The last 385 yards, in other words….four days is an eternity in a legislative world

The last four days of the session are a little bit like the last 385 yards of a marathon.  You’ve already run 26 miles, but those last 385 yards can seem like an eternity and really can make or break the whole race.  Below are some of the make or break issues still out there for this session.  If you have others, feel free to pass them on.  

 1.  Prison Relocation

SB 72 – Prison Relocation and Development Amendments, Senator Jenkins

The Senate passed a very reduced/modified version of this bill for the Prison Relocation. The bill is now on the fourth substitute of the original bill and many changes have been made.  Click on the above link to see where it is now. At the end of the day, the bill authorizes the continuation of the Prison Relocation Development Authority Board to continue to review/study the issue and look at other possible recommendations. Here is a link to Senator Jenkins discussing the newest version of the bill.  (When he says PRADA board it means the Prison Relocation And Development Authority.)

This is an issue where the public is crying out for assurances the decision will be made with consideration to impacts on public safety and inmate rehabilitation as well as the financial ramifications.  I am still taking recommendations on this bill.

2.  Second Amendment

We have passed out from the House all the second amendment legislation.

HB 76, Concealed Weapon Carry Amendments, Rep. Mathis

This bill only changes one thing in current Utah law:  it allows a person to carry an unloaded weapon concealed without a concealed carry permit.  The bill makes no changes to background check requirements.  It makes no changes to the requirement to have a concealed carry permit for a loaded concealed weapon.  It makes no changes to the rules regarding carrying a firearm in certain locations such as churches and schools.  It simply says if you are open carrying an unloaded weapon without a concealed carry permit (legal under current statute) then you may also legally cover that weapon up in its unloaded state.  If you are carrying a loaded weapon concealed then you still need a concealed carry permit.  I voted for this bill.  It is now in the possession of the Senate and I’m sure they would be happy to receive your recommendations.

HB 114, Second Amendment Preservation Act, Rep. Greene

I take very seriously the constitutional note included in the bill and drafted by the Legislature. Consequently, I voted against this bill.

3.    Medicaid Expansion

HB 391, “Prohibition of Medicaid Expansion,” Rep. Perry/Anderegg

This bill prohibits the governor or the Department of Health from expanding Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  This is a substitute to a bill to the original bill which declared the PPACA null and void in the state of Utah.  As background to this issue it is important to remember a few facts:

  • The Governor has the final say as to Medicaid expansion as proposed by the federal government.
  • An independent study is underway to assess the financial impact of an expansion.  This analysis has not been completed, but needs to be considered by both the Governor and the legislature.
  • There is no imminent deadline for expansion…states can opt in or out at any time.

I have concerns both with the process of the passage of the substitute bill as well as the substance of the bill. This issue, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Utah residents, deserves our most careful consideration taking into account all the data.  At present I do not feel comfortable supporting this legislation.

4.    Alcohol Policy

HB 228, Substitute Alcohol Beverage Control Act Amendments, which proposes removal of the “Zion curtain” passed out of the House.  A previous piece of legislation from 2009 required new restaurants seeking liquor licenses to have a seven foot high barrier, or curtain/wall, to prevent patrons from seeing drinks being mixed or poured.  This has created inequity within the restaurant community where some are required to have this barrier and others, grandfathered into the original system, are not.  It is a fairness issue.

5.    Budget finalizing

See the earlier post on the blog regarding the process of creating the state budget.  Here is the link to the approved budget by the Executive Appropriations Committee on Friday.  Check it out if you’re wanting to see if a particular program got funded or where the appropriation ended up.  Some highlights from the budget are:

  • WPU Increase for Public Education. The legislature will increase the Weighted Pupil Unit by 2%, which should mean a raise for teachers. That money will filter down to the districts so they can increase employee compensation including salary and benefit changes.  An additional $68.5 million will be spent to manage the growth in schools.
  • Restore $25 Million Public Education Shortfall.  We also authorized restoration of the $25 million budget shortfall due to calculation errors at the State Office of Education last year.  An error in the formula for student enrollment growth created that budget shortfall of $25 million.  That amount has been restored this year.
  • $500,000 for the Disabilities waiting list    Every year there are hundreds of people with disabilities on a waiting list for services, including respite, and many are on that list for 5-6 years before moving up and actually receiving services.  This relatively small increase will make a world of difference to these individuals and their families.
  • Pay Increase for State Government Workers. All State workers will also get a 1% pay raise.
  • One-Time Allocations for Arts.  There will be one-time allocations (meaning we are giving them that amount for the current year only) made to several organizations like the Pioneer Museum, Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Moab Music Festival and The Leonardo. 
 The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program also gets $4,000,000.

Fire Cost Recovery. We have authorized the restoration of $19 million to the fire budget to pay the bill for last summer’s fire containment costs.

6.    State wide anti-discrimination

This bill has passed the Senate committee.  It must pass the Senate body before heading over to the House.  This will be an issue of prioritization by the Senate and how fast and far it moves on the Senate 2nd and 3rd reading calendars will be a statement of the support it has there.

 7.  Any looming taxes/fees?  (a rose by any other name is still a rose)

It appears we will not be seeing any bills related to a tax increase either on gas or a restoration of the sales tax on food this session.

However, we do have a Senate bill dealing with taxation on internet retail sales.  SB 226 – Sales and Use Tax Amendments – Senator Harper

This bill would collect sales tax on Internet retail sales. 24 other states are trying to pass the same legislation.  Unfortunately the Federal Government should really address this issue, but has failed to act on this like many other issues.  We need to do something as a state to address this loss in revenue as more sales move to online retailers.  The question is whether this legislation is the right fix and if we as a state create a solution ourselves or if we wait for a comprehensive federal fix.


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