I am honored to represent Tooele and Millard Counties and parts of Juab, Utah and Beaver Counties in the Utah State Legislature. I try to respond to every constituent email and phone call and to be conscientious in representing the will of the people. I am pleased to provide brief highlights of the recently-completed legislative session.
2021 LEGISLATIVE SESSION REPORT
I am pleased to present my annual report on the completed general session of the Utah Legislature. We marked the 125th anniversary of Utah Statehood, with much to celebrate. Our state population continues its rapid increase, reaching 3.27 million. Due to the on-going COVID-19 restrictions and security concerns, this session was unlike any other in state history. We began the 45-day session with the State Capitol closed to the public, with heavy security from the Utah Highway Patrol, and all persons required to wear facemasks. Our individual chamber desks were surrounded by Plexiglas, and we were all required to be tested for COVID at least twice each week. Some legislators and staff tested positive; three representatives worked remotely due to illness; and one remains in serious condition. As conditions improved, the public was invited back to the Capitol, but with spacing restrictions. Access to the House floor was limited. Committee meetings allowed members and the public to attend remotely; in fact, remote access actually facilitated more public comment than in prior years. Despite restrictions, the Legislature considered over 700 bills and passed over 500.
I chair the House Health & Human Services Committee, which was the busiest of all House committees, considering 70 bills and receiving testimony from over 200 members of the public. Following is a summary of legislative actions that may be of most interest to my constituents. For more detailed information on all bills and the state budget, see the legislative website at https://le.utah.gov.
PANDEMIC AND EMERGENCY POWERS: With a high percentage of our most vulnerable citizens vaccinated and vaccines rapidly becoming more available throughout the state, we are beginning to see more light at the end of the Pandemic tunnel. While no one is legally required to be vaccinated, the state encourages vaccination of as many people as possible, as soon as possible. We commend our healthcare professionals and state and local health departments who have led this effort. The Legislature passed SB195 to limit and balance emergency powers between the executive and legislative branches of both state and local governments. We also passed HB294, which allows for termination of the COVID-19 state of emergency and an early end to the mask-mandate based on reaching certain thresholds of vaccination and recovery.
STATE BUDGET AND TAX RELIEF: While other states are running in the red and still reeling from the Pandemic recession, our state economy continues to be among the strongest in the nation. Our unemployment rate of 3.9 percent is among the lowest in the nation. We balanced our budget at $23 billion, which includes $1 billion for transportation infrastructure and transit, $250 million to address Pandemic assistance and broadband expansion, $110 million for state parks and recreation, a 6 percent increase for public education, a 9 percent increase for higher education, a 3 percent increase for state employees, $26 million to enhance mental health services, and $50 million for affordable housing and homelessness. We also restored rainy-day funds and provided $100 million in tax cuts, providing most benefit to retirees, veterans, and families with children.
EDUCATION: The Legislature increased education funding by $500 million, a 10 percent increase. This includes a 6 percent increase in per-student funding, $127 million for future growth, and $120 million in stipends for teachers who labored and assumed additional risks through the Pandemic. We passed bills to encourage in-person learning, block student access to pornographic materials, recruit additional teachers, and assist adult learners pursuing online education. Increased funding for higher education includes $200 million for new buildings and land purchases on university campuses around the state.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The Legislature passed bills to incentivize job creation in rural parts of the state (HB384 and HB356), and to reduce the regulatory burden on business (HB217). We also provided additional funding for development of the Inland Port and Point of the Mountain in Salt Lake County.
HEALTHCARE AND SOCIAL SERVICES: The Legislature made healthcare a priority as we continue to work our way through the Pandemic. Additional funding includes $56 million for expansion of Medicaid services and $26 million for mental health services. Legislation creates a children’s health insurance program (HB262), provides mental healthcare to children (HB337, HB377), including telehealth (SB41), and expands the services of nurse practitioners (HB287) and physician assistants (SB27), which is especially important in rural areas of the state. Two bills provide closer monitoring of congregate care facilities for troubled youth (HB135 and SB127).
LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CORRECTIONS: Several bills require additional training for law enforcement regarding use of force, domestic violence, and mental health emergencies. (HB30, HB162, SB53, SB106) Corrections is required to provide enhanced programs to rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism. (SB139) SB98 clarifies the law regarding asset forfeiture of persons charged with a crime. HB303 requires a minimum level of 911 ambulance services.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND AGRICULTURE: The Legislature created the Colorado River Authority and appropriated $9 million to protect the state’s interest in water resources. HB295 authorizes the Wildlife Board to impose restrictions on big game baiting and use of trail cameras. Other bills address pollination programs (HB224), and regulate feeding operations (SB130) and chicken farms (SB147). HB166 provides additional protection to livestock and guardian dogs.
