Capitol ritual; interest groups trapse daily into Utah lawmakers’ lives

Each weekday special interest groups try to influence lawmakers with lunch, matching dress and rallies. The Utah Alzheimer's Association earned the title for sponsoring the first special interest gathering of the 2014 Legislature. They wore purple sashes to attract attention.

Each weekday special interest groups try to influence lawmakers with lunch, matching dress and rallies. The Utah Alzheimer’s Association earned the title for sponsoring the first special interest gathering of the 2014 Legislature. They wore purple sashes to attract attention.

By Ryan Joyner and Joel Campbell

SALT LAKE CITY —  Call it flavor of the day. Monday it was Alzheimer’s day. Tuesday its was marriage and children day. Wednesday it was local officials’ day.

Each weekday, members of varied special interest groups crowd the Capitol to share their cause with legislators. These events often include catered lunches, exhibits and speechmaking by lawmakers with whom the group wants to curry favor or vice versa. With so much food, lawmakers should never go hungry.

Group members also file into fourth-floor galleries overlooking legislators at work or crowd around the third-floor entrances to the Utah House and Senate hoping to chat with busy representatives. They want a moment of a senator’s or representative’s time to press the flesh and push lawmakers to support their cause.

Inviting teenagers and children along is always popular. Wednesday, Jan. 29, it was Local Officials Day and to attract the attention of legislators, the Utah League of Cities and Towns invited about 900 high school student members of youth city councils.  They came to the Capitol to learn about democracy or the Republic, (depending on who you talk to on the Hill). The teens held a mock legislative hearing and scheduled a “Family Feud” mock game show where senators and representatives were to face off with each other at a downtown hotel while the game show’s real host, Chuck Woolery, was to field questions.

On Monday, Jan. 27, The Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer Association had the distinction of being the session’s first scheduled visiting group.  It’s not uncommon for advocates to show up wearing unique apparel, wearing name badges or toting some symbol of their affinity. Alzheimer’s cure supporters swarmed the statehouse wearing distinctive purple sashes.

The Alzheimer’s Association rally is symbolic of what has become daily ritual at the Capitol. The group focuses on the need for changes in laws, in this case for those who suffer from the disease. The Alzheimer group also mixed politics and artistry. That day, performance poet Benjamin Barker recited the poem “Rubik’s Cube” a reflection of Barker’s experience with his grandfather, an Alzheimer’s victim.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay-Murray, appeared to be the group’s new champion legislator. Moss addressed the “growing epidemic and need for support” Moss cited a 2013 report from the Alzheimer’s Association which categorizes Alzheimer’s as a growing epidemic “because of the increasing number of people age 65 and older in the United States, the annual number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to double by 2050,” Moss said “In Utah we are not prepared to meet this challenge.”

Moss also said that the most difficult battle for Alzheimer’s Associates would be fighting Utah’s voluntarism culture. Saying that while volunteers do a lot to contribute to many causes, it is not enough.

Ronnie Daniel, executive director of the Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the group does have any proposed bills for the 2014 legislative session. However, Daniel said that lawmakers should expect “about a dozen bills” to be look during the 2015 legislative session.  Daniel said the types of bills they are championing could include one requiring that all caregivers received Alzheimer-specific training. Of course, the group still has to find a sponsor, such as Moss, for those bills.

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Categories: Utah Legislature, Utah News

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