Utah bill would gut rule for non-Republicans on 24 boards
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that scraps a requirement that two dozen state boards and commissions not be dominated by one political party.
The GOP-controlled House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill over the objections of Democrats who said it shuts their voice out of important issues, including decisions about handling of nuclear waste in the state. Seven Republicans crossed party lines to join them in opposition.
The bill's sponsor, Provo Republican Rep. Norm Thurston, argues that the governor's office cannot find enough candidates for those 24 boards, including boards overseeing oil, gas and mining and water conservation and water pipeline projects.
The governor's staff told lawmakers in a hearing last week that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert tries to look beyond political affiliations and find the best people to fill jobs when making appointments but cannot always find enough non-Republicans.
Thurston said the governor's office already does not have any partisan restrictions when appointing candidates to 340 other boards. His bill leaves a partisan requirement in place for 50 other state boards.
Thurston originally targeted some of the state's most political boards: the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission; the Public Service Commission, which oversees rates and service for electric, natural gas and water utilities; the Air Quality Board; and the Water Quality Board.
But lawmakers approved a move Wednesday from Republican Rep. Jeremy Peterson to keep the bipartisan rules in place for those boards. Peterson said that while he is in the supermajority party, he believes that only hearing from one perspective can be dangerous and those boards deal with contentious issues.
Democrats said Peterson's move was an improvement but complained that the bill still closes them out of important discussions.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, questioned whether other requirements might make it difficult for the governor's office to find candidates, such as rules about where in the state the candidate should live or what industry they represent.
She also warned Republicans that they may one day find rules about political diversity important if Democrats gain control of the governor's office, something that has not happened in three decades.
"We need a system that works no matter who is in the governor's office," Arent said. "Because sometimes, we can get a real surprise with election results."
The bill now moves to the Republican-dominated Senate.
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