A new local government watchdog group is asking Utahns to pay $20 to it so it can conduct a letter-writing campaign on their behalf to Utah lawmakers, encouraging them to open the now-secret rules committees.

Earlier this year, House Majority Leader Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, said he'd look at trying to open the House Rules Committee or work out some other method that would allow bills to be killed in a public vote. Currently, rules committees meet in secret in the House and Senate. Members release bills for further consideration they like, hold and kill bills they don't like. A rules committee member is sworn to secrecy; he or she can be removed from the powerful committee for speaking publicly about what goes on behind closed doors.But recently Stephens said he'd run into opposition to opening House Rules from colleagues. While Stephens hasn't given up on such reform, he believes it may be unlikely during the 1994 session that starts next month. Senate leaders have said their Rules Committee will remain closed.

Jeff Mitchell of the new Accountable Government Foundation believes that is a shame.

"We want more accountability in government. The Utah Legislature is nice, they are more open than a number of other legislatures," the Orem-based software developer said recently. But the secret rules committees in the House and Senate aren't good government, he added.

Mitchell suggests some kind of compromise. He says rules committees could remain closed during the session. But 60 days after the 45-day session ends, Mitchell suggests, complete minutes of every rules committee meeting would be published. Thus, citizens would know which committee member voted to release or kill which bills.

Mitchell says his new foundation has "about five members." "We're just interested citizens, we aren't partisan, we just want government to operate better."

For $20, Mitchell will send letters to each of the 104 legislators, encouraging the idea of publishing the minutes of rules committees two months after adjournment. Normal cost of such a mailing would be $36.40, Mitchell notes in his press release, so he won't be making any money on the proposal.

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