GREEN RIVER, Utah -- Sporting shorts and ball caps, state lawmakers abandoned the Capitol for a road trip to some of the state's most scenic country.
Lawmakers got a chance to see firsthand the impact of their policy decisions, by touring an area seeing growth in tourism and energy development.
"I think it’s really helpful for the legislature to see something outside of Salt Lake City," said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City.
On a series of tour buses, lawmakers heard presentations about energy, tourism, education, economics and other needs facing rural Utah.
"We believe that it’s absolutely vital to show legislators in person what some of our challenges are in some of our rural areas," said Nan Anderson, the executive director of the Utah Tourism Industry Association.
During a stop here in Green River, lawmakers crowded into the high school auditorium. The principal joked that there were more lawmakers than students in the entire school.
Green River Mayor Pat Brady got a chance to show lawmakers his town and talk about the challenges facing it. Green River has no doctor, no dentist (it does have a medical clinic with physician assistants and a visiting dentist) and does not have natural gas service. Yet the community is poised to become an energy hub being eyed by oil, solar and nuclear power developers.
"We’re not dying, we’re actually growing and we have a lot of things going on for us," Brady told FOX 13.
Rep. Briscoe said some of the discussions on the buses weighed heavily in favor of energy development.
"When you’re on a bus and you’re shown a video about the importance of coal to Utah’s economy, that’s a captive audience. I didn’t hear other points of view presented," he said.
The two-day trip is costing taxpayers about $70,000. That estimate is based on 75 lawmakers and seven legislative staffers attending, including hotels, salaries, meals and transportation. By comparison, a special session of the legislature at the Utah State Capitol costs approximately $39,000.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said it was worth it to hear directly from people affected by legislative policy decisions.
"I’m actually talking to people face to face, hearing about the challenges with employment and education and other issues that they face and infrastructure," he said. "I don’t get that when I drive through."