The Need for Legislative Reform
A very strange thing I've had to get used to in this state is the way in which the Legislature conducts business. They don't care much for opinion polls, the back-scratching is done right out in the open and last-minute surprise bills are par for the course. While plenty of us express righteous indignation at this process, not enough of us care to do much of anything about it. I'm not sure if it's a passive stamp of approval or simply collective defeatism from failure to overturn bills. Still, there are some much-needed reforms that could help catch and kill bad bills before they start running amok.
The most demonized "sneak attacks" are the so-called "boxcar bills", bills that have a number but no actual bill text. The intent seems to make sense: give legislators a way to reserve space for an upcoming bill without requiring that every "i" is dotted and every "t" crossed. In practice, it has become a way to sneak a bill into the session to avoid public scrutiny and accomplish some last-minute legal wrangling before the session ends.
One good example of this would be HB174, the second voucher bill. Though I support it, I don't much like that it came out of nowhere and sailed on through without much chance for public comment. HB402 is another prime example, a bill that has drawn ire from the technical press for it's ridiculous requirements for people selling to secondhand stores. If you want to offload a few CDs at the local Greywhale, expect to get your license number, fingerprint, address and phone number taken down. Because, you know, you might already be a criminal.
The scariest part of HB402 is that it went from introduction to final passage in just under five weeks. Utah's own press didn't report on it until the 11th hour (See Google Cache) and mainstream tech news sites have just picked up on it this week, more than a month after the Governor signed it. The speed at which this became law is absolutely shameful, allowing almost no time for public review and input nor adequate time for a floor debate.
I think the time has come that Utah needs to end the practice of "boxcar bills", but that's not enough. Legislators should be required to leave those filed bills out in the open for at least 90 days prior to a vote to let us get wind of them and give them our two cents. We also need to extend the period for collecting referendum signatures to 90 days so we still have recourse when legislators turn a deaf ear.
What burns me is that our legislators seem loathe to make these kinds of power concessions. They're addicted to the power and we've solidly demonstrated an inability to remove them from office for such misdeeds through our own apathy and inaction. This just emboldens them to continue to deny us reforms that allow us to be a check on their actions. Eventually, it'll catch up to them. For now, they'll just continue making dangerous enemies.