After Democrats complained long and loud that Republicans worked out controversial congressional redistricting in closed caucuses, Senate Democratic leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is now pushing a bill to force most caucus meetings for both parties to be open to the public.
His SB45 was formally introduced Thursday — but Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, declared it dead on arrival. "I give it zero chance," he told reporters.
"The bill is about transparency in government," Romero said. "When there’s a supermajority that can take the conversation into caucus, make a decision, and then come to the floor" to pass it with limited public discussion, "that’s a problem."
He added, "This is not a democratic view. It’s a good-government view," and noted that Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, has also introduced a similar bill as a Republican.
"But my bill would apply to both parties," Romero said. Powell’s bill applies only to caucuses where a majority of the House or Senate would be present — which currently is only the Republicans.
Senate GOP caucuses are now always closed to the public. House GOP caucuses are usually open, but sometimes — as with redistricting — closed when discussion is heated or controversial. Democratic caucuses in both chambers are open.
Waddoups said having a closed caucus "promotes the free flow of ideas."
Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, added, "The very definition of ‘caucus’ is a closed meeting for the purpose of strategizing. That’s what we do ... If we don’t allow that up here, I’m sure we’ll end up holding caucuses elsewhere. That’s what will end up happening."
Jenkins said while Democrats ballyhoo that they have open caucuses, they hold private meetings elsewhere to plan strategy. "They are just doing it in other places. It happens."
House Democratic Assistant Whip Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said small groups of lawmakers will always meet to talk privately about bills and strategy.
But he said that is much different than allowing a large group — with enough numbers to pass a bill — from essentially holding debates in private.
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