The new budget and standing committee assignments have been released by Senate-president-elect Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and his GOP leadership team.
And among some of the surprises is that Niederhauser is allowing the minority Democrats – only five of them for 2013-2014 – to have a greater standing in the powerful Senate Rules Committee than their meager numbers in the whole body would require.
Long-time lawmaker Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, will chair the new Senate Rules Committee. It will consist of eight members, two of which are Democrats.
Thus, while the Senate as a whole is 17.24 percent Democratic, 82.75 percent Republican (rounded off to the nearest 100th of a percentage point), the Rules committee will be 25 percent Democratic, 75 percent Republican.
As noted previously in UtahPolicy, to get a close match-up of proportion and still have two Democrats included, the new Rules committee would need 11 members – wholly one third of the 29-member Senate.
Clearly, Niederhauser didn’t want to put a third of his whole membership on one committee which would have to meet at least once a day during the upcoming 45-day general session, and perhaps more often in the final days of the Legislature.
Even with only eight members, it’s often the case that when the Senate Rules Committee meets the Senate as a whole must stop chamber action because so many members are off the floor.
(In the 75-member House, its House Rules Committee jumps out of a floor session to meet while the House continues work on bills.)
However, it is true that the majority Republicans always get their way in either the Senate or House Rules committees because, when the majority leader asks for it, those groups vote along party lines to get what the Republicans want.
Still, Niederhauser is giving the poorly Senate Democrats a real bone by allowing the new Senate Rules Committee to be over-represented by Democrats than their numbers in the whole body deems appropriate.
Other interesting Senate committee appointments:
-- Long-time Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, remains the Senate budget chair. This is a smart move by Niederhauser.
Because of various turnovers and retirements, the Executive Appropriations Committee, made up mostly of elected leadership, both parties, for 2013-2014 has a number of newcomers on it.
In fact, the EAC – which is the all-powerful group that makes the final budget decisions – will have 11 new out of 20 members starting in the 2013 Legislature.
That’s a pretty big turnover for that budget kingpin group.
The EAC has only four appointed members – the House chair and co-chair and the Senate chair and co-chair. All other slots are taken by elected leaders in the House and Senate, both bodies.
There’s a bit of a tradition in the Senate that while not being punitive, the senators who ran against the ultimate majority leadership winners are not rewarded with prime committee assignments.
Of course, because of the number of committee chairs and the number of majority senators in the small 29-member Senate, all Republicans, even incoming freshmen, are chairs of some committee.
Thus, one sees that Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who was the Senate vice-chair of the EAC last term was not put back on the EAC this time around.
Van Tassell lost to Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, in the majority assistant whip race in leadership contests right after the November 2012 general election.
Instead, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, is put on EAC as Senate vice-chair by Niederhauser and the other majority members of leadership.
Stevenson was first elected to the Senate in 2010. And it is unusual for a freshman to be put on the EAC by majority leaders.
(Of note, as reported in UtahPolicy last week, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, did the same thing – put a freshman on EAC as the House vice-chair.)
It usually takes several years in office before the majority bosses puts someone in the EAC vice-chair post in either the House or Senate. Van Tassell, for example, was first elected in 2006.
-- Valentine replaces Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, as Senate Rules Chairman. Senate Rules is all powerful in legislation, for it sifts bills to standing committees for a public hearing.
If a bill doesn’t come out of Senate Rules, it’s dead.
Dayton ran for Senate majority leader, a post won by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.
Of the eight Rules members, only Valentine and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, are new to the committee. So that membership remains veterans.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, lost to Niederhauser for the president’s post. Out of leadership, Jenkins now gets regular committee assignments. He is chair of the Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment Standing Committee.
-- Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is out as chair of the Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee and becomes chair of the Business and Labor Standing Committee.
Bramble, a CPA, is an expert in taxation law and policy. But Bramble ran for Senate majority leader and lost.
Incoming freshman Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, is the new chair of Revenue and Taxation.
-- Dayton, out of Rules, goes to chair of the Government Operations & Political Subdivisions Standing Committee.
Again, all committee chairs are important, but Rules is more of a plumb than Dayton’s new committee assignment.
-- Van Tassell is the new chair of the Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Standing Committee.
-- Sen. Alan Christensen, R-North Ogden, comes off as chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, which is now headed by Senate Majority Assistant Whip Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City.
This is not a big deal, since Senate Ethics rarely meets, only to hear an ethics bill or, more importantly, to sit in judgment of a colleague accused of an ethics violation. The Senate Ethics Committee hasn’t met in the latter role in dozens of years.
-- Several powerful Senate budget chairs stay on in their posts.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, still chairs the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee; Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, still chairs the higher education budget subcommittee; and Christensen still chairs the social services budget subcommittee.
-- Incoming freshman Brian Shiozawa, R-Sandy, is the chair of the Business, Economic Development & Labor Appropriations Subcommittee.
While it is not unheard of for an incoming freshman to chair a budget committee, usually they are given the chairmanship of a standing committee.
It takes less experience to run a bill committee than it does a budget committee, where the chair is usually a veteran legislator who has some years of experience in plowing through difficult budget matters.
It was rumored before November’s leadership election that Shiozawa was supporting Niederhauser for president, and could be the determining vote in whether Jenkins or Niederhauser won the president’s position.
-- Longtime House member, incoming senator, Wayne Harper, R-South Jordan, is the new Infrastructure & General Government budget chair.
-- The other new GOP senator, state House Rep. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is made the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee.
Finally, how was new senator Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, treated?
Sources tell UtahPolicy that Niederhauser allowed Dabakis to be assigned to committees as recommended by the Democratic leaders.
The four incumbent Democratic senators are all members of minority leadership, and so in theory they sat down among themselves to divide up the committees as they wished.
In any case, Dabakis – the state Democratic Party chairman who has made a name for himself lambasting Utah GOP officeholders – will sit on the Senate Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee; the Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment Standing Committee; the Executive Offices & Criminal Justice and the Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environmental Quality budget subcommittees.
Farming may not be Dabakis’ strong point.
But he can make “suggestions” from just about any position in the Senate.
We’ll see how all this turns out during the 2013 Legislature, which starts Jan. 28, and in the rest of 2013.