Thursday, April 24, 2008

State House of Representatives

I've been hearing a lot about how the different candidates want to represent me, to be my voice. At the county convention, on Saturday, I will get to vote for who I want to be the Utah State Representative for District 61.

I decided to find out more about what a state representative’s responsibilities and duties are. I read a lot of legal jargon and titles to lots of meetings online, but was having a hard time finding any "down to earth" information. With the little knowledge I had I decided to go to the source and ask some representatives about their responsibilities in regard to all these meetings that I read about.

I didn't even know the half of it!!! I learned that we have a lot of great representatives up and down our state. I truly have learned a lot and thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules to help me out.

Here's what I learned:

PRE-SESSION & PRE-INTERIM MEETINGS: Committee chairs and leadership are to attend these. They usually deal with budget issues at these meetings.

GENERAL SESSION: At the beginning of every year there is a general session that is required by law for them to attend. It's 45 consecutive days. This is where they make their bills and try to get them to pass to become a law. (This is why I put that School House Rock video on the blog. After learning about all that goes on I was reminded of those videos!) Each representative is also appointed to committees during the general session that usually meet during floor time. These are called Standing committees. The public is allowed to go to these to comment and listen.

INTERIM (time between general sessions): On the 3rd Wednesday of every month (often called Interim Day) April - November (except for 1 summer month, so they can attend National Conference Meetings) there are Interim Committee Meetings. Each representative is appointed to 2 committees. One committee will meet in the morning (9:a.m.) and one in the afternoon (2:p.m.). These are official legislative meetings, though not required by law to attend. Their pay is based on their attendance to these meetings. Most legislators replied that these meetings were mandatory and important to attend if they wanted to represent their districts. At these meetings they prioritize a list of topics to study, receive statutory reports from different state agencies, they make proposals and recommendations. The public is invited to these meetings and can make comments and presentations. These are the meetings where policy is being made (not put into bill or law, but the groundwork).

CAUCUS MEETINGS (not the one in March for everyone, but ones for the legislators on Capital Hill): These are not mandatory meetings but the legislators feel that if they don't attend, the leadership will not be as supportive of them.

TASK FORCE MEETINGS: Committee chairs and senior members are usually assigned to go. They are created for in-depth study of the certain areas. They generally meet 4-5 times a year. It just depends on how much work needs to be done. No first term legislators were assigned to these. This year the Task Forces are for Health Systems Reform, Immigration, and Higher Education Governance.

APPROPRIATION COMMITTEES: The governor prepares a budget for the legislature to review and approve. Each legislator is appointed to one of the 10 subcommittees. Each subcommittee reviews a specific portion of the budget and makes recommendations. The Executive Appropriations Committee (leadership of both parties in the House and the Senate) then alter and approve the budget and pass as the final appropriations bill. Then it's the Governor and Executive Branch's responsibility to administer to it.

VARIOUS COUNCIL & COMMISSION MEETINGS (i.e. Council of State Governments, National Council of State Legislators, ALEX, Tax Review Commission, Welfare Legislative Oversite Committee, International Trade Commission, and so on ...): Committee chairs and senior members are usually assigned to go. They meet from 2-7 times a year (more if mandated). It just depends on how much work needs to be done.

OTHER: They are often invited to meetings held by various groups (i.e. Public Education, Association of Governments, law enforcement groups, public health officials, Small Business Associations, realty groups, political party groups, and so on ...) so they can become informed in those areas. They may attend their local meetings, like county commission. They will attend meetings where their bill will be signed into law, etc.

It seems like a lot of work, meetings, and time for part time pay!

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