Day 8 — Who tells your story?

I have the good fortune of working with two great interns this session.  Anahit Verdyan,  who is studying Economics and Philosophy at the University of Utah, and Nathan Jensen, who is a senior at Bountiful High School.  They are both involved in planning events, organizing constituent meetings, research on bills and issues, and helping with my legislation.  

Today Nathan is sharing a write up of a new history exhibit on the 4th floor of the Capitol, “Who Tells Your Story.”  The write up and the photos are his.  He managed this in between researching an abortion bill we are hearing this session and a bill on taxation.  More on those issues later.  

Who Tells Your Story?

Humanity has an inherent desire to tell their story and leave a legacy. Because of this, Utahns have documented their lives with mediums including Braille print, pottery, and weaves. Based on a theme from the hit musical Hamilton, this exhibit showcases the histories of Utah residents through a variety of mediums.

The exhibit begins with an ancient pictograph discovered in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon as well as zines, small, self-produced magazines. It then continues with teenager-made, autobiographical films, sculptures depicting family histories, and letters from a Japanese American in the Topaz Internment Camp. Who Tells Your Story? also includes baskets containing Navajo code and historical paintings.

The new exhibit Who Tells Your Story? is a tribute to the cultures and histories of Utah citizens from many backgrounds. As you view this incredible addition to the Utah State Capitol, you too will gain a desire to leave your legacy. With ways to connect and share your experience and stories, Who Tells Your Story? allows ways to continue with the exhibit long after your leave the Capitol Building. This exhibit increases the amount of activities and learning at the Utah State Capitol Building and leaves a lasting impression on everyone that attends.

Who Tells Your Story? is an exciting adventure for all ages. So don’t wait, come on down! How will you tell your story?

 

 

 

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Day 6 — Bringing the People’s House to a home and hospital near you

Weekly Saturday morning “Bagels and Briefings” in my living room is a tradition that has been going strong for ten years now. This session we’re trying something new and joining our neighbors for our Saturday events, taking turns at the homes of Rep. Ray Ward, Sen. Todd Weiler, and myself.

The format of informal discussions of the session remains the same. Please join us and bring your concerns, questions, and ideas for solutions. Here is the schedule for future Saturday events, all beginning at 10:00:

  • Saturday, Feb. 3, Edwards home, 1121 Eaglewood Loop, NSL
  • Saturday, Feb. 10, Weiler home, 1248 W. 1900 S., Woods Cross
  • Saturday, Feb. 17, Ward home, 954 E. Millbrook Way, Bountiful
  • Saturday, Feb. 24, Edwards home, 1121 Eaglewood Loop, NSL
  • Saturday, March 3, Weiler home, 1248 W. 1900 S., Woods Cross

Today we met at Rep. Ward’s home and had a good discussion of the following issues:  

  • Air quality
  • Law enforcement/warrants
  • Vehicle emissions
  • Opioids
  • State growth
  • Transit, including bus rapid transit system considered in Bountiful

It is always a treat to be invited to attend the LDS Hospital Legislative Update Panel, organized by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck and sponsored by LDS Hospital.  The event was recorded and you can watch it here and hereEach of the 8 legislators there had a chance to share some of the bills and issues they are working on and then we took questions, which included:

  • Prison move
  • Affordable housing
  • Death with dignity
  • Domestic violence
  • Working families
  • Martha Hughes Cannon statute
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Redistricting
  • Decline of voter engagement
  • Toll Roads
  • Homeless resource centers
  • Clean air

 

Also, back by popular demand, on Monday, Jan. 29th, I’ll be hosting the first Family Night at the Capitol for this legislative session. We’ll continue on Feb. 5, 12, 26, and March 5th. Our time at the Capitol will include a behind the scenes tour starting in the Rotunda, a discussion about our government, and of course we’ll end with family night treats! This is a great way to introduce your children and grandchildren to the Capitol and what happens here.

Each Monday will be limited to 10 families, so email me at beckyedwards@le.utah.gov to reserve your spot and a brownie!

