House members overwhelmingly passed a measure Tuesday that may help boost pay fairness for legislators while increasing transparency by requiring each member to provide detailed receipts for hotel and food reimbursements.
Republican House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said the measure would make lawmakers more accountable to constituents.
"We have been challenged for some years to proceed down this path," Dee said. "This is the right thing to do."
The proposal, HJR6, passed 70-4. Dee said he hopes the Senate will take up the measure this week and that the new rules would be in effect by Saturday — before lawmakers receive their first checks.
Under the current rules, Utah’s part-time lawmakers are given a $16,380 compensation package (Senate here and House here)that is roughly divided into thirds — salary, meals and lodging. But the system was viewed by some as unfair as legislators who traveled from long distances ended up spending much of the compensation during the 45-day session on meals and lodging while those who lived close to the capital city could pocket that money.
With the new proposal, recommended by the independent Legislative Compensation Commission, lawmakers would get the full $16,380 as simply salary. To receive reimbursement for meals and hotels, they’d have to provide "an audit trail" of receipts subject to public disclosure.
The added transparency will come with additional cost — an estimated $150,000 increase in a total legislative compensation budget of $2 million.
That’s because a lawmaker who travels from a distance can get the $16,380 as salary and then be reimbursed on top of that for hotels and lodging. Lawmakers who live close to the capital could do the same, but House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, issued a warning to those who might consider doing so.
"If the press finds you live 10 miles away and you stay for 45 days [in a hotel], you’ll have to answer for that," Lockhart said. "I’ll probably ask why the heck are you doing it."
Dee said he’s hopeful the new leadership in the Senate will embrace the new policy. The House attempted a similar restructuring of compensation last session, but that measure died in the Senate.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said he believes senators will quickly adopt the change. A committee hearing on it was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
"We’re excited to address that and get that behind us and move on," Niederhauser said.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.