Every week during Utah’s legislative session, The Salt Lake Tribune’s political reporters and columnists will chat about the hottest topics of the week. The following is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation.
Benjamin Wood (education reporter): Welcome to this week’s Trib Caucus Slack chat, which will be convening weekly during the 2018 legislative session.
Some of us are still waking up after yesterday’s late night vote-a-rama, but I guess that means things will be fresh on our muddled minds. First up, in the midst of a national debate on gun control and public safety, representatives acted swiftly and decisively to ... stop reporters from loitering on the House floor.
Michelle Quist (editorial writer): Lol. They said they’re ready to move forward on some gun measures. I’ll give them at least a few days.
Wood: The rule change for media flew through the House with abnormal speed, including a suspension of the rules to hurry it along. Do we have *any* sense of what the urgency was based on?
Quist: The Legislature is annoyed with the media?
Lee Davidson (government reporter): Some members complained reporters overheard conversations on the House floor, and reported on it.
Taylor Anderson (government reporter): Rep. Mike Winder mentioned reporters listening over shoulders, loitering and “peeping.” But it would be bad form for a reporter to overhear whispers and go report them without more reporting first.
They talked about banning journalists from the floor before completely pulling back from that idea and just spelling out in rule what already happens — reporters come onto the floor before debates and then leave.
Davidson: Reporters are plenty busy, and don’t hang out trying to overhear conversations or peep on desks.
Anderson: Maybe they were just trolling?
Wood: It’s probably worth noting that with the layout of the House and Senate, their desks are inordinately exposed for peeping with minimal effort
Davidson: Something like this happens annually. Usually someone is upset about some story, and journalists find themselves temporarily banned.
Quist: Another solution without a problem, apparently.
Robert Gehrke (political columnist): The relationships have always been tense at times, but there really has been some increasing hostility toward the media, especially on the House side. As I said on Twitter the other day, when I started covering the Legislature, we had desks in the House and Senate chambers and sat on the floor. We were allowed in back hallways and the lounge. We could walk on the floor and talk to lawmakers while they were in session (even Martha Hughes Cannon). All that’s off limits now. I’m not sure why this erosion but it is troubling.
And it seems to be being done for vague reasons. Like I really want to peep at anything Mike Winder is working on.
Anderson: I’ve worked in four capitols. Access in Utah’s is by far the most strict.
Wood: Jokes aside, there has been quite a bit of discussion about potential gun/safety legislation after the Florida shooting. What are the ideas floating around and which ones are the most likely, if any, to gain traction?
Davidson: Ideas include increasing school security — which seems most likely.
Also banning those younger than 21 from buying some types of weapons seems like it may have support
Gehrke: I wrote about these gun violence protective orders last week, which Rep. Steve Handy has expressed interest in including in a bill file he has opened.
Wood: Gehrke can you elaborate? That would mean seizing weapons yes? Which I assume would be controversial.
Gehke: It would basically implement something similar to what is done on domestic violence orders in cases where someone can be shown to have potentially dangerous mental illnesses.
Quist: Seizing weapons based on certain conditions. Not a general seizure.
I don’t buy this argument that if you seek to restrict automatic weapons eventually you’ll be OK with seizing all guns.
Wood: First the automatic weapons, then other guns, then knives, then spoons...
Anderson: The gun violence protective order has a shot, depending on the details. Lawmakers are working on that with the gun lobby, which is nervous about a person accused of being mentally unstable being unable to prove that they’re not before their guns are taken.
Gehrke: But yes, in those instances where the court deems someone to be a risk, it could order the seizure of the weapons or in other states it has merely been to flag someone so they can’t make a new purchase.
Anderson: The idea generally hits on topics that many lawmakers bring up when talking about guns — mental health and suicide. So Senate leaders have said that idea has a chance to get through.
Gehrke: I think it is entirely possible that it’s too late in the session to do much. President Niederhauser is leading the charge on the school security issue, so it’s got some clout behind it, but that’s still in the formative stages.
Quist: I think the Leg will concentrate on school safety, mental health and possibly bump stocks or age limits.
Gehrke: Niederhauser did say, however, he thinks it’s a bad idea to arm teachers, so that probably makes movement in that direction less likely.
Meanwhile, they’re reinforcing Utah’s “Stand Your Ground” law, because even though gun laws are unpopular right now, Rep. Cory Maloy is going to stand his ground.
