With a dinner break on the horizon, senators’ attention spans
down the penultimate stretch of the last day of the 2018 legislative session had palpably waned.
Take Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, for example, who had glued her eyes to her phone, rarely looking up even when voicing her vote. Or Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who wandered away from her desk at a leisurely amble. Lawmakers whispered to their guests and staff, gulped soda pop, talked softly on their phones, fiddled with trinkets on their desks. No one seemed to be listening other than for their names during the roll-call votes.
At one point, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, rose to explain his vote, and with the floor his, he chided his colleagues for voting “no” on the bill at hand while voting affirmatively for a similar companion bill immediately before.
“I’m in a quandary as to why many who voted for the last bill are not voting for this one that funds the last one. This was the one that provides the state funding to make the last bill that we voted on work. I don’t get that.”
Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Magna, similarly harped on his confused colleagues when it came his turn to vote.
“Good point,” the rest seemed to agree, and a number of Senators listlessly asked to have their votes changed.
This was how the 2018 Legislative Session in the Senate whimpered to sine die. Fiery, passionate speeches were replaced with looks of “wait a sec, what bill are we on, now?”
This session wasn’t without controversial pieces of legislation, however, including an attempt to outlaw certain abortions, a proposal to rename a road after President Donald J. Trump and a push to delay the legal blood-alcohol driving limit to .05. (They all failed along the 45-day journey.)
Lawmakers also worked this session to pass in-the-weeds government bills (not to be confused with prescription-weed bills), such as a school-funding tax reform and land-use amendments.
House Joint Resolution 12 passed, which sponsor Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City described as a “wake up call to the state attorney general asking him to get involved” in lawsuits waged by other states against Big Pharma and opioid manufacturers. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said although he would vote for the resolution, it would target prescription drug manufacturers and allow over-the-counter pill companies to skate.
Off the record
Journalists who wish to maintain capitol credentials will now have to complete annual sexual harassment training with the passage of House Joint Resolution 16. To ensure everyone feels safe, maybe sexual harassment training should be a prerequisite for all legislators, lobbyists and presidents of the United States.
You’d think knowing whether a bill you were about to vote on passed legal muster would be a good thing. Apparently not—at least according to the backers of House Joint Resolution 14. Before a bill is introduced, it’s vetted by legislative attorneys, and if it seems like it won’t hold up in court, a constitutional note is attached saying so.
Supporters of the bill argued that the constitutional note is a pesky bit of ammunition opponents can cling to when it’s being debated, as was the fate of Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s abortion bill. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, added that it muddies the hallowed separation of powers between legislative and judicial branches.
With five minutes left in the session, Sen. Vickers sped through a reading of one of the last bills that sounded like it had something to do with county roads. No one listening for the first time would know what it addressed, however, by listening to his spewed enunciation where each word blended into the next. The body passed it along just as quickly. It was perhaps the lone moment of urgency on the Senate floor that glacial day.
The Senate had a list of bills it had on the docket, but because not all members read at Vickers’ speed, a host of them didn’t make the midnight cutoff.
Epilogue: Grade inflation
Looking back, Gov. Gary Herbert grades this session “an A or an A-plus.” The governor shared his thoughts in the Senate chamber 30 minutes after the last bill was passed, and boy was he pleased. Herbert said this year he’d perceived a demeanor of collegiality and mutual respect despite some differences in opinion.
He also applauded lawmakers for finding more cash for Utah schools.
“$280 million of new ongoing money to public education, $170 million to higher education. More to our technical colleges that are taking a bigger and larger role, a weighted pupil increase of nearly 7 percent—that’s pretty remarkable,” he said. “I appreciate the work you’ve done on education and this compromise.”