With some discussion during the interim, but little public talk during this session, House and Senate leaders have decided to hire new staffers to help them individually with constituent services, office work and other non-political matters.
The Senate will have $500,000 for the new employees, the House also $500,000 in the next fiscal year, although all that money may not be spent on the new effort right away.
The funding is a bit odd, since there are only 29 senators but 75 House members.
Senators argue that is fair, since they have about three times more constituents than do each House member.
Sources tell UtahPolicy that the Senate has decided to allow each of the 29 senators to hire their own part-time staffer – probably working between five and 10 hours per week in their home districts.
The House is looking at hiring a pool of staffers to share among all 75 members.
Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, is spearheading the House’s effort.
This will be the first time that Utah’s part-time lawmakers will have any kind of official help paid for by taxpayers, outside of the interns (usually college political science majors) during the 45-day annual general session.
In the past, some legislators have hired folks to help them, paying for the aides either personally or out of their campaign funds.
How campaign funds are used for items “related” to their service has been tightened up in recent years.
In years past, lawmakers have used campaign funds for all kinds of items, like buying new home computers, gasoline, tires and repairs on personal cars they use in their district travels, new clothing and such.
Some lawmakers do a lot of fundraising, and so have more campaign funds to spend during their two (for representatives) or four (for senators) years in office.
Several years ago, the annual Legislature budget had a public hearing – usually combined with the office of governor, attorney general and other elected officers, where citizens could comment and/or the Legislature’s own budget staff would explain how much and where the Legislature would spend its monies.
Thus items like hiring new staffers would likely be discussed.
But in more recent sessions, the Legislature’s own budget has had little public notice. It is still agendaed and passed in a meeting of the Executive Appropriations Committee, but the presentation is short before votes are taken for approval.
The $1 million for the new staffers was part of an all-encompassing motion made in the March 10 EAC meeting. You find the appropriations in an internal list supplied to the EAC members, lines 283 and 290 in the online list.
All legal, but quickly dealt with and not openly discussed by EAC members.
In any case, Ric Cantrell, chief of staff for the Senate, said over the next few months the House and Senate leaders will decide exactly how each will hire and manage the new staffers.
For the Senate, the new aides will be located in each of the 29 districts, and not at the Capitol itself.
Senators won’t mix their in-session interns with their home district aides – the two jobs will be kept separate.
Twenty and 30 years ago, the page and sergeants at arms in-session jobs went to family members or friends of the senators and representatives.
Nepotism was legal, even encouraged.
Cantrell says it’s his hope that the new aide positions will be merit driven, not family driven.
“The idea is that bright, young folks, or at-home moms, who want to be involved in public service and a career” path will be picked, Cantrell said.
One thing is clear, while the new aides’ jobs will be to help the part-time legislators with constituent services and other office work, they will not be allowed to become involved with politics – like working on their bosses’ campaigns, fund raising and so on.
Public monies will not go to clearly partisan or political activities.
The interim Legislative Process Committee several times last summer and fall discussed the idea of personal legislative aides – but no clear decisions were reached.
Cantrell said with the passage of the 2014-2015 budget, the $1 million will become available July 1.
No new laws were needed, as this is an internal staffing decision, said Cantrell.
However, to clearly define how the new staffers may be used could require an internal legislative rule(s).
In recent years, legislative attorneys have opined that without the governor calling the Legislature into special session, lawmakers can meet on their own and adopt or change a rule.
That may be done during the interim meetings come April, May or June, said Cantrell.
Dee said the House is taking a different route than the Senate.
The House program will start small, maybe three full-time staffers for all 75 House members.
It is yet undecided whether the new aides will work in the House offices – directly under the House deputy chief – or out of the offices of Legislative Research and General Counsel.
In any case, the new aides will not be in home districts of the representatives.
To keep one, or a dozen, House members from monopolizing the aides’ time, each House member may be given a certain number of hours each month they can have the aides working for them. Go over those hours, and you can’t use the aides until next month, noted Dee.
“In the House, we want a central repository where constituent questions, and answers, can be kept. That way, if a public issue arises” you don’t have 20 House members calling, say, transportation bosses asking about the same issue.
One question asked, one answer found, and then all House members could respond to their constituents on that issue – as gathered by the new aides.
The aides “will absolutely” do no political operations for House members, said Dee.
“Whether located in our (House) offices or the LRGC, no political work.”