Southern Utah freshman representative reflects on 1st legislative experience

ST. GEORGE – What is it like serving in a full session of the Utah Legislature for the first time? While the majority of Southern Utah’s legislators have multiple sessions behind them, it was the first for freshman Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George.

In this June 2016 file photo, Walt Brooks participates in a debate while running for the Republican nomination for House District 75, St. George, Utah, June 15, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“It was more intense than I had thought,” Brooks said of his experiencing with the full 45-day legislative session.

Prior to the legislative session, Brook was able to attend less hectic interim ones. That changed starting Jan. 23, the first day of the 2017 Legislature.

“There is no time for anything else,” he said. “You are in committee meetings, you’re reading, you’re preparing, there’s floor time. There are people who want to talk to you or interview you or tell you their side of the story.”

There is also no shortage of information at the Capitol, Brooks said. People on both sides of an issue are eager to give their take on why they are for or against it.

And then there are the meetings, Brooks said, adding he was grateful for his intern during the session who went to meetings he couldn’t attend and provided much needed notes.

Meetings and hectic atmosphere aside, Brooks said he was surprised by the caliber of people serving in the Legislature.

I was also surprised by what quality of people we have up there,” he said. “Even the Democrats actually. They are good, sincere, honest people. Definitely most of them would be a great neighbor to have.”

If there was an aspect of being in the Legislature that Brooks was left feeling leery of, it’s how much emphasis people can place on ratings of legislator performance released by various groups. At one point, Brooks judged lawmakers according to such ratings, he said, but not so much anymore.

In this September 2016 file photo, Rep. Walt Brooks is sworn in as an interim representative in the Utah House by Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

“Their opinion is based on what they feel you should be doing and is not necessarily the same opinion of constituents,” he said.

Groups such as the Libertas Institute, a nonprofit libertarian-leaning think tank based in Lehi, rate the performance of legislators according to the ideals they espouse and promote. For reference, Libertas’ 2017 index for those ratings can be found here.

Members of the Utah House sided with Libertas’ positions around 56 percent of the time, with Brooks being listed as voting in alignment with Libertas 58 percent of the time.

While experiencing his first legislative session, Brooks introduced two pieces of his own legislation for consideration.

One bill dealt with impact fees while the other addressed bail forfeiture. Brooks withdrew the latter when he learned other lawmakers are also looking at the matter and wanted to examine it in more detail. Brooks didn’t want to waste the Legislature’s time, he said.

Brooks kept the impact fee amendments bill, designated HB 279 in the 2017 Legislature, and it ultimately passed. Ipson sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Impact fees are one-time charges to new construction that are applied for the expansion of city services to accommodate continued growth. They cover such services as culinary water systems, power, sewer, storm drainage, transportation, public safety and parks and recreation.

L-R: Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson and Rep. Walt Brooks speak following a meeting of the Dixie Republican Forum, St. George, Utah, March 22, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Brooks said his bill clarifies parts of the impact fee process and helps make it much more transparent. It also requires local governments to reimburse developers if it is determined they overpaid.

HB 279 was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert March 21. It is was one of 535 bills passed by the Legislature this year – a new record number.

“I had a lot of people say how 535 (bills) are horrible and terrible,” Brooks said. “But there are a couple bills like this one that created more transparency (and) gave money back to the people.”

Many bills that pass through the Legislature are actually bills that help clean up and clarify the language of an existing bill or repeal other bills in part or in whole, while others help extend the lives of preexisting programs and even reduce regulations.

You need to write a bill to repeal a bill,” Brooks said. “That’s something I got to see clearly.”

Brooks ran unopposed for Utah House District 75 last year after defeating fellow Republican Steve Kemp in the June primaries.

Prior to being elected to the Utah House in November, Brooks was selected by the Washington County Republican Party Central Committee in September to replace Rep, Don Ipson, who resigned from the House to fill the vacancy in the Utah Senate after the resignation of Sen. Steve Urquhart.

We’re excited to welcome Rep. Brooks to our esteemed body,” Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said after swearing Brooks into the interim position Sept. 21.

Brooks received a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Dixie State University. Previously, he owned and operated various small businesses and was the director of sales for an electronics company. Currently, he is the president of RxTrax, a software company that specializes in tracking deliveries for the pharmaceutical industry. He is also fluent in Chinese.

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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

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