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Day 5 — What a week

Closing out the week one means we are just over 1/10 of the way through the 45 day session.  A highlight of today was a press conference where the Utah Education Roadmap was rolled out by Governor Herbert’s Education Excellence Commission.  I have been privileged to serve as a member of this commission for several years and have participated in the study and evolution of this plan.  If you only read one document suggested in my week one blog posts, this is it.  It is designed to be a strategic planning guide that brings together the common elements of stakeholder plans, providing greater alignment of the P-20 system, as well as momentum in the work to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for Utah students.  The four elements critical to achieving education success are:

  1.  Early learning
  2. Strengthen and support educators
  3. Ensure access and equity
  4. Complete certificates and degrees

Please take a look at the Utah Education Roadmap.  You’ll feel a sense of optimism for the future.  Governor Herbert’s message at the beginning of the Roadmap provides leadership, commitment and a vision for public education in Utah.  

For years, Utah has been heralded as the best state for business in the nation. This recognition is the result of tireless work by business leaders, policymakers, and Utah’s industrious, hardworking residents. Now more than ever before, it is critical that we invest this same “can-do spirit” and collaboration into our education system. I am confident that as we unite and focus, Utah can become a leader in student achievement.

Working together, our system of education has consistently improved. Implementing this Roadmap’s strategies will require maximizing existing resources while also making new investments into the education system. These investments, along with the continued dedication and hard work of Utah’s parents, educators, and students and new unprecedented levels of collaboration, will put Utah’s education system on the road to even greater success.

I express my deepest appreciation to the State Board of Education, the Board of Regents, and the Technical Colleges Board of Trustees, whose members work tirelessly on behalf of Utah students. Likewise, I commend the two years of outstanding work by my Education Excellence Commission, which has resulted in this Education Roadmap. Through data-driven decision-making and evidence-based best practices, all Utah students can have increased opportunities for educational success. I look forward to continued conversations, innovations, and collaborations as we elevate Utah’s education system for every Utah student.

And if it’s Day Five, we know it must be Friday and that means one thing and one thing only…..

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Day 4 — Vox populi

It’s always a great day at the Capitol when you start by welcoming a group of awesome students to the People’s House! These students from Legacy Preparatory Academy were visiting as part of Chart School Day on the Hill.  School choice and parent involvement are important tenets of the public education in Utah and Legacy Prep, based in my District, do it right.  I’ve had a chance to visit their campus many times for programs, classroom visits, and discussions with teachers and administrators.  I was happy to participate in one of the first press conferences of the 2018 legislative session as a co-chair of the Women in the Economy Commission.  Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, my co-chair, and I have worked with our legislative colleagues, stakeholders, community members, and advocates on a suite of 17 bills all related to Family Economic Prosperity.   

We were joined by Vance Checketts, Public Policy chair of the SL Chamber and Vice President and General Manager of Dell/EMC, who spoke about the importance of growing the economy and supporting Utah’s families.  You can view the family economic prosperity press conference in it’s entirety.  A list of the bills presented by a bi-partisan group of legislators from rural and urban Utah can be found below. 

The entire press conference is worth watching for seeing individual legislators present their bills.

 

Day four closed out with a remarkable event, and maybe the first of it’s kind on Capitol hill during the legislative session. A “Climate Solutions for a Healthy Future” panel and discussion that included local, state, and federal policy makers, students, scientists, and industry representatives.  I was pleased to serve as co-host for this event, along with Congresswoman Mia Love, Rep. Joel Briscoe, and Rep. Ray Ward. 

 

The panel discussion is in 3 videos found here and here. Congresswoman Mia Love’s introductory comments begin at 4:02. Listen in if you want to see an example of what a bi-partisan discussion about environmental stewardship and climate solutions for a healthy future looks like. Her leadership on this issue sets a strong example.

The highlight of the event came at the end when 21 sitting Utah state legislators from both parties joined students, scientists, energy and development leaders, and community leaders for a robust discussion of where we go from here.

 

And my hope for the future is bright as I recognize the engagement of so many students planning and participating in the event. Thank you all!

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Day 3 — Getting schooled

One of the highlights of public service is getting to meet people of all ages who also have a passion for serving in communities.  Today the North Salt Lake Youth City Council came to the Capitol as part of the Utah League of Cities and Towns annual Locals Day at the Legislature.  These youth, along with their dedicated advisers who are NSL City Council members, spent the day learning about local and state government and how we can best work together.  I was impressed with their questions and desire to contribute.  Check out those smiles!

