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A Power Grab? Or Voters' Will? House Supports Committee Changes

Courtesy of Lavar Christensen for Congress Campaign
Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, wants to eliminate equal major-party representation on the legislative committees that handle such issues as hiring top staff and audits.

Democratic state lawmakers fought unsuccessfully Tuesday to block a bill that would reorganize key legislative committees and amount to what they call a power grab.

While some say it reflects a growing tension between the top Republican and the top Democrat in the state House of Representatives, the bill’s sponsor disagrees. House Bill 220 would strip some minority-party seats from the Legislative Management Committee and the Audit Subcommittee, but Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, says his move reflects the will of voters who’ve made Utah a Republican-controlled state.

“It’s not about power; it’s not about partisanship; it’s not about politics,” he said on the House floor. “It’s about principles, proportionality and the true implementation of the majority principle that is inherent in representative democracy that makes us a republic, the voice of the people.”

The management committee and its subcommittees have had an equal number of Republicans and Democrats since the Legislature and the governor’s office were in Democratic hands in the 1970’s. That makeup is different from most other legislative committees, which mirror the proportional split of the majority and the minority.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, expressed concern that nonpartisan staffers like auditors and lawyers won’t want to work for the Legislature if politics becomes part of their workplace.

“Our current system works well because our staff knows that their boss is hired by legislators from both political parties and that one party will not control their hiring,” she said in arguing against the bill.

The House voted, 41 to 33, to pass the bill and send it to the Senate.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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