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Bill To Remove Political Balance From Boards And Commissions Advances

Lee Hale
Utah House of Representatives

A bill that would remove the balance of political parties from some state boards and commissions passed out of the Utah House today, but not without heated debate.

HB11 seeks to eliminate a requirement that an equal number of Republicans and Democrats serve on two dozen state boards and commissions.

Republican Representative Norm Thurston is the bill’s sponsor. He told lawmakers on the House floor that the goal is removing this political requirement to instead focus on other more relevant types of diversity like geography, gender and minority diversity. And more than anything else, focus on board members’ qualifications.

"Really what we want are people, regardless of politics, with very distinct professional knowledge and background. The focus on party affiliation is problematic and a practical impediment to getting our job done," Thurston said. 

The bill was amended by Republican Jeremy Peterson to take out several politically divisive boards including the Air Quality Board, the Water Quality Board and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, but even then it drew strong criticism from Democrats.

Democratic Representative Joel Briscoe cited the politicized nature of the Radiation Control Board.

"This is one of very few areas in this country that accepts nuclear waste. It’s been kind of quiet on that political front. But we appoint people to a Radiation Control Board. And there are different political views on how to deal with radiation control," Briscoe said. 

Another vocal opponent, Democrat Patrice Arent compared this bill to the public’s 2014 vote on taking out the political diversity from the Utah State Tax Commission.

"Again, the public overwhelmingly rejected what we are trying to do here on just one commission when they got a vote," Arent said. 

Despite these concerns, HB11 passed the House by a vote of 51-21.  It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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