Third time is the charm for bill that tells rural Utah counties what kind of government to have

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, on the House floor, Feb. 22, 2019.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, didn’t succeed on his first try to win committee approval for a bill requiring Utah’s rural counties to operate under a commission form of government. So he tried, and tried again.

That effort paid off Tuesday, with the House Political Subdivisions Committee voted 6-3 to advance HB257, which allows only a three-member commission for counties with a population below 11,000.

“Sometimes options can become weaponized,” Lyman said, “and the battle goes on in some of these rural counties.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the third time the committee had considered Lyman’s legislation, which originally included counties up to 31,000 population and in its current version exempts Grand County, where residents are in the process considering a change in governance. Current law allows counties, by a vote of the public, to choose among commissions of various sizes or a council form of government, which places executive authority in a mayor or manager.

In previous hearings, Lyman said his bill is intended to protect rural counties against the efforts of out-of-state conservationist organizations, which he said could use democratic processes to manipulate rural government. Before being elected to the Legislature last year, Lyman served on the San Juan County (population 15,000) and was a vocal opponent to the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument by then-President Barack Obama.

“It’s restrictive, no question,” Lyman said of his bill on Tuesday. “But it does take away the study and the process and the vote and all those other things that can be a complication in a small county.”

Lyman was joined in committee by Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney, who said that bigger governments are not necessarily better. Beaver has about 6,400 residents.

“This is a bill, again, to protect our people,” Whitney said, “to protect to make sure they get the proper representation they deserve.”

Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croyden, supported the bill during a previous committee vote, but joined the two Democratic members in opposing the legislation on Tuesday. The bill will now move to the full House for consideration.