The House’s electronic computer systems had a few “snafus,” as House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, put it.
And as a result about five bills which were moved to the top of the voting calendar and had the 24-hour “waiting rule” suspended were voted on with the freshmen having little or no knowledge of what the bills really did – they couldn’t pull them up on their chamber desk laptop computers.
One may say they were voting blind.
And while the cynics among us may argue even veteran legislators vote blind at times, it still didn’t sit well with the freshmen.
In a caucus meeting Tuesday, Dee formally apologized to the freshmen, several of whom complained Monday afternoon to their colleagues and to leadership.
Technical problems with the new floor computer systems (yes, there was as new computer system at the start of the last general session also, but these are different problems) slopped over into Tuesday.
While the computer systems were being fixed Tuesday morning, House Republicans and Democrats recessed into caucuses to talk about several items, including a new legislative pay scale. (See accompanying UtahPolicy story here).
While the “old hands” of the GOP House caucus, some of whom have only seen two or three general sessions, there’s been so much turn-over recently, tried to explain away what happened Monday, a few of the newbies weren’t buying it.
“I need 24 hours so I know what I’m doing,” said one freshman, who is so new this intrepid reporter didn’t recognize him.
Another said he’s trying his best to read all the bills, but is having a hard time keeping up – especially if the 24-hour on the calendar rule is suspended and he can’t pull the bill up on his laptop.
While that is certainly understandable, earlier Tuesday another member of House GOP leadership told UtahPolicy that several new colleagues had come to him asking for tips in how to deal with the bill workload.
This leader learned that the men were reading all of the bills’ pages. That may sound good, but actually most legislators scan a bill and just read the underlined sections or paragraphs – those are the additions to existing law and represent the important changes.
“I told them: “Hey, you can’t read the whole bill. Just look for the underlined stuff; the new stuff. That’s what matters.””
Dee admitted to his caucus that when the computer system started having clinches and representatives couldn’t call up bills on their laptops, “I should have stopped everything.”
But all the bills being considered Monday were so-called “committee bills.”
They had been debated and passed unanimously by at least one 2012 interim study committee. Thus, for returning legislators they are nothing new, having been seen last year.
But the “committee bills” were certainly new to the freshman House members, who, along with one-session members, make up a fourth of the 75-member body.
To suspend the 24-hour rule and act on a committee bill soon after it pops up on the House floor calendar is nothing new to veteran legislators.
“Rest assured, any more questions of that nature in the future, we’ll just stop the (bill voting) process,” said Dee, who is in his 11th general session.
Ironically, it could be the House members themselves who have unknowingly jammed up their own computer systems.
Lockhart said their system technicians tell them that members should be plugging in their new Apple laptops by cable to the internal Ethernet, rather than using the Capitol’s Wi-Fi for their connections.
The Capitol’s Wi-Fi systems are having problems. too.
Reporters are finding it difficult to connect their laptops to the Wi-Fi in the Capitol – it’s taking 2 to 5 minutes for the CapNet system to finally recognize the computers and hook them into the Internet – which is used not only to look up bills and committee agendas, but to streamline video and audio to the floor sessions in the House and Senate and live committee meetings.
Said Dee: “The last two weeks are a madhouse around here,” as bills are passed quickly between the House and Senate, new substitute bills introduced on the spur of the moment and old bills, that had been killed, make amazing comebacks.
Dee said he would try early in the 45-day session, which started Monday, to meet each morning with House freshmen who had questions about process, rules and other matters.
“Maybe I can give you a heads up when we are going to suspend the rules,” so the freshmen won’t be caught off guard and wondering what the heck is going on.
Legislation action “is a moving target,” said Dee. “You know where my desk is” on the floor. “Come back to me (on the back row) and we’ll walk you through it.”
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, was appointed last year and has one session under his belt.
“It is crazy around here sometimes,” McCay said. “You must keep your head on a swivel all the time up here. You don’t recognize what’s coming and it happens. You stop and ask (the person sitting next to you) what just happened? Trust me, a 24-hour suspension is a minor thing” to what occurs in the final days of the Utah Legislature’s general session.