Democrat draws warning over claim GOP-backed bill meant to shore up Republican control

First Published Feb 17 2017 01:15PM    •    Last Updated Feb 21 2017 11:43 am

Senators gave final approval on Friday to a bill that removes partisan diversity requirements for members of state board and commissions. 

The Senate voted 22-7 for HB11, which strikes the current language in state law that caps the number of members for certain boards that can be affiliated with the same political party.

The measure passed largely along party lines, with majority Republicans having their way.

But in speaking against the bill, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, received a scolding from one of his GOP colleagues, leading to a warning from Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, about inappropriate behavior during debate.

"Let's, everyone, work cooperatively here. Let's not take things personally, let's stick to the policy and vigorously debate that policy." 

Dabakis described HB11 as "exclusionary," saying it removes a long-standing protection on political diversity within the state and further diminishes the voice of Utahns with minority opinions. 

He compared the issue to recent debates over public lands, and said that whether Utah's governor is a Republican or a Democrat, he or she should not be allowed to stack commissions with ideologically homogeneous appointees. 

"I think the fact that the Outdoor Retailers are leaving is because there isn't dialogue," he said. "There is one perspective and one block and one view in too many places in state government."

The bill's sponsor Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, argued that partisan requirements create unnecessary limitations on candidates. HB11 states that party affiliation can not be a consideration for potential board members, which she said would promote the selection of the most qualified candidates. 

Dabakis countered that the bill is clearly an attempt to ensure Republican control of state boards, and he added that anyone who says otherwise either misunderstands or misrepresents the proposal's intent. 

"This is bad government and it hurts a lot of people," he said. 

That comment drew a rebuke from Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who said Dabakis had impugned the integrity of the bill sponsor. 

"I am offended by it," he said. 

Following the vote on the bill, Niederhauser paused to remind members to keep discussion focused on the specific merits of legislation.

"Voices are to be heard here," he said. "That's what we do and we want to make sure everyone has that opportunity." 

The House approved a different version of HB11 earlier this month in a 51-21 vote. Changes in the Senate require an additional House vote before the bill reaches the governor's desk.

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