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A group of well-connected lobbyists are seeking some changes at the Utah Capitol, including potentially adding valet parking and gaining access to a fitness center on the Hill.
The head of the Capitol Hill Association, Jodi Hart, downplayed the proposals when asked about them last week, and the request, which had been scheduled for a discussion by the Capitol Preservation Board's agenda, was scratched from the meeting.
But emails obtained by The Tribune through an open-records request show the association had been raising the valet parking issue for months. At one time the lobbyist association also inquired about doubling the size of the posh lounge and workspace it leases in the basement adjoining the Capitol at a price of about $38,000 per year.
Hart said Thursday her group has put any plans to expand the lounge on hold, but the parking issue remains a problem members would like to see addressed.
"This is a problem, and it's not going to get better with time," she said.
During the legislative session, the parking lots around the Capitol are flooded with cars and there is little in the way of on-street parking. Hart said that last session she saw an elderly woman hiking downhill in the winter to get to the building.
Valet parking is one of the ways to solve that, Hart said. Others include finding empty reserved spots that interns could use to ease congestion or selling reserved passes.
"It wasn't just for us. We weren't necessarily looking for any privilege or special treatment. We all fight for the same spots," Hart said. "If there was going to be a valet service that was offered, it was going to be offered for everybody. Not just us."
But Jenn Gonnelly, the co-legislative director for the Utah League of Women Voters, said the valet idea would add cost for those who would use it and take up other spaces available to those who wouldn't.
"It takes a public, free parking space and makes it a pay-for-play parking space, even if it's just a few dollars," she said. "We have a hard enough time engaging our audience to come to the Capitol and see what's going on there. We don't want anything in the way of that."
The lobbyist association also asked repeatedly about getting access to workout facilities at the Capitol, the records show.
But a review in August by an attorney with the state's division of Risk Management said there were problems with any such proposal. Specifically, he said, because the lobbyists aren't state workers, they wouldn't be covered by the state's workers compensation insurance if they were injured.
In addition, there would be no legal way to grant lobbyists access to the gym, but close it to the public.
"There is no legal basis to say a lobbyist could use it but not a protester or any other citizen with business at the Capitol," wrote attorney Morris Haggerty.
If lobbyists were allowed to use the gym, said Gonnelly, it could give them special access to legislators while they run on a treadmill or use the workout room.
The lobbyist club, known as the Capitol Hill Association, consists of about 40 to 45 of the state's most well-connected lobbyists representing some of the biggest interests in the state.
Two years ago, the Capitol Preservation Board gave the group permission to lease the lounge in the newly renovated Capitol basement, creating a stir with advocacy groups that objected to the hired guns getting special accommodations in a state building.
It also rubs some of the group's fellow lobbyists the wrong way. "I'm embarrassed by the elitist attitude they exhibit," said one lobbyist, speaking on condition of anonymity, so as not to incur the wrath of fellow lobbyists or legislators.
The office area is richly decorated, with flat-screen televisions, leather couches, dark wood shelves and a small kitchen. The lobbyists can work out of the space or hold meetings with clients or lawmakers.
The records show that the association explored doubling the size of its current lounge earlier this year, spreading into an adjacent room that is now used for storage space, the records show.
Hart said the association members voted in June not to expand right now, but they still may want to in the future.