The large 63-member Utah House Republican Party caucus has an enlarged, remodeled meeting room, used for the first time Wednesday during an open interim study day caucus.
And it appears the renovated space will allow for a partitioned-off part of the room to be called the Rebecca Lockhart conference room, in honor of the first female speaker of the Utah House who died suddenly of a rare brain disease just before the 2015 Legislature.
When the Utah State Capitol was remodeled several years ago, the tradition majority caucus room, across the north hallway from the House Chambers, also got an upgrade.
But it quickly became too small for the growing caucus – which has reached a modern day size record, 63 out of the 75 House members.
A little sign inside the door of the room reads that only 64 people can be inside at a time – a capacity set by the State Fire Marshall.
That would mean one only staffer, reporter or member of the public could attend an open caucus meeting – and stay within the fire code.
But often during monthly interim meetings, and more times during the 45-day general session, dozens more than that number crowd into the open caucus, where the majority Republicans discuss all kinds of important state policy and budget issues.
And while Senate Republicans always close their caucuses to the press and public, most House Republican caucus meetings are open.
The 63 Republicans also eat lunch during the caucus, and the layout of the old room, next to a kitchen, had representatives bumping into the public as they carried their trays back and forth, with sometimes no space at the tables for House members, who had to balance their meals on their laps while sitting next to hungry, drooling reporters et al.
So, House leaders decided to spend some surplus House funds – isn’t it amazing how state managers can find these monies? – to remodel and enlarge the majority caucus room.
A new kitchen was built back in its original location, just north of the House lounge behind the chamber. And House members will be able to walk through the kitchen area, pick up their lunches, and move into the new caucus room without jostling with the public.
New tables have been ordered so all 63 House Republicans should be able to sit down to a meal.
And around 30 or so members of the media/public should be able to sit at the very back of the room and listen to the open caucus discussions.
Also, four very large flat screen TVs have been placed high on the walls so that caucus members can view special presentations – which before were shot onto a pull-down screen that some caucus members had a hard time seeing.
There is still access from the room to a private hallway, leading to restrooms and the Senate Chambers – so members of both bodies can pass back and forth without having to walk out into public corridors where they are sometimes confronted by lobbyists, reporters, and constituents.
Lawmakers in the 2015 Legislature tried to name a section of I-15 in Utah County after Lockhart – who worked tirelessly to get the freeway rebuilt in her home county.
But I-15 was already designated a veteran’s highway, and some veteran groups objected to having a section of their highway renamed.
So House members have been looking since for some way to honor Lockhart’s memory.