Retirements and election defeats shuffle Utah House committee assignments

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) In this Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, lawmakers conduct business on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives in Salt Lake City.

It’s rare to have a freshman member of the Legislature assume a committee chairmanship when first taking office. It’s more unusual to have newly elected legislators sit in both the chair and vice-chair slots. Next year, the House Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Committee will be led by newbies.

Well, kinda.

Rep.-elect Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, who will chair the committee, returns to the Legislature after a six-year hiatus. Wilcox served in the House from 2008 to 2014, when he resigned to work for Sen. Mike Lee.

He’s joined by Rep.-elect Jefferson Burton, R-Salem, who will be vice-chair of the committee during the upcoming session. The previous chair and vice-chair were Reps. Lee Perry and Kim Coleman both did not run for reelection this year.

Additionally, Rep.-elect Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, is the new vice-chair of the Business, Economic Development and Labor Committee. Teuscher is taking the House seat vacated by Coleman, R-West Jordan, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Congress this year.

Those were the only surprises in the committee assignments announced Thursday by House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. None of the 12 other newly elected members of the House scored such prestigious assignments this year.

The last time a freshman member of the House was given such a plum assignment was Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, who was appointed to the House Rules Committee by then-Speaker Greg Hughes.

With 16 percent of the House roster turning over after the November election, some musical chairs on committees are to be expected.

In an apparent demotion, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, lost his vice-chair seat on the Government Operations Committee and was not given a chair or vice-chair slot on another committee. His vice-chair position went to Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo.

Reps. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, lost their reelection bids. Daw chaired the Health and Human Services Committee. That spot now goes to Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville. Hutchings was chair of the House Executive Offices Appropriations Committee and is replaced by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, gives up the gavel on the Business and Labor Committee but takes over as head of Political Subdivisions.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, is the new chair of Economic Development and Workforce Services, replacing Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City. Winder moves to the vice-chair slot on the Transportation Committee.

Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, takes over the top slot on the House Government Operations Committee from Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, who did not run for re-election.

In the only other major change, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, replaces Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, on the powerful House Rules Committee, which decides which committee hears each bill and can sometimes bury legislation that leaders don’t want to see the light of day.

In the last session, Speaker Wilson raised eyebrows when he appointed Democrat Sue Duckworth as vice-chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee. Duckworth did not seek reelection this year, but Wilson did not give another member of the minority party such a prestigious position this time around.

The Senate is expected to announce committee assignments for the upcoming session next week.

The 2021 Utah Legislature gets underway on January 19.