Let’s start with the sneaky way legislators pull bills out of a hat toward the end of a session, leaving little time for scrutiny. While there may be some justification for keeping a placeholder for a potential issue, it’s generally not a good way to conduct the public’s business. You may remember that all hell broke loose when the body had to repeal House Bill 477, the now-infamous bill to restrict public access to government records. Public uproar over the fast-tracked bill and lack of public input doomed the measure. So Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, is trying again this year to modify the practice of last-minute bills, hoping to pass a resolution to require that the House hear a bill first in standing committee. Powell and Rep. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, tried to get rid of “boxcar” bills last session, but the Senate snuffed out the idea.
Still, the practice of hidden agendas is alive and well at the Legislature. First, a boxcar, and then withdrawn was “Regulation of Utility Bills Add Ons” by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. But don’t think for a minute that it’s gone. Word around the Capitol is that Republicans are packaging a number of so-called “clean air” bills that might just take you by surprise. The idea with Adams’ bill was to charge every utility ratepayer a minimal monthly fee to pay into the air-quality fund. “It would be an opt-out program,” Adams told City Weekly. “Because of that, it becomes a way to donate to help clean up the air.” Because of what? Typically, most people won’t notice $1 or $2 on their bills, and won’t know they can opt-out. The air-quality fund could end up with $24 million-ish to earmark wherever. There is no plan, but “air quality” is the magic phrase this session. Even if it isn’t.
You’ve got to love those Republicans who worship at the altar of the competitive market, but pass laws to stifle competition. So it is—or could be—with Interlocal Entity Service Prohibition. This bill, currently being held, is sponsored by Rep. R. Curt Webb, R-Logan, and would prohibit fiber-optic networks from building infrastructure and providing service “outside the boundaries of its members.” Internet service providers seem to think the bill targets UTOPIA and is covering for CenturyLink and Comcast, which might have to lower prices if they compete with UTOPIA. So much for the free market when you need to protect your contributors. Webb did receive a small donation from CenturyLink.