A report from the Center for American Progress singled out Rep. Rob Bishop as a key representative in a scheme to block bipartisan bills protecting pristine lands.
The report alleges partisan gamesmanship has bottled up dozens of bills crafted by local stakeholders and sponsored by home-state representatives, citing the Utah Republican as one of the worst offenders.
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, say the bills that would give protected wilderness status to thousands of acres cannot get to the House floor because of cynical objections, often raised by a few House Republicans, that ensure the bills don’t get a fair hearing.
"When we had the government shutdown [last fall], you saw the importance of national parks and public lands in Utah," Salazar said. "Yet the Utah delegation, Congressman Bishop in particular, is not willing to stand up for a conservation ethic that is a balanced one for the state of Utah."
Bishop denounced the report’s assertions as an "election-year smoke screen," arguing the bills highlighted do not meet criteria for easy passage.
"For the majority of the ones they are talking about, [the sponsors] don’t live in the district, or aren’t supported by other members of the delegation," said Bishop, who heads the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. "We listen to the [bills] with local input and delegation support."
If Bishop is one of the leaders of a political blockade of the 10 pristine areas listed in the report, he probably honed his obstructionist skills as Utah House speaker 20 years ago.
That was when a bill designed to protect children from being harmed by the negligent storage of firearms died a quiet death in the chamber headed by Bishop — despite its apparent broad support.
The bill, sponsored by then-Sen. Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake City, would have made it easier to sue someone whose negligent storage of guns led to the death or injury of a child. It passed the Senate, 16-12, but languished in the House Rules Committee for days.
House sponsor Dave Jones, a Democrat, brought a second-grade class from a Salt Lake school to the Capitol to lobby for the bill. The class had made the measure its pet project
That put Republican lawmakers in a quandary: Quashing the bill would make them look callous toward the safety of children, especially the rosy-cheeked cuties featured on TV while rallying for the bill at the Capitol. But passing the bill would disappoint their NRA-type sugar daddies.
Finally, the Rules Committee passed the bill out in the final days of the legislative session, but it mysteriously failed to get on the lineup board for an eventual vote.
Once a bill comes out of Rules in the last days, the speaker typically passes it to the House clerk, who officially lists it on the docket and it is put on the board in the order it arrives.
Jones asked Bishop where his bill was. Bishop responded with a sly smile.
Finally, in the waning hours of the session, the bill made it to the board. But it was behind scores of other measures and the session ended before it came up for a vote.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.