SALT LAKE CITY — A housing and meal perk offered to state lawmakers will come with a new requirement, if it is enacted: a receipt.
The House passed HJR6, sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, on Tuesday by a 70-4 vote. The measure forces lawmakers to provide a paper trail when seeking reimbursement for expenses and provides a 1 percent to 2 percent pay increase as part of the package.
The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration. A similar measure passed the House last year, but was not voted on in the Senate before the session closed.
Under current conditions, lawmakers are reimbursed for costs without proof of the expense. The joint resolution is accompanied by a $150,000 fiscal note, which Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, admitted could be viewed as a raise, but said it actually works out to be revenue neutral. Dee estimates most lawmakers make approximately $20,000 a year when compensation for all meetings through the year is factored in.
“This is the right thing to do. We’ve been challenged for some years to go down this path to full disclosure,” Dee said in outlining provisions in the proposal. He called the change a “common-sense bill.”
Dee pointed out that state lawmakers don’t have the ability to set their salaries or compensation, only to accept or reject recommendations made from an independent commission that oversees those matters. He noted the commission has been pushing for the small increase accompanied by a better paper trail for several years.
Niederhauser said he is eager to have the resolution considered by the Senate. He said the Republican caucus has come out in favor of the measure.
“It’s been a sore spot for a number of years. I’m pretty excited to address that and get that behind us,” Niederhauser said.
Niederhauser said more pressure to pass the resolution came as a result of a race involving a House member from Salt Lake City who allegedly received up to $60,000 over the years in housing expenses for costs that were not incurred.
Dee said he does not know of circumstances where the perk has been abused.
House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said there is nothing illegal going on with the current reimbursement practice.
“The House has been trying to fix this for a number of years. Part of that is being clear about how much we’re being compensated,” she said.
Dee said it is a misnomer to classify a legislator’s job as part time, even though the session lasts only 45 days a year.
Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, was one of the lawmakers to vote against the bill. He said he doesn’t like two of the three measures called for in the bill. Nielsen, who is chief financial officer of his company, said he doesn’t care for accounting processes that focus on nickels and dimes and receipts, in comparison to a per diem and strategic approach to benefits.
He said he also didn’t like the idea of giving himself a pay raise. Nielson said he has taken the benefits offered to him since taking office but notes he only makes between $14,000 and $15,000 a year, based on the positions he holds and the meetings he is asked to attend.