Here are some tools, advice for you to be an ‘effective citizen’ during the 2019 Legislature

Joni Molloy from Americans for Prosperity asks Rep. Travis Seegmiller of House District 62 questions during the "Pre-Legislative Bootcamp" in St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In order to assist the Southern Utah community in better understanding how the Utah Legislature works and to discuss important bills in the making, two organizations teamed up to bring a “Pre-Legislative Bootcamp” to St. George.

Healther Williamson, Utah director for Americans for Prosperity, and Michael Melendez, policy director for Libertas Institute, discuss policies at the “Pre-Legislative Bootcamp” in St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Community members joined the Utah Chapter of Americans for Prosperity and the Utah Libertas Institute of Utah, a libertarian think tank, in the St. George Library Saturday morning to learn about legislation.

Topics included how a bill becomes law, how to communicate with elected officials and hold them accountable and online tools for tracking the issues. The group also previewed what policies will be front and center during the 2019 session.

Heather Williamson, Utah director for Americans for Prosperity — an organization that says it works to educate and mobilize citizens in policy at the local, state and federal level — said the bootcamps are designed to help simplify the legislation process so more people can become more involved in the issues that are important to them.

How to track issues you care about

During the bootcamp, organizers emphasized that citizens can become more involved in the legislation process by using online tools, such as the Utah State Legislature website. By creating an account with the website, you can use its tracking services to keep tabs on Utah House and Senate bills. By searching certain bills, you can add them to your tracking list and choose whether want to receives emails whenever there is an update to the bill.

“You can search by legislator if you want to keep track of what your legislator is up to, what issues are important to them and why they keep running certain bills,” Williamson said.

When viewing a particular bill, the website displays the text of the bill, status of the bill and committee hearings and floor debates on the bill. When looking at the bill text, you’re able to see what representative is sponsoring the bill, as well as a fiscal note, which explains how much it’s going to cost the state government, local government, individuals and businesses to enact the bill.

Michael Melendez, Libertas Institute director of policy, said the website can help citizens find out if a legislator is being “sneaky.” He said within the first two weeks after the 2019 session starts Jan. 28, each policy needs to be made public. If a bill has a number, e.g. House Bill 11, it means it’s official.

“Pretty much every time a legislator purposely holds back a bill to release late,” Melendez said, “that usually comes out in the media every time.”

Other useful tools people can use to track legislation include the smartphone apps TrackBill: Legislation Tracker and Bill Watch.

“Bill Watch is what the state of Utah utilizes to kind of sync up with their system,” Williamson said, “and it will notify you when there are bills that you’re watching throughout the whole entire process from when they come up for committee vote and any time there’s a change.”

Communicating with your legislators

Another way to successfully track this year’s legislation session is by getting to know your elected officials.

Joni Molloy from Americans for Prosperity said citizens should know more about their elected officials before trying to discuss an issue that’s important to them.

Joni Molloy from Americans for Prosperity and Rep. Travis Seegmiller of House District 62 at the “Pre-Legislative Bootcamp” in St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

“You’ll know a lot more about what motivates them and how you can persuade them to your side because, unfortunately, yelling or being forceful in any manner just does not work,” she said.

 

House District 62 Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, was invited to speak at the bootcamp to provide insight into what he does, what he’s motivated by and how he chooses to vote on certain bills. As a decision maker, he told the audience that the first step is to make sure you really understand the bill.

“You can’t make a decision based on the merits if you don’t know the merits,” Seegmiller said. “You need to make a decision based on the merits.”

He has a rule for himself, he said. If a bill is presented to him last minute and he doesn’t have the time to study it, he said he wouldn’t vote or vote no. He described his reasoning:

If the process is working in such a way that most of us in the room don’t even understand the bill in front of us, then I feel we have a duty to the process, a duty to our constituents, to ourselves and our values to just say no.

Molloy said people shouldn’t feel afraid to reach out to their elected officials and do their research.

“Do your Facebook stalking,” she said. “Do your background research. Also, strategically, you might find that you know people who they know, too.”

In order to get to know him and influence the way that he votes, Seegmiller said it’s important to be authentic to who you are and what your skills are.

“I’ll know what you’re great at, and you’ll know what I’m great at,” he said. “We’ll mutually know what we both care about. I can be on the lookout for things that might offend what you care about, and I’ll know if there’s ever a fight, that you would be a great resource for the things that I care about.”

According to a handout from Americans for Prosperity, it’s recommended to be succinct, respectful and knowledgeable when communicating with your legislators.

2019 legislation session snapshot 

Speakers from Americans for Prosperity and Libertas Institute also discussed what policies they will be keeping an eye on during this year’s session, including the following topics:

  • Tax reform.
  • Healthcare.
  • Education.
  • Occupational licensing.
  • Regulatory reform.
  • Criminal justice reform.

Some of this year’s bills include property tax amendments, firearm violence and suicide prevention amendments, special education recodification, higher education credit amendments, year-round Daylight Saving Time, sexual violence protective orders and medical cannabis modifications. To view the whole list of 2019 house bills, visit the Legislature website.

Although there are only 149 bills numbered so far, Williamson said that number is bound to go up.

“That is going to go up dramatically the next few weeks,” she said. “You’re going to see that number skyrocket.”

Resources

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Not_So_Much January 13, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Why can the rules be suspended the last 48 hours of the session which can allow ‘stuff’ added into a legitimate bill ? I would like to see a bill introduced THIS YEAR that ends this practice. Why have rules if everyone knows they could wait and slip something into a vetted bill at the last minute. This could be a great start on keeping everything on the up and up.

  • Just Guessin January 13, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Because they are your masters and have made rules for themselves and you don’t matter. Any questions?

    • Not_So_Much January 13, 2019 at 9:50 pm

      The questions are for those listed in the article.

      • Just Guessin January 14, 2019 at 5:50 pm

        Sorry N-S-M it wasn’t stipulated in your first comment who the question was for and since it is an open forum …
        Doesn’t look like they read here looking at the comments, maybe you ought to pose the question directly to them and I’m sure as I have done in the past, you will be ignored.
        If you do get answers please post them for all to see.
        Good Luck… and I mean that.

  • Redbud January 13, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    To be the most effective citizens, vote for Trump in 2020, enough said.

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