U students find legislative time lacking

During the most recently concluded legislative session, about 16 U students enrolled in a service-learning class to investigate and compile a detailed appendix of how state legislators used their time in the Capitol.

The students observed about 25 percent of legislative business and concluded that legislators are often wasteful in how they use their time.

The students also concluded that not enough attention was dedicated to the needs of marginalized minority groups.

“We found that only 20 percent of the time surveyed was spent on diversity issues,” said Anne Looser, who helped coordinate the project and advised student observers. “We also found that 25 percent of the time was dead time.”

Dead time is defined by students in the group as “any time spent in recess, sauntering, personal privileges or starting late.”

Among the goals of the service-learning project were to acquaint students with the legislative process, to determine whether or not the Legislature spent enough time dealing with issues of diversity and whether or not the lack of political clout some groups possess has a negative effect on the amount of time legislators spend on bills pertaining to their lives.

“The goal was first to show how legislative action affected diversity in Utah,” Looser said. “Second, we wanted to see how much dead time there was during the legislative session and, most importantly, we wanted students to learn the legislative process.”

The total time of the legislative session was calculated by the students based on published Legislature schedules and amounted to approximately 495.5 hours. The students calculated their observed sample time at 123.25 hours, or about 25 percent of the total legislative time.

Dead time constituted the majority of time observed-a fact that some student participants found troubling.

“For some reason, things always seemed to run late or be off schedule,” wrote Elena Hoarau, one the U student observers. “The task of passing bills is a long process and must be addressed with attention. Unfortunately, I found many instances in which meetings ran late due to legislators being unprepared.”

Kristin Davies, another U student participant, expressed similar sentiments in the report.

“What troubles me is that the people who most need the resources allocated by the legislature are those who are least represented,” Davies wrote. “In some cases, the legislators may not even be aware of the experience of these minorities.”

However, while the students concluded that, in some areas, the Legislature was lacking, there was a silver lining to the experience.

“This type of research is part of a national trend to get universities more engaged in the community,” Looser said.

The participants in the project stated that the other unanimous conclusion they reached was, “Not one person will walk away from this experience without gaining knowledge and memories that will make an impression for a lifetime.”

A variety of service-learning courses are available to U students. Interested individuals can learn more by inquiring within their respective departments, searching the U’s online course catalog or meeting with an academic adviser.

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