Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns
Handling conflicts of interest a challenge in Legislature
Legislature » Only oneother state doesn’t allow abstention; 20% of bills could raise questions.
First Published Mar 10 2013 12:26 am • Last Updated May 31 2013 11:33 pm

When Utah legislators run into a conflict of interest on legislation, they vote on the bill anyway.

They have no choice.

Photos
At a glance

Utah Legislature and conflicts

The 104 members of the state Legislature are part-time state officials who make their primary living from other occupations and businesses. While legislators must file conflict-of-interest statements prior to the session, nothing requires conflicts to be declared during debate. Utah also has an odd rule that senators and representatives must vote on all bills on the floor, potential conflict or not.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Utah law requires it.

But in the past week they began debating again, as they have for years, whether it would be wise to allow themselves to abstain, or vote "present," in those situations. After all, such abstention amid conflicts is either required or allowed in 48 of the other 49 states — but Utah is a holdout.

Utah legislators do run into plenty of potential conflicts of interest because it is a part-time body — meeting 45 days a year — so members have regular "day jobs" besides being lawmakers. Almost any bill directly affects someone in the group of attorneys, doctors, lawyers, bankers, electricians, architects, ranchers, teachers, developers and business people, among many other occupations.

In fact, a Salt Lake Tribune analysis shows that one of every five bills introduced this year is sponsored by someone who faces a potential conflict of interest on it — not to mention conflicts the bills may create for others voting on it. Such bills often deal with a sponsor’s profession, or organization boards that they sit on.

Leaders say that is the beauty and curse of a part-time citizen legislature: It brings together people with expertise in many areas to help improve legislation; but it also creates more potential conflicts — and creates a challenge to prevent self-dealing and maintain voter confidence.

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, put it this way on his disclosure form, when it asked for items besides his insurance-industry job that could cause conflicts: "I am a member of the human race and a citizen of Utah, all of what the Legislature deals with will have a direct or indirect impact, either positively or negatively upon myself and my family."

Then he adds, "I am also a concealed-weapon-permit instructor," and he has often been involved in gun bills through the years.


story continues below
story continues below

Conflicts? » To illustrate how many potential conflicts occur — and how some may be more direct than others —The Tribune compared all bills introduced this year with the written conflict of interest statements filed by their sponsors.

The analysis found at least 152 bills and resolutions — 20 percent of all those filed — whose sponsors have extra expertise because it directly affects them or their profession, or, depending on one’s view, it creates a potential conflict of interest.

It found 56 of Utah’s 104 lawmakers sponsored at least one such bill. A chart with all those bills and sponsors is online at sltrib.com.

Some examples of what was found include:

» Reps. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, and Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, both own insurance agencies. Between them, they sponsored six bills dealing with the insurance profession — such as HB47, Insurance Law Amendments, by Dunnigan; and HB65, Insurance Beneficiary Changes, by Bird.

» Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is a pharmacist and sponsored SB194, Pharmacy Practice Act Amendments.

» Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is president of the Utah Taxpayers Association and sponsored bills that seek action favored by that group, such as SB34, affecting when bond elections can be scheduled, and SB33, Sales and Use Tax Revisions.

» Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, is vice president of Intermountain Healthcare and sponsored several health care bills, including HB135, Medical Malpractice Amendments, and HB57, Mental and Behavioral Health Amendments.

» Rep. Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City, is president of Elkay Consulting, which consults on building codes. He sponsored HB277, Building Code Amendments. Similarly, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, is a homebuilder and sponsored HB202, Energy Conservation Code Amendments.

» Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, is a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant, and sponsored HB283 to toughen enforcement of seat belt laws, and HB103 to ban teen drivers from using cellphones while driving.

» House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, is the human resources director of Weber County, and sponsored HB193, Utah State Employment Amendments.

Next Page >


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

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.