Score one for Utah unions, specifically the Utah Education Association, which won a recent court battle upholding the right to a level political playing field. Utah legislators refuse to accept any limits on how much money they can raise for their campaign war chests. But in 2001, these same lawmakers passed a law to stop the teachers union from raising lobbying money. If that sounds unfair, that’s how it sounded to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which recently slapped down a 2001 law that banned schoolteachers from contributing lobbying money to their union through paychecks. Federal judges called the Utah law an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment—a guarantee of free speech that is still the law. Even in Utah.
Among $250,000 in lobbyist gifts, Utah legislators last year enjoyed Jazz games, concerts, golf, hunting trips, out-of-state junkets, and even a go-cart race, according to studies of lobbyists’ reports by Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers. Weren’t recent years’ legislative ethics rule changes supposed to stop this sort of thing? Lobbyists must now report all gifts to lawmakers worth more than $50. In theory, that should shame legislators out of accepting extravagant trips. But there is seemingly no rule lobbyists can’t find their way around. (More than half of gift recipients remain secret.) And some legislators have no shame: Two Democrats took a fact-finding golf trip to Florida on the dime of a mental-health company that wants Utah to privatize the state hospital.
Hooray, Salt Lake City’s gays may soon qualify … for discounts at city recreation facilities. A domestic-partner registry, which Mayor Ralph Becker announced on his third day in office, is mostly symbolic. But, in Utah, it’s a real step forward. The city recorder would keep the list, to which unmarried couples could append their names. It wouldn’t come with health insurance or other benefits. It would give a government stamp to relationships that well-meaning private employers might otherwise be shy about honoring in benefit packages. Also on Becker’s agenda: a hate-crimes law, retirement benefits for partners of city workers and requiring for companies doing business with the city to provide domestic-partner benefits.