Lawmakers Considering Historic Joint Majority Caucus

GOP leaders of the Utah House and Senate are considering an historic event: Holding a joint closed caucus of the Legislature’s majority to discuss pending legislation.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told his 63-member House GOP caucus on Thursday to think about a night next week where all the legislative Republicans could meet and talk about GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan.

Through a spokesperson, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said “not so fast.”

Senate Republicans will consider the joint caucus meeting, but haven’t agreed upon it yet.

I’ve covered the Utah Legislature for 35 years, and in that time House and Senate majority members have not held a joint caucus, closed or open, during the annual general session.

Even though Republicans are in the majority in both the House and Senate, a closed joint caucus would not be in violation of the Utah Open Meetings Law because caucuses are exempt from that law.

The irony is that House GOP leaders want this joint closed caucus, and House Republicans hold usually open caucuses on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the 45-day general session – an open meeting reporters and interested citizens appreciate.

Senate Republicans, who hold automatic closed caucuses on Tuesdays and Thursdays, are the ones balking at the joint closed caucus idea – at least when Hughes announced the idea to his members on Thursday.

Senate Chief of Staff Ric Cantrell told reporters Thursday afternoon that Senate Republicans would consider the House Republicans’ closed caucus request and probably make a decision on it some time next week.

Hughes told his GOP caucus that Medicaid expansion is a once in a generation decision, could indebt Legislatures for years to come, and most be taken very carefully.

What Hughes didn’t say, but is also the case, is that legislative Republicans will no doubt be asked to defend their Medicaid expansion decision in the 2016 elections and beyond.

“We need to get this right,” Hughes told his caucus members, before announcing (perhaps prematurely) that Senate GOP leadership was with him in requesting the historic joint closed Republican legislative caucus meeting.