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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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Utah Legislature: Meet (in the open). Don't greet (while driving).

Above: Mrs. May tells us how to take tests.

- Show your work: Public bodies must meet in the open - Salt Lake Tribune Editorial

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When a math teacher wants to know that a student really understood how to solve a complex problem, and didn’t just make a lucky guess or crib off the student at the next desk, they put this direction at the top of the test: "Show your work."

That is what the Utah Open And Public Meetings Act is all about. In order for the public to fully understand not just what the laws and regulations are, but how they came to be, legislative sessions and committee meetings, as well as meetings of state boards and local governing bodies, are required to be open. Not only that, but the public is entitled to some advance notice of when certain topics are to be discussed.

This message has yet to permeate the thinking of many members of the Utah Legislature. ...

... A recent committee meeting saw discussion, without proper notice, of a measure that would have shifted a significant portion of the property tax burden away from some taxpayers and onto others.

Only a protest by a member of the Democratic minority called attention to the fact that the House Revenue and Taxation Committee discussed, without proper notice, HB41. That’s committee chairman Patrick Painter’s bill to increase, from the current $3,500 to $25,000, the amount of a business’s property that would be exempt from property taxes. Painter, R-Nephi, is a car dealer, a business that would be among those benefiting from a projected $12 million tax shift. ...

... There are bills that would change all of that. SB45 would open all party caucuses. HB89 would open all meetings that include a quorum of lawmakers. HB111 would close the subcommittee loophole by applying the open meetings standard to any two governing body members assigned the task of considering an issue on behalf of the entire body.

All those bills appear stuck in the legislative process. That’s too bad, but given the fact that lawmakers can’t always be counted on to obey the laws as they stand, not surprising.

- Ban car phoning: Don't restrict just young drivers - Salt Lake Tribune Editorial

There’s no disputing that it’s dangerous to talk on the phone while driving. For the safety of people traveling Utah’s roads, the Legislature should outlaw driving while phoning. However, lawmakers have repeatedly refused to do that, arguing that it would be an intrusion on personal freedom and on people whose business relies on them phoning while driving.

It appears, then, that the best hope for improved cell phone safety in the current legislative session is a bill that would outlaw phoning while driving for drivers under 18 years old. Sen. Ross Romero, the sponsor of SB128, argues that inexperienced drivers shouldn’t be on the phone when they are behind the wheel. He’s right, of course, although the same could be said for drivers of any age. ...

- Local control? Nor for SLC - Josh Kanter, for The Salt Lake Tribune

... Our Legislature loves to champion the importance of small, local government. It is easy to cry foul in the name of small, local government when local authority is ostensibly being usurped by Washington. But the true motive — the consolidation of power and central planning from the State Capitol — is unflatteringly revealed when the Legislature ignores the will of local leaders who best represent their constituents. ...

Other commentary on the Utah Legislature:

- Government, marriage and divorce - Ogden Standard-Examiner Editorial

We don't approve of the government mandating, in this case through the Utah Legislature, that couples take required courses before getting married or divorced. ...

- More liquor licenses needed - Standard-Examiner again

- Poor attempts at reform - Provo Daily Herald Editorial

In trying to recast Utah immigration law in his own image, Rep. Chris Herrod of Provo has cooked up an incomprehensible hash -- HB 300 -- that is nothing if not indefensible. Herrod and anti-immigrant puppeteer Ronald Mortensen style the bill as an improvement to "repeal and replace" last year's LDS Church-supported HB 116, which was signed into law. The claim of improvement alone is enough to make the Angel Moroni throw down his trumpet in disgust. ...

- Usurping local control - Deseret News Editorial

Simply put, local governments enjoy powers only as state legislatures decide to grant them. The only exceptions would be for guarantees provided in state or federal constitutions. Local governments are the creation of the states.

This does not mean, however, that such impositions are always right or advisable.

For instance, a bill pending at the Utah Legislature right now, SB136, would keep cities and counties from restricting billboard owners except through condemnation.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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