Employees of Utah’s executive branch, including colleges and universities, the State Tax Commission, Utah National Guard and Board of Pardons and Parole, are prohibited from advocating on legislative issues, under an order signed Monday by Gov. Gary Herbert.
The executive order, made public Wednesday, comes after lawmakers debated a bill that would have banned lobbying by public employees.
Paul Edwards, Herbert’s spokesman, said the order came partly as a result of questions raised by legislators.
“Because of the crucial role played by executive branch employees in the policy-making process,” Edwards said, “we recognized it was prudent to clarify and formalize our guidance to agencies about how they communicate with the legislature.“
Herbert’s order allows for division directors, deputy directors and legislative liaisons to communicate with lawmakers at any time. It also allows for the appointment of up to two legislative liaisons by an executive director during the annual legislative session.
But for other state employees, the order establishes a prohibition on lobbying or asking other individuals to advocate on policy positions.
“Nothing in this executive order should be interpreted as a limitation of an individual’s right to free speech on the individual’s own time and with non-state resources,” the order states.
Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, sponsored HB391, which would have limited lobbying by state entities to a division director or their designee. His bill also extended those limits to school districts, with a prohibition against taking a formal position on proposed legislation.
The bill was approved in committee last month, but failed to pass the House on Monday, the final day for bills to be approved in their chamber of origin.
Peterson said Wednesday that he had worked with the governo on the executive order, and that it satisfied the intent of his legislation.
“The governor recognized there were some concerns,” Peterson said. “He addressed those through his executive order, which was a way for him to manage the executive branch instead of having to do it through a bill.”
Feb. 28: Utah lawmakers don’t want to be lobbied by public employees, including school administrators
Citing concerns over “entourages” of public employees swarming Utah’s Capitol Hill, a House committee voted Tuesday to restrict state employees from lobbying lawmakers and to prohibit state entities from taking a formal position on proposed legislation.
Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, said his HB391 is intended to cut down on inefficiency by restricting lobbying activities to executive department heads, campus presidents, the state superintendent or a lone designee chosen by those individuals.
“We all want good information,” Peterson said. “But how many people does it take to provide that information?”
Critics, particularly within Utah’s public education community, worry that the bill’s language cuts into the ability of school administrators, including elected school board members, to testify in committee hearings or to speak in favor of or opposition to legislation.
HB391 excludes the Utah Board of Education and the state superintendent of public instruction from its lobbying restrictions, but currently includes no such exclusion for local school district superintendents or board members.
Limits the ability of public employees, including school administrators, to lobby lawmakers or take a formal position on proposed legislation. - Read full text
The bill specifically identifies local school districts as being a “state entity,” before stating that “a state entity may not take a public position on legislative action.”
“I think this may be overbroad,” said Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. “It’s difficult for me to understand why charter schools or school districts would be prohibited from being able to provide that information.”
And Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, questioned why representation for the state’s public education system would be limited to the state superintendent or a single designee.
The superintendent is frequently joined at Capitol hearings by staff who oversee finances, policies or specific programs, and Arent said it’s unlikely one person would be the ideal source of information on all potential education topics.
“I can’t imagine the state superintendent and just the policy director being able to answer all the questions we need answered,” she said.
Peterson said the bill does not prohibit public employees from attending a hearing or meeting, and any individual could respond to the direct question of a lawmaker. He also said the bill allows for someone like a teacher or other public employee to testify or lobby on personal time outside the responsibilities of their position.
“We want to make sure we protect people’s First Amendment rights,” he said.
The bill is currently in its second draft, after being substituted by the House Government Operations Committee. Despite the revisions, Wilson acknowledged some oversights and suggested additional changes would be made regarding charter schools and local school district boards and superintendents.
“‘We want them to have the same opportunity to have a designee,” he said.
The House Government Operations Committee approved the bill in a vote of 7-3, forwarding it to the full House for consideration. Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, joined the committee’s two Democratic members in opposing the bill after expressing some confusion over what HB391 is trying to accomplish.
“What is the problem that we’re trying to solve?” Nelson asked. “What will it accomplish? What difference will it make? What purpose will it serve?”
Emilie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Utah Board of Education, declined to comment on the bill Tuesday. She said state school board members will likely discuss HB391 during their meeting on Thursday, which could include a vote on a formal position of support or opposition.