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Bill Scrapping Political Balance On State Boards Advances


Legislation that would eliminate equal partisan representation for several state boards and commissions passed out of a House committee today, though not without vocal opposition from Democrats, who say the bill will erode political diversity.  

HB 11 identifies 29 state commissions that will no longer require the governor to appoint an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to them. That includes the Livestock Market Committee, the Drinking Water Board and the Waste Management and Radiation Control Board.

Bill Sponsor Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Utah Co., says there are 414 state commissions made up of mostly unpaid volunteers and of those, around 70 have some partisan balance requirements.

He told the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday that not only is the political affiliation rule a burden to keep track of, but it keeps good, qualified people from serving.

“So suppose that you found out that the person you would really like to be on that board can’t be because they’re affiliated with a particular party. You may not have an easy time finding another person at all that’s qualified to fill that board,” he says.

But Democratic Rep. Patrice Arent called the bill drastic and asked for the rationale behind each of the 29 commissions Thurston wants to make non-partisan.

“Someone spent a lot of time on this, so I would like to know if they made a mistake, why they made a mistake? Under your analysis, maybe we don’t even need diversity in the Utah Legislature if you take it to the next level,” she said.

For Democrats, the bill echoed a similar maneuver by Republicans last year to take away equal membership on two key House committees.

Arent attempted to block the bill but Republicans overrode her motion. The bill passed out of committee in a 6-3 vote. It now heads to the House floor for consideration. 

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