hey guys? Aren't you the same ones that got in a huff when the Legislature re-routed the soccer stadium funds? I guess they only like local control when it's convenient.
That brings me to my second point. By their actions, the County Council has cut themselves out of the split issue for good unless the Legislature changes the law again. This is a disastrous policy. The role of the county in all of this is to protect the west-side residents that won't be able to vote on the issue. Now that cities like Sandy can go tilting at windmills without a thought as to how the other side of I-15 will be affected, you're effectively giving cities the power to secede from a school district with minimal warning and minimal data collection. I'm hoping that the decent folks on my side of town will see through the sham and vote it down soundly.
And my final point has to do with Henry's Law. It's a good bill. There's a very strong correlation between animal abuse and violent crime against fellow humans, so it makes sense to further criminalize the former in hopes of mitigating the latter. Still, this bill has been a loser in our legislature. Emotions ran very high the last time it was shot down and history repeated itself this time. It's easy to keep on blaming legislators (after all, they're the ones that keep on voting against it), but there's plenty of blame to go around. First, the County Council caused this special session by refusing to do their stinkin' jobs. Second, the Governor deserves blame for trying to wedge this one into a session that was too short to deal with the main issue at hand, much less a second bill. Third, the impetuous east-side cities that can't hold their horses are to blame for pushing this school district split business when it needs more time to be evaluated. All this swirled together gave us the false hope that this law would come to pass despite the crammed schedule.
This is not what the special session is intended for. It's intended for true pressing emergencies. A massive shortfall in the state budget would be one of those things. So would time-critical unfinished business from the last session. It's not for giving cities the political expediency they crave. I'm hoping at least a few legislators recognize the day as the waste that it was.
UPDATE: The Deseret Morning News agrees with me.