Web makes it easy to see how proposed bills would affect you

Jan 26 2013 - 12:58pm

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Mondays are big days in the law. The first Monday in October marks the commencement of the Supreme Court session for that year. I always dreaded Mondays when I was doing domestic law (which I am fortunately no longer doing), because every client with visitation and custody issues was calling simultaneously at 9 a.m. And, of course, weekend shenanigans can make for a busy Monday for the criminal defense bar.

Finally, the Utah Constitution has designated the fourth Monday in January to begin each year's general legislative session. This means that beginning this Monday, your legislators will begin passing laws.

As scary as this may seem, we are protected by the Utah Constitution, which limits the general legislative session to a mere 45 days, excluding federal holidays. Forty-five days isn't really a long time, but legislators always manage to pack a lot of mischief into their short time together.

Because parliamentary procedure and haggling over bills and committee assignments is rarely riveting news, the legislative news cycle usually goes something like this: Uh-oh, looks like the Legislature is going back into session. Pause for 45 days. Uh-oh, look what stupid laws the Legislature passed.

So before the Legislature goes into session this year, I thought I would at least encourage all of you to take a little more proactive interest in what your state government is doing. Go to le.utah.gov and look at what is happening.

Bills have been proposed on subjects ranging from abortion to zoning. There is a bill request pending on the sale of puppies. I don't know yet what needs to be regulated on puppies, but I can't wait to find out.

On a more serious note, 23 bills and bill requests have been put forward in just the business category. If you are in business, you should check every year to see what legislation is being proposed that could impact your business practices and bottom line.

For example, if you are a truck driver, you may want to check out Senate Bill 19, which would change some of the requirements relating to commercial driving licenses.

As I was preparing this column, I received an email from a new website, utahpoliticalcapitol.com, which provides summaries of many of the upcoming legislative bills.

From the bills I reviewed, the analysis was pretty even-handed on the proposed legislation. (Given the influence of money in politics, I was a little disappointed that the website was utahpoliticalcapitol.com and not utahpoliticalcapital.com.)

The website makes it extremely simple to send a letter to any or all of your elected representatives, both state and federal. I input my name and address and was given a simple form that would send emails on any topic to my elected representatives in both the executive and legislative branches. I didn't even have to know who my representatives were -- the website figured it out perfectly from my address.

I contacted the website and learned it was formed by two gentleman, Eric Ethington and Curtis Haring, both former staffers at the Utah Capitol. Their objective is to provide a nonpartisan window into Utah politics so that even someone who has never been involved before can quickly understand and participate in what is happening on Utah's Capitol Hill.

The website they have created is close to accomplishing that task.

We often hear about how broken our political system is, but you have the opportunity to at least attempt a fix by letting your elected officials know how you feel about what our government and our laws should be.

Democracy requires participation of the citizens, not just once a year on Election Day. Until you have let your representatives know how you feel, you have forfeited the right to complain legitimately.

It has never been easier to contact elected officials. Do it, then rather than being a Monday-morning quarterback on the Legislature, you can actually play in the game.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or creditcorrection@gmail.com.

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