Proposal aims to crack down on state employees lobbying lawmakers

Some Utah legislators believe there are too many state employees up on Capitol Hill during the 45-day general session – lobbying them and taking up state resources.

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, has HB391.

It would substantially limit the executive branch people who could actively lobby lawmakers – with the hope that fewer bosses on the Hill during the 45-day general session and interim study days will result in better work by all concerned.

Complaints have been heard before by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s office about the number of state workers at the Legislature.

But Herbert’s office didn’t like proposed laws before and doesn’t like this bill now.

Paul Edwards, Herbert’s chief of communications, told on Thursday: “Good legislation depends on good information. For that reason, this bill seems counterproductive.

“State entities and employees involved in the day-to-day operations of the state have important information and details to share about proposed legislation.

“Restricting that flow of information seems unwise,” Edwards said.

Peterson says “good information” can still come to lawmakers.

His bill exempts Herbert himself, his cabinet (the department heads), university and college presidents, State Board of Education, and the attorney general or state auditor or treasurer.

Executive branch employees would be welcome to testify before legislative committees, and any employee could, and should, answer any questions by lawmakers themselves.

But lobbying – trying to influence an official action – couldn’t be done by most state workers.

And state agencies would be prohibited from taking an official, public position against any bill or budget action.

Peterson said it’s his experience that the number of state employees up at the Capitol during a session has greatly increased in recent years.

Lawmakers are being pigeon-holed by these folks and asked to fund this or that program or oppose this of that bill.

Such positions can be appropriately convened by fewer folks, he believes.

Peterson said he doesn’t yet know if his bill has support in the House or Senate.

And since it is a bill, if passed Herbert could always veto it.

Or maybe Peterson is just sending a message to all the state employees hanging out in the hallways, seeking to talk to lawmakers: Cool it.