It was Utah History Day on the Hill and high schools from across the state brought their exhibits from the History Fair competition.  These three were some of my favorites.  I was able to visit with these competitors and was interested to hear how they decided to showcase their subject.  I could have spent all afternoon talking this group of remarkable students.  

    The students I met today were showing at an early age their commitment to making a difference and going to extra mile.  Tonight I had the opportunity to participate after the Governor’s State of the State address in a Legislative Preview sponsored by Action Utah.  The auditorium at the Marmalade Library in SLC was full of people anxious to learn how to make their voices heard.  It’s been my privilege to collaborate with several members of the Action Utah team on a series of bills over the past year since their inception. Trust me, they know their stuff, and are effective in getting things done. 

Several legislators and I were able to share our experiences on the front line and legislation we are working on.  The video of the event can be found on the Action Utah facebook pageTheir presentation on affecting change is one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Check it out here.

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Day 2 — Welcome

Meet Anahit Verdyan, my 2018 legislative session intern.  Anahit grew up in Armenia and moved to the U.S. two years ago to study Economics and Philosophy at the University of Utah.  She is an important part of my legislative team this session and will be a point of contact for constituents.  She can be reached at averdyan@le.utah.gov or text/call at 385-441-0623.

On Tuesday evening we were able to attend the Governor’s Open House at the Governor’s Mansion.  Anahit was surprised to have a personal introduction and an opportunity to take a photo with Governor Herbert, who showed a genuine interest in her background and studies.  Says Anahit, “This would never have been possible in Armenia.”

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Day One — Let’s get started!

Today marks the beginning of the 2018 First Extraordinary Session of the 62nd Utah State Legislature.  For the next 45 days we will meet in committees and on the House and Senate floors for discussion and debate on the state budget and proposed legislation.  By midnight on Day 45, March 8, we will have balanced the state budget of approximately $16 Billion and passed upwards of 500 bills, if recent years provide a good estimate.  It makes for a busy 45 days!

  

I’ll let numbers tell the rest of the story:

  • 45 day session
  • 75 House members
  • 29 Senators
  • 10th legislative session for me
  • 2 phones
  • 1 computer
  • 1 iPad
  • 6 new pens
  • 4 new inches of snow at my house this morning
  • 1 new intern
  • 12 pounds of new reading materials for new bills
  • 2 returning standing committees (1. Economic Development and Workforce Services, 2. Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice)
  • 1 returning appropriations committee (Social Services Appropriations)
  • 3 family members attending the opening day ceremonies
  • 7 bills passed out of the House first day
  • 89 new emails in my inbox today
  • 1 big smile, for having the opportunity to serve and represent the people of District 20 in the House of Representatives for another year

Let’s get started!

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Some of the Top Issues of 2017

IMG_3252Alcohol Amendments

HB 442, which makes changes to the state’s alcohol policy, streamlines and standardizes Utah’s liquor laws by improving prevention measures, updating restaurant and retailer operations, clarifying licensing regulations and modifying the makeup of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) Advisory Board.

It will improve training requirements for licensees, focusing on prevention of over-consumption and selling to minors, in addition to implementing new underage drinking prevention programs for 8th and 10th graders.

It also brings greater consistency to application of liquor law in restaurants by allowing three options for a buffer or barrier between the alcohol dispensing area and dining area. Restaurants can choose to either leave the currently prescribed barrier in place, install a 42” barrier between dining and dispensing or create a 10’ buffer for minors. There is nothing unique about these requirements, and many states have restrictions of some sort regarding children near bar areas, including Washington, Michigan, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Arizona, New Hampshire, Indiana, Idaho, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Oregon, Minnesota, Arkansas and Alaska.

 

Clean Air

The Legislature just passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation for clean air in years. With SB 197, refineries in the state are incentivized to switch over to the production of Tier 3 fuels which have a lower sulfur content and provide for much cleaner burning.

