House GOP leaders are considering a move to give the majority party two more votes on the Legislative Management Committee – which actually decides how the Legislature works.
Currently, the partisan 16-membership is 50-50 between parties, with membership being the elected leaders of the House and Senate, both parties, eight Democrats, eight Republicans.
The majority Republicans hold the chair and vice chairs of the committee, set the agenda and conduct the meetings.
But it takes a majority of both bodies to pass a motion in Legislative Management, so if Democrats hold strong, any motion will fail.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, says it would be a mistake for the Republicans to change a legislative management system that has worked well for 40 years – with perhaps only a few hiccups that even if a bit unpleasant for the majority Republicans, result in the majority still getting almost all of what it wants in the way the legislative branch of government is run.
“I hope” the issue “can be solved internally,” said King. “And we are working for that, and think it can happen” — adding that there are several issues percolating behind the scenes that he, King, declined to mention which could impact the ultimate decision.
But if the Republicans go ahead and pass such a bill, “We Democrats will have more to say on it,” said King.
The bill – not yet introduced – would put one more House Republican and one more Senate Republican on to Leg Management – as it is known.
“It would just more reflect the make-up of the bodies,” said House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, who has opened a bill file on the matter.
Currently, Republicans hold 84 percent of the House (63-12), Democrats only 16 percent.
In the Senate, Republicans hold 83 percent of the body (24-5), Democrats only 17 percent.
If Republicans gave themselves one more vote in the House and Senate in Legislative Management, Republicans would hold 56 percent in Legislative Management, Democrats 44 percent; which would be way below the percentages they hold in the House and Senate as a whole.
Several years ago legislative majority leadership thought about changing the makeup of Leg Management and the House and Senate Ethics Committees to reflect the actual partisan make-up of the House and Senate, respectively.
Currently, only Leg Management and the ethics committees are 50-50, with each party having the same number of members.
All other legislative committees have about the same percentage of the majority and minority parties as is found in their respective bodies.
With both Leg Management and the ethics committees are equally bipartisan, and the decisions made rarely reflect the partisan nature of the Utah Legislature, with the Democrats nearly always agreeing with the majority party wishes.
In practice, however, that has not always been the case – and sometimes, admitted rarely, the minority Democrats have been able to frustrate the will of the Republican majority.
Take Leg Management committee meetings last December and January.
Several of the GOP members in the House and Senate didn’t show up to the December meeting. And on the agenda was an item that the Democrats didn’t want.
After discussion, a vote was taken. And the GOP-made motion failed.
The late-House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, who was chairing the meeting, smiled and said: “How much longer do you want to sit here” – clearly letting the Democrats know that the meeting wasn’t going to end until the GOP-made motion passed.
A few of the Democrats hemmed and hawed. And then a revote was taken and the motion passed.
In a more serious case, the last time the House Ethics Committee met, seven years ago, there was a charge against a Republican – brought by Democrats – and then a counter charge related to the first charge, brought by Republicans against a Democrat.
The charge against the Republican was more serious, and so taken up first by the equally-numbered committee of House Republicans and Democrats.
After that charge was dealt with – testimony taken, many media reports published – and charges dismissed, Republicans tried to move on to the charges against the Democrat.
But when the motion was made to take testimony and continue, it failed on partisan lines – that is to say tied between Democrats and Republicans, and so failed. The committee’s work was basically done.
But some House Republicans didn’t like that outcome – they wanted full hearings against the Democrat, as well.
Gibson says he believes he gets along well with the very small minority of Democrats in the House – which is dominated by Republicans, 63-12.
And it is not personal at all for him, said Gibson.
“With a supermajority, we can certainly do what we want. But with great majorities also comes great responsibility” to be as fair as possible to the minority, says Gibson.
“And we” in House majority leadership “take that seriously,” Gibson added.
For example, the new House leadership of House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, gave House Democrats an extra seat on the powerful House Rules Committee, above the number of Democrats who would normally be on Rules according the actual partisan make-up of the 2015 House.
House Rules has eight members, six Republicans and two Democrats – that is 75 percent Republicans and 25 percent Democrats, even though Democrats make up only 16 percent of the 75-member House.
Adding one more majority member from the House and Senate in Legislative Management will make certain needed work gets done, and the majority to take actions it feels are necessary, without silencing the minority, GOP leaders said.
For now, Gibson’s bill sits unintroducted. And talks with the Democrats continue.
“It is not good policy” to have decisions on the actually running of the Legislature made along party lines, said King.
In fact, said King, it’s probably good to have “some pressure” when critical issues about the bipartisan running of the Legislature are debated. “It can bring those decisions to the middle – both for the Democrats and the Republicans.”
“Would it be good policy for the majority party” to always, always, get what they wanted and ignore the minority party’s feelings in the running of the third branch of government? King asks.
King said that he and Hughes are “actually very good friends,” and he believes the speaker and minority leader can work things out without changing the partisan political power on the Legislative Management Committee.
Whether Gibson’s bill comes out for debate and votes remains to be seen – but you can probably guess that, at least for the near future – you won’t be seeing Democrats trying to stall a decision in Leg Management any time soon.