The Utah Legislature has won all kinds of praise for having one of the most transparent and Internet friendly web sites in the nation.
Yes, there were considerable problems the first three weeks of the 2012 Legislature as three new online systems went up – and blew apart – as the session began in late January.
But legislative IT folks put in long hours, along with their new live-streaming provider, and eventually things got worked out.
Even though I’ve covered the Legislature for 33 years, there’s always new stuff that I’ve discovered.
And last week it was that the Senate and House Rules Committees’ minutes are not put up online.
All the other committees who meet during the 45-day general session do put up their minutes after they are approved by the individual committee membership.
But not the two Rules committees.
It’s easy to understand why the two Rules, when acting as bill sifting committees, are exempt from the GRAMA 24-hour agenda noticing requirements.
Rules, especially in the final two weeks of hectic work, often need to meet quickly to get more bills sent out to the floor voting calendars. Trying to anticipate 24 hours ahead of time when those meetings are needed would be unworkable.
The House, with 75 members, can excuse its nine-member Rules committee to meet while in floor session. There are enough representatives for business to go forth while the Rules members closet (usually quickly) in the majority caucus room just off the House floor.
However, the smaller Senate, just 29 members, can’t afford to have any group of senators meeting in a committee during floor sessions – bills could fail to get the 15 vote majority with eight Rules committee members off the floor.
So, the House Rules meets with a verbal announcement from the speaker’s podium during floor sessions, while the Senate Rules meets just after senators take a two-hour lunch break at noon.
But even with irregular meeting times, I don’t see why Rules committee minutes are not put up on the Legislature’s web site after (like all committee minutes) they are approved in a subsequent meeting.
I stumbled upon this oddity last week as I was trying to get the votes in House Rules to hold three illegal immigration bills.
Now, anyone can sign up on line to get the minutes of any committee, including the Rules committees.
Efficient staffers (via a computer program) automatically email you the minutes of any committees you subscribe to, including the Rules.
But you can’t go online to find individual Rules meeting minutes, as you can other committees.
In my case, I emailed the legislative staffers who handle House Rules, and they very kindly sent me copies of the minutes I needed.
The head House Rules staffer noted that minutes are available upon request, or all minutes are available if you sign up online to get them beforehand.
But still, with all the great data provided online by the Utah Legislature, it is a bit odd that one can’t look up the individual House and Senate Rules minutes by meeting like you can with all the other committees.
This exception is not the only strange variance.
Earlier this session Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, asked leave of the House to open new bill file. He was voted down, a rarity in its own.
I wanted to see who voted against letting Sandstrom open a new bill file.
All votes on the House and Senate floor are, on the web site, linked to the bill number of the vote.
But Sandstrom didn’t have a bill number. He was trying to open a bill file so he could get a number.
Thus, there was no place on the Legislature’s web site to find that vote.
One could later scroll through the whole morning session debates via an audio/video file until you came upon that Sandstrom vote.
But that wouldn’t be available for a day or so, and would be quite an inconvenience.
Instead, after the House adjourned I went down to the staffers on the House floor who run the floor calendar/voting operation and they kindly printed me out the Sandstrom vote.
But if you were listening at home, or didn’t know how to find these folks on the House floor, you’d be in a pickle for at least 24 hours.
So, even though the Utah Legislature has a fine, public access web site, where all kinds of debates, bills and votes are immediately available, there are several loopholes in the system that could use some attention.
Seems to me it would be quite easy to post online individual minutes of Rules Committee meetings.
How to tie a floor vote to a debate that has no numbered bill attached may be a more difficult fix, but one worth considering.