If everyone in the state were to use Tier 3 fuels and cars, it would be the equivalent of removing four of every five vehicles on the road. The investment of producers to change from Tier 2 to Tier 3 fuels will be significant, in the tens of millions of dollars, and this bill provides a sales tax exemption on certain products that are needed for that transition.

Some of the other clean air bills passed this session include:

  • HCR 5, a concurrent resolution to support the dedication of a portion of the state funds from the Volkswagen settlement to replace a portion of our dirty diesel school buses with clean fuel buses.
  • HB 96, creating a requirement for operators of gasoline cargo trucks to prevent the release of petroleum vapors into the air.
  • HB 104, which allows counties to use revenue from emissions fees to maintain a national ambient air quality standard.
  • SB 24, extending the heavy duty vehicle tax credit to include heavy duty vehicles with hydrogen-electric and electric drivetrains.

The Legislature also appropriated an additional $1.65 million for air quality research and air monitoring. 

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Justice Reform

Two years ago, the Utah Legislature passed HB 348, which began the process of reforming our state justice system. The point of that reform is to carefully screen those arrested for crimes in order to determine the main driver of their criminality: substance abuse, mental health issues or criminality itself. This will allow for diversion and treatment where appropriate, and improve our current high levels of recidivism.

We also began the process of reforming the juvenile justice system this year with HB 239, based on recommendations from the Juvenile Justice Working Group. These recommendations include preventing deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system for lower-level offenses, protecting public safety by focusing resources on those who pose the highest risk and improving outcomes through reinvestment and increased system accountability.

We appropriated funds for an electronic records system that will provide better communication among agencies and tracking of those in the adult system. It will enable judges to have access to screenings prior to sentencing and ensure proper placement of those more in need of help than incarceration.

If this process is followed, we will see more people in mental health and drug treatment programs. Last year the Legislature passed HB 437 which, in combination with federal funds, would have given the state $100 million to help the very most impoverished Utahns, including the chronically homeless and those involved in the justice system. A year later we are still waiting for full approval from the federal government to begin implementation. At this point we’re able to move forward with a small portion of the plan, giving us access to  $22 million.

We also appropriated $17.4 million in new money for mental health/behavioral health treatment and $3 million for jail-based substance abuse programs. This should allow us to draw down another $32 million in federal funds.

This year the state has set aside nearly $3 million more for county jails to adequately deal with those who need to be taken off the street and incarcerated. This will alleviate jail overcrowding pressures that exist in certain counties and help law enforcement in doing their job, especially in cleaning up problem areas downtown.

 

Education Funding

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Tax Reform

*the following analysis on tax reform is borrowed from a legislative colleague, thanks! 

Over the last 2 weeks, the Utah Legislature has been considering several changes in taxes to address unsustainable trends in state revenue that are not keeping pace with population growth in the state of Utah.  Stated goals of tax changes were to broaden the tax base (have more people paying taxes) but lower the tax rate such that current overall tax revenue to the state would remain unchanged.  The purposes of the proposed changes include the need to reduce the intensity of drops in tax revenue during economic downturns when demand for the services funded by those taxes actually increases.  After several broad proposals involving reductions in sales tax and income tax rates, House leadership narrowed the approach and proposed a reduction in state sales tax rate from 4.75% to 4.41% and an increase in food sales tax from 1.75% to 4.41%.  The plan included other provisions to hold low income people harmless by giving then an earned-income tax credit (EITC) and giving unemployed low-income individuals a dedicated food credit to counteract the negative effect on them of increasing sales tax on food.  Further analysis and modeling the outcomes of the proposed changes in sales tax revealed that the difference it would make was not significant enough to completely solve our current problem and reduce the challenges we will face in another economic downturn.  Due to this analysis, the legislature has abandoned the idea of re-instating sales tax on food.  We will be having additional discussion on taxes over the interim with the goal of developing sustainable stable fiscal policy.  We will also being doing some “deep dives” into our budgets to find areas where we might be able to save money without jeopardizing necessary services.   I would pay attention to what we will be doing over the next 12 months and give us legislators feed back if you feel inclined.  

 

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Balance That Budget

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Our total statewide budget this year (FY 2018) is almost $16.2 billion from all sources – $6.7 billion of that from General and Education funds.