OTHER: New legislation requires notice of vehicle registration requirements and authorizes automatic registration renewal for vehicles, boats, and trailers. (HB170 and HB195) I have been appointed to the legislative committee assigned to redraw congressional, legislative, and state school board districts based on new census numbers due later this year. We will hold meetings around the state to gather proposals. My objective will be to maintain fair representation of rural areas of the state.
I feel privileged to represent the good people of House District 68 in the Legislature. For additional information on these or other matters considered by the Legislature, feel free to contact me by email: email@example.com.
Representative Merrill Nelson
2020 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
This is my report of the 2020 legislative session to constituents in District 68, including all or parts of Tooele, Millard, Juab, Utah, and Beaver counties. During the 45-day session, we addressed several hundred bills on a variety of subjects and held numerous meetings to formulate our state budget. I received hundreds of emails and messages from constituents and met regularly with local officials regarding the impact of proposed measures. I appreciate this input and cooperation as we work together to achieve good results. This report contains highlights I consider of most interest to constituents. For more detail, visit our legislative website at https://le.utah.gov.
CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE: The usual hustle-and-bustle of the legislative session occurred this year under the cloud of concern over the Coronavirus. Precautions were followed to limit physical contact, but the close quarters in meeting rooms and on the House floor over 45 days at times raised the risks of a legislative “cruise ship.” The Capitol is now temporarily closed to visitors, and the Governor has declared a state of emergency, with guidelines to avoid large groups and observe other precautions. The Legislature authorized extensions of the declaration and remote legislative meetings as necessary to respond to emergency needs. We also appropriated $20 million for the Health Department and other state agencies to take emergency actions and assist local governments as needed. We should all be careful and prudent, as well as caring and helpful, in combating this statewide health emergency.
STATE BUDGET AND TAX POLICY: Our State of Utah is in sound fiscal health. We are one of only a handful of states with a triple-A bond rating. Our budget is balanced at $20 billion, with no tax increase. Most revenue comes from income tax, sales tax, and federal funds, while most of our spending is for education, social services, and transportation. We appropriated $60 million for a 2-3% cost-of-living increase for state employees, $26 million to restore rainy-day funds to target levels, $27 million for Medicaid and children’s health insurance, $12 million to assist with affordable housing, $18 million for mental health services, $24 million to assist with wildland fires, $9 million for air-quality programs, $14 million for rural economic development, and $3 million for increased county-jail reimbursement. For more detail, visit budget.utah.gov.
PUBLIC AND HIGHER EDUCATION: The budget includes $740 million in new spending for education, including an historic 6 percent increase in the WPU for public education. One of the most notable achievements of the session is a new funding plan for public education, which includes creation of a dedicated education fund to guarantee that funding keeps pace with student growth and inflation, despite potential economic downturns. This plan is contingent on passage of a constitutional change, on the ballot this fall, expanding the use of income tax revenue to support social services for children and individuals with disabilities. The Legislature also approved a major change in higher education, combining governance of universities and technical colleges under a single Utah Board of Higher Education. The intent is to provide closer coordination of programs to facilitate preparation for employment.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, with population at 3.2 million and one of the lowest unemployment rates—2.7%. Our intent is to expand economic vitality throughout the state. The Legislature established a Talent Ready Utah Center in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to assist with apprenticeship and work-based learning programs. We also created a Rural County Grant Program to assist rural counties with economic development.
HEALTHCARE AND SOCIAL SERVICES: New legislation expands services for emergency mental health needs, providing mobile crisis outreach teams, establishment of behavioral health receiving centers, and improved crisis call lines. Other bills facilitate access to medical cannabis and create programs for lower-cost insulin and other prescriptions. Legislation prohibits electronic cigarettes in school and restricts minor access to tobacco products. I passed a bill to combat alcohol and drug use during pregnancy and provide needed substance abuse treatment.
