‘Pre-Legislative Bootcamp’ offers peek into inner workings of Utah Legislature

District 62 Rep. Jon Stanard speaks at the Libertas Institute's "Pre-Legislative Bootcamp," St. George, Utah, Jan. 21, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A conference aimed at demystifying Utah’s legislative process drew dozens of curious citizens Saturday.

The Libertas Institute’s “Pre-Legislative Bootcamp” was held at the Dixie Center St. George and featured several breakout sessions explaining how legislation works at all levels, from bill to law. Speakers included representatives from the Utah Legislature, including Sen. Don Ipson, Rep. Jon Stanard and Rep. V. Lowry Snow.

Michael Melendez, Libertas Institute director of policy, addresses the crowd at the “Pre-Legislative Bootcamp,” St. George, Utah, Jan. 21, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

The Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank, was also joined by conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity to preview policies in the upcoming 2017 legislative session, ranging from food truck regulation to death penalty repeal.

“The goal is that people that come walk away with tools and ideas of how they can effectively advocate their positions to their legislators,” Michael Melendez, director of policy for Libertas Institute, said.

The nonpartisan institute works actively to push a libertarian agenda in Utah politics.

“It doesn’t matter what your political orientation is,” Melendez said. “Of course, we’re advertising to the people who like what we do and follow us, so, in general, it’s the people who are free market-thinking.”

Policy preview

Some of the policies the institute is actively engaging include civil asset forfeiture, repealing vehicle safety inspections, ending truancy laws and repealing the death penalty.

The organization is also actively lobbying for a “Food Truck Freedom Bill.”

“Basically, get rid of some of the onerous regulations that are put upon food trucks,” Melendez said. “Help give them a more equal playing field.”

As it stands, food trucks that wish to operate in multiple cities must meet a laundry list of regulations in each jurisdiction, Melendez said, and the Libertas Institute would like to see this burden eased significantly.

“Occupational licensure will be a big one, too,” Melendez said. “Some of these low-to-middle-income jobs are heavily licensed. It’s hard for people to get into them when these licensees don’t do anything to promote consumer confidence or safety or anything like that. It’s just an extreme barrier to entry.”

Americans for Prosperity focused its policy preview on fiscal responsibility.

“We’re mainly economically focused,” Heather Williamson, field director for Americans for Prosperity, said. “We get into health care, we get into energy, into taxes – things like that.”

Secrets of the legislature

A lot of people think the process is overwhelming,” Williamson said of Utah’s arcane legislative process. “They don’t understand how it works, and they don’t know how they can get involved.”

The majority of the Pre-Legislative Bootcamp was spent explaining and simplifying the process with input from seasoned lobbyists and lawmakers.

“We hope to demystify that process and help people understand how they can have an active part in the process,” Williamson said.

Stanard, who represents District 62 in Southern Utah, spoke about how to be an effective citizen lobbyist, including how best to approach elected officials.

In this January 2016 file photo, Rep. Jon Stanard speaks at the “Issues Over Eggs” Q-and-A breakfast concerning the upcoming 2016 session of the Utah Legislature, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“The biggest thing I’ll say offhand is you carry a lot more weight than you think you do,” Stanard said.

Legislators often get little input while a bill moves through the Legislature.

“You would be amazed at how little interaction we get from our constituents on those bills – like none,” Stanard said.

He said two to three people contacting him for comment on a bill is on the high end.

“Those who do,” Stanard said, “their voice carries a lot more weight than they think it does.”

The lawmaker advised contacting legislators individually well before a bill reaches committee.

“What you can do, through email or through phone calls or however you want to do it, you can communicate with every single member on that committee,” Stanard said, “and you’ll probably have much more effect doing that than you would do testifying before the committee.”

Stanard also said civility can go a long way, reminding the audience that “lawmakers are people, too.” He said:

One thing that’s tough for us, too, that most people don’t realize, along with being part time and mostly volunteer, we have very little staff or help with anything. We have no personal staff – at all.

Stanard added that legislators are only compensated about $10,000 annually.

Since time is so crunched for most lawmakers, Stanard advised keeping comments short and simple with supporting information.

“It’s okay to have some stories and emotions, but you also want to have some facts and figures that make sense,” Stanard said, noting that emotional appeals are good but should avoid coming across as “angry” or “crazy.”

Audience members were actively engaged throughout the conference and were provided with numerous resources to follow the legislative process, including online tools for citizen activism.

“I’m hoping a lot of people walked away feeling like they learned something and that they now feel less intimidated by the process and they’re willing to start getting engaged,” Williamson said.

The general session of the Utah Legislature begins Monday and runs through March 9.

Resources

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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