They may be crowded together tighter than double-bunked crooks at the state prison, but Utah's 104 legislators will be glad just to get their own cubbyholes in a massive remodeling project at the State Capitol that could cost tens of millions of dollars.
Legislative leaders Monday reviewed plans to move dozens of state attorneys out of the Capitol and into the Heber Wells Building, move the Supreme Court into a new courts complex across the street from the City-County Building and use the space to greatly expand the governor's office, legislative space and create new legislative committee rooms.The ambitious plan is unfunded and, as yet, unapproved. State building director Neal Stowe said the plan - which will undoubtedly evolve in coming months - could take five years to complete and cost more than the remodeling of the City-County Building. That project cost $40 million.
Remodeling ideas include a small theater on the first floor of the Capitol where visitors could view a short film on Utah's history - something like the popular LDS film "Legacy" shown in the newly remodeled Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
Remodeling also includes private "work stations" for all 104 lawmakers and new private elevators that would take House and Senate members from basement parking to their new offices - elevators that would allow lawmakers to get into their chambers without having to walk the halls with citizens and lobbyists.
Legislative leaders are aware of possible criticism of remodeling the Capitol. "We are often critical of bureaucrats wanting more space, we (in the Legislature) have to be responsible, as well," said Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful.
Just a month ago, outgoing Speaker Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, said he opposed giving part-time lawmakers their own offices. "But I've seen the light since then," he said Tuesday. Previously plans that were not made public, had "by coincidence," joked Bishop, put 29 offices on the Senate side of the building. The Senate has 29 members. Asked if Bishop changed his mind about House members' offices because senators were apparently going to get their own, Bishop said: "Would we make an important decision like this based on competition like that?"
Actually, legislators do need some space where they can sit down with constituents, study hundreds of bills, take private telephone calls, etc. Currently, only elective legislative leaders have offices. The other 70 or so legislators have only their desks in the chambers and a file cabinet to keep their papers.
Legislators must meet for 45 days in the yearly January/-Feb-ru-ary general session and at least once a month in interim committee hearings. But the reality is that most lawmakers, especially those on the Wasatch Front, are in the Capitol once or twice a week for task force meetings and other assignments.
The new remodeling has a number of small conference rooms where legislators can meet with constituents, including a larger conference room on the Senate side where all 29 senators could meet, said Stowe.
"Double-bunked prisoners get 100 square feet (in their cells)," said Stowe. The work spaces that will be shared by two legislators are about 80 square feet, separated by shoulder-high partitions, he said.
At least legislators get some kind of office in the Capitol. Under the preliminary plan, Attorney General Jan Graham would be kicked out of the Capitol completely. She would be moved into downtown offices along with the rest of her 160-member staff. She'd be the only elected official out of the Capitol, an idea liked by some GOP leaders but not liked by Democrats and other Republicans.
"I think all the elected officials should be in the Capitol," said retiring Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton. "We should try to accommodate the attorney general," said House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake. Jerry Jensen, of Graham's office, said Graham and four of her top aides would like to keep offices in the building.
Graham, an aggressive Democratic attorney, is not liked by some GOP leaders. Bishop smiled when he said moving Graham out "might be a happy consequence" of remodeling. "Actually, it only makes sense (she go). Why have just five of her office up here (in the Capitol) when all the rest of her attorneys are somewhere else?" said Bishop. "No way we can fit all her attorneys in here; we couldn't find a way to have offices for 75 House members and still keep the attorney general in the building," he added.
Much of the remodeling can't take place until a huge courts complex is built. Then the Utah Supreme Court would move, freeing up space on the third floor where legislators' personal offices would be built. The courts complex won't be finished for three years, said Stowe. The Supreme Court would keep its third floor chambers for ceremonial purposes but would hear oral arguments in new chambers in the downtown complex.
Gov. Mike Leavitt's personal office - remodeled just two years ago - won't be changed, said Stowe. But the cramped executive branch will get more space when the state auditor is moved from the second to the first floor.