·        You’ll recall that we started the legislature by repurposing around $80 million in cost savings and unused balances to higher priorities during base budget week.

·        On top of that, Public Education received 60% of all new revenue, about $230 million.  

·        That includes a 4% increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit and fully funded growth.

·        Higher Education got about 25% of our new money, including $62 million for operations and another $31 million in buildings this year.

·        Utah is also enjoying strong economic growth and low unemployment – so our costs for Medicaid are lower than expected.

·        We reinvested more than $40 million worth of Medicaid and CHIP savings into homelessness initiatives, justice reform, and a new affort at juvenile justice reform.

·        We gave our state and higher education employees a 2% raise, including corrections officers and public safety officials and employees at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, paid for an 8% increase in health insurance costs, and targeted compensation increases to positions with high turn-over and low salary compared to market.

·        Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we once again balanced our budget, as we do each year.

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Week Seven and All Through the House

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Final passage of HB 36, Affordable Housing Amendments.  The bill didn’t receive the funding we were hoping for, but much good will occur with the funding it did receive and will move us forward on providing more affordable housing across the state.  Many thanks go to the members of the Affordable Housing Task Force, convened by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and especially the folks at Housing and Community Development at the Department of Workforce Services.  Their expertise and commitment to this important issue were invaluable in achieving passage of this bill.

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Two nights before the session ended I was working late at my House desk and there were 5 different youth tour groups come through.  It was awesome to see their excitement and interest as they visited the “People’s House.”  Pictured here is Rep. Marc Roberts, Spanish Fork, with some youth from his church.

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These men called me out of the House chamber to discuss a bill that would make helmets a requirement for motorcycle riders up to age 21.  Their arguments against the bill focused on the privilege of individual liberty and were compelling, but in the end I was a yes vote on the bill.

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Another day, another rally. This time the rally was for womens voices specifically in the political process.  It was associated with International Women’s Day. I loved seeing my constituents join with so many other women and men to speak up on the issues of equality.

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I’ve been fortunate to have so many young people visit me at the Capitol.  Today’s visitor was Jeremiah Smart, a neighbor who is a Senior at Woods Cross HS.  Jeremiah spent some time with me and also with a lobbyist friend to see how many people must work together to get things accomplished. He is a fine young man and I’m excited to see what is ahead for him.

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More constituents with the International Women’s Day march and rally.  Thank you for the visit! I also love the sign in the corner, “I want the whole damn dollar!” No kidding.

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This session I sat between these two great colleagues, Rep. Lee Perry on the left from Brigham City, and Rep. Brad Daw on the right from Orem.  They were good seat mates and even better friends.

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A day that begins with a pancake eating contest that pits the fire fighters and police officers against each other and benefits Primary Children’s Medical Center is a great day. This year the judges for the contest were Sen. Todd Weiler and Woods Cross City Mayor Rick Earnshaw.  The firefighters took the contest this year!

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Enough said.

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An official picture of “Team Edwards.” From the left, Bountiful High School intern Lindsey Richards, UofU legislative interns Logan Waechtler and Lesley Garaycochea.  Couldn’t have made it through the session without this great team. They were bright, energetic, and creative.  All you could ask for.

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Our schedule for the last week.  Note how many days end in “as late as needed.” When the clock ticks down to midnight on Day 45 we were happy for every minute we spent during the session working because many, many bills died on the calendar not having had enough time to be heard.

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Rep. Joel Briscoe and I co-sponsored HJR 18, Economic and Environmental Stewardship. I am grateful to Rep. Briscoe and his intern Karson Eillers for their help with this resolution, in conjunction with all the students at Logan High School, USU, BYU, and Westminster College.

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Our Northern Utah group of legislators meet every Monday during the legislative session to discuss the issues important to our part of the state and how we can support each other’s work.

IMG_3985 2Our last Bagels and Briefings was held at my parents home because of the low blood counts my grandson has right now.  This is my almost two year old grandson who lives in rural Virginia, but is in treatment for Leukemia right now at Primary Children’s Medical Center.  I love having him here while he is in treatment and the care he is receiving is such a blessing.

*In case you didn’t notice, this post runs backwards from the end of Week Seven to the beginning 🙂

 

 

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