Wood: The school safety piece is interesting. Presumably that means more resource officers. But that comes at the same time that there’s a push to *diminish* the role of officers in schools, which is perceived as contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.
And we should note that “arming teachers” is poorly defined. Utah already allows teachers with permits to carry on campus. The non-starter idea would seem to be mandatory armament of educators.
Gehrke: That’s true, Ben, re: arming teachers. Those weapons have come in handy at times. http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=1689531&itype=CMSID
Davidson: I admit to being tempted to shoot my computer at times, poor thing.
Quist: It could be as easy as locked doors or following existing policy. A school in Juab just showed how necessary it is when someone running from police tried to enter a school through two separate doors.
Wood: Michelle, that’s a good point. As someone who visits schools a lot, most districts have set policies for locked doors that are fairly effective at keeping people out, or at least controlling entry.
The caveat is often high schools, where kids have more autonomy to go in and out of doors, which leaves some vulnerability.
And portables and such. Obviously there’s weak points but external doors are typically locked.
Gehrke: Sen. Todd Weiler had a bill earlier that would enable schools to install certain types of locks. It’s narrow, but I think is probably indicative that there would be support for more physical security.
Wood: OK we’ve rounded up the ideas, now let’s wax political. Is this all talk or is something going to pass? And if so, when?
Gehrke: End of the day, I doubt they’ll do much.
They’ll talk about it, run out of time, decide to study it in the interim and then lose interest.
Davidson: Something will pass, even if it is just a message that they are looking at doing more soon.
Anderson: It’s far more likely that if anything passes it will have to do with school security, rather than gun-control specifically.
Davidson: Even Dick’s sporting goods decided yesterday not to sell certain rifles to those younger than 21. If the big sporting goods store can do it, maybe legislators will take that step, too.
Gehrke: Sen. Stuart Adams pointed out that they hadn’t had enough time to digest the Florida shooting and I had to point out to him that Sandy Hook was in 2012. Orlando Night Club was a year ago. Las Vegas was four months ago. ... He didn’t like that much, I don’t think.
Wood: Let’s talk about a bill the House passed last night that would let the Legislature call itself into special session. Lawmakers love it, no surprise, but it’s a constitutional amendment, so the public would have to sign off in the November election. Do we know where the public is on this?
Quist: The public doesn’t care about stuff like this. And they’ll likely vote no. Because it’s easier.
There’s separation of powers for a reason. Most realize it’s a good system.
Davidson: Rep. Carol Moss, in a hearing on that, suggested that the governor has much higher ratings in polls than the Legislature — and that may doom it. That amendment will eventually turn into a contest between lawmakers and the governor.
Quist: But the people won’t necessarily realize it’s a contest between the governor and the Legislature, unless it’s worded perfectly.
Gehrke: I could be completely wrong about this … a caveat readers should assume is at the front of every statement I make … but the Legislature is unpopular and the governor is very popular. If this is couched as a popularity contest, as elections often are, the Legislature loses.
Davidson: Voters generally are hesitant to give lawmakers more power.
Wood: It would be quite the shift from our state’s legislative process. Right now they have 45 days, full stop, unless the governor calls them back. With super-majorities in both chambers, does the proposed amendment have any check on wanton session-calling?
Anderson: They had a conversation yesterday when the House passed it on what is an “emergency” that would let them call themselves into session.
Wood: But when you write your own rule.....?
Anderson: The debate may focus on that. Lawmakers say it’s narrow, but does the public trust politicians enough to keep it narrow?
A congressman, say, quitting Congress for a job at Fox News would be an emergency, House Majority Leader Brad Wilson said.
Quist: If an open congressional seat was an emergency, they should have dealt with it when they actually considered relevant legislation a few months prior. It wasn’t an emergency. They were just caught unprepared.
And … are lawmakers paid during special sessions? There’s a bit of a conflict there as well, if they are.
Wood: Yes they are paid during special sessions, it can be quite expensive.
Gehrke: Look, I really don’t have too much problem with them calling themselves into special session. The governor still has the veto pen. So it doesn’t drastically alter the balance of power, I don’t think.
Wood: The collective noun for lawmakers is a “corruption” no? (I may have made that up).
Davidson: Isn’t it a “murder,” or am I eating crow again?
Wood: Maybe a “pod,” based on the way Pat Bagley draws them.
Quist: I wouldn’t call lawmakers corrupt. I think they are genuinely trying to do their best.
Anderson: Here’s an interesting one.
Quist: Yeah that isn’t the best bill. But really @tanderson - prove it!!
Davidson: Here’s another.
Gehrke: Corruption is too strong. I agree with Michelle. I do think there is a lot of money behind lobbyists and campaign contributions trying to influence them and doing it pretty effectively sometimes.
Wood: Speaking of controversial bills, the twice-dead zombie super committee finally passed the House last night. After so many revisions, deaths and resurrections, what does it actually do at this point?
Gehrke: Great bill. Everybody vote for it [image]
Anderson: It would give the new oversight committee power — if the governor or state agency asks — to investigate rules and agencies. No longer school boards, cities or counties as was proposed under the original bill.
Wood: And only by request of the agency/governor?
Anderson: Essentially, yes. But that was what they wanted all along - some semblance of power over the executive branch (governor).
Davidson: Senate leaders have been tepid in support at best, saying -- at least so far -- that they think audits and other measures are as effective as an oversight committee.
Gehrke: I don’t think this bill has legs. It’s still struggling so much in the Senate and Rep. Stratton hasn’t been able to articulate specifically why it’s needed.
When we get to the last days of the session, it’s hard to see this being high on the priority list. But as I said before, I could be completely wrong.
Wood: Interesting, to me anyway, is that they want this committee on executive oversight, and Rep. Peterson has a bill that would restrict executive (and education) employees from testifying in committee or taking positions on bills.
Gehrke: That bill seems bananas to me, Ben. It seems legislators should WANT to know where the executive is, for or against.
Quist: Peterson’s bill only restricts employees from testifying when there is already a representative from their office representing. And they still can on their own time. It’s an attempt to stop duplication and government waste. It’s weird for state employees to lobby the state on state time.
Wood: @mquist I think you’re right that is the intent, but the way it’s currently written says that no local school district can have a position on anything, or lobby in any form.
Quist: I thought they were modifying that to allow local districts a rep as well.
Wood: So Peterson says, but it ain’t in the bill ‘till it’s in the bill, and right now it ain’t in the bill.
Quist: True that.
True dat? I’m old.
Wood: OK guys, lightning round time. What are the other loose threads out there? The Death Penalty bill is still in play, yes?
Also, we have a question from a reader.
Gehrke: I thought it did pass the House, didn’t it?
Yeah. Edwards HCR7 passed the House 46-24.
Wood: Oh yes, it did. So … pretty good odds then! 🙂
Gehrke: And I suspect it’ll get through the Senate, just because it doesn’t really do much of anything.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not significant in that it makes a
Quist: I’m going to miss Rep. Edwards.
Death penalty still in play. I like that Herbert said he may even sign it.
Gehrke: The death penalty bill maybe got a bit of a reprieve from the governor (see what I did there?) when he expressed concerns about capital punishment last week. But I’ve heard they’re still a few votes short in the House and moving people on an issue like this is VERY hard.
Anderson: Advocates for repealing the death penalty were here till after 10 last night trying to get one or two more House Republicans to support the bill.
Quist: The consent bill? I bet it passes. (Prob because of the porn education. )
Wood: If it does pass, I’m keeping my Herbert bobble-head 🙂
Davidson: I’ll bet Trib Bucks on some very late nights, and some late surprise bills that will take weeks after the session to figure out.
Anderson: So back in the beginning I put lots of Trib Bucks on tax reform flopping. They’re actually working on something that could be called reform. 🤑
I guess you can do a lot with $700 million “surpluses”
Gehrke: I don’t know that I’ve seen so many BIG issues come out so late in the session: Taxes, Inland port, Medicaid expansion, guns, and oh, I guess trying to keep the state Republican Party from dousing itself in jet fuel and sparking up a stogie.
Quist: The inland port thing is just silly.
Wood: Dang it Michelle, if I had known that was your take I would have spent more time on it. Next week.
Quist: I’m surprised Medicaid just came out and they expect a full debate. Short-changed.
Gehrke: Point is, there are some major, major lifts in there without much time. I think the inland port is going to be a HUGE battle, because the speaker wants it as the icing on his legacy and the city feels like they are just being completely rolled.
Wood: OK guys there goes the tardy bell. We’ll see you next week.
Readers, do you think the only way to stop a bad reporter with a pen is with a good reporter with a pen? Do you have any ideas for the proper collective noun for “lawmakers”? Let us know in the comments.