CENSUS AND REDISTRICTING: This year we undertake the decennial census, counting every person for the purpose of redrawing congressional and legislative districts. We encourage everyone to participate to help achieve the most accurate census possible. Next year, the Legislature will perform its constitutional duty of redistricting, with recommendations for the first time from an independent redistricting commission. In the redistricting bill passed this session, I included a provision for greater flexibility in the boundaries of rural legislative districts to allow more compact districts that are better aligned with county and municipal boundaries. My intent is to maintain at least the current number of rural districts, as more of our total state population shifts to urban areas.
ADDITIONAL BILLS OF INTEREST:
--Abortion: Prohibits abortion, with limited exceptions, if current case law is overruled; requires respectful disposition of fetal remains.
--Environment: Encourages production of clean fuels, electric-vehicle charging stations, and development of hydrogen power.
--Elections: I passed two bills providing procedures to fill mid-term congressional vacancies; protection of voter registration information.
--Courts: Greater protections for victims of domestic violence; greater state assistance for indigent criminal defense; defined standards for bail release.
--Year-round Daylight Savings Time: Approval contingent on congressional action.
--Bigamy: Decriminalized to an infraction, reserving prosecution of separate crimes.
--Natural Resources: Outdoor Adventure Commission to develop strategic plan; rural counties exempt from secondary water metering; authorization for water banking; and constitutional right to hunt and fish.
To discuss these or other matters considered by the Legislature, feel free to contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2019 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
Following each legislative session (after a few days of rest and recuperation), I provide a report to my constituents in Tooele and Millard Counties and portions of Juab, Utah, and Beaver Counties. I feel privileged to serve you in the Utah House of Representatives and work hard to stay abreast of the many issues, respond to your concerns, and protect your interests. Here are some of the highlights from the action-packed session and hundreds of bills passed.
ARTICLE V CONVENTION OF STATES: After several years of education and effort, I was able to pass a joint resolution, authorized by Article V of the U.S. Constitution, calling for a convention of states to consider amendments to the Constitution to limit the uncontrolled spending and power of the federal government, restore equal state sovereignty, and protect the rights of the people. A convention of states, which our Founders prescribed as the alternative to a reluctant or ineffective Congress, would not threaten the Constitution and provides the only means to restore the needed checks and balances on the federal government. Utah becomes the 14th state of the required 34 to call for an amendments convention. Any proposed amendment would still have to be ratified by 38 states. Veteran political commentator Bob Bernick called this resolution “the most important piece of legislation passed by the 2019 Legislature” because of its long-term potential to restore our Republic. (“Utah Policy,” Mar. 7, 2019). (For more information see conventionofstates.com.)
STATE BUDGET AND TAX REFORM: Our state is well-managed and in sound financial condition. We balanced our state budget at $18.5 billion, which includes $95 million in new rainy-day funds, a 2.5 percent compensation increase for state employees, and increased funding for Medicaid expansion, clean-air initiatives, school safety, and competitive retirement benefits for law enforcers and first responders. The Legislature backed off the proposed sales tax on services and formed a task force to address the structural imbalance caused by dwindling sales tax revenues on goods and the constitutional limitation on use of income tax revenues for education.
EDUCATION: The Legislature provided an additional $280 million for public education, which includes a 4 percent increase in the per-student funding, $40 million for student enrollment growth, and $26 million for student health and counseling services. Other bills improve student safety, limit school fees, and provide a compromise remedy for state school board elections.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The Legislature approved $1 million for grants to expand manufacturing and other jobs in rural areas of the state, and another $2 million to expand state jobs into rural areas through teleworking. We also provided additional funding for the Inland Port Authority in northwest Salt Lake County to expand port hubs into adjacent and rural counties, with funds for transportation planning assistance for local governments.
HEALTHCARE AND ENVIRONMENT: The Legislature provided $75 million for Medicaid expansion and additional funds for medical cannabis implementation, both of which were approved by citizen initiatives. We increased the legal age for smoking to 21, restricted access of minors to vaping products, and provided for coverage of autism under some health insurance plans. A new law prohibits abortions after 18 weeks gestation. We approved $26 million worth of programs to improve air quality, including installation of electric vehicle charging stations and voluntary replacement of wood stoves and fireplaces with gas appliances.
--Families: I received a “Friend of the Family Award” from the Family Policy Resource organization for sponsoring the bill to prevent change of “sex” designation on birth certificates. I withdrew a proposed compromise bill to allow further study of the issue.
--Suicide: Expanded school suicide prevention programs.
--Crimes: Victim-targeting law allows increased sentence for offenders who intentionally harm persons or property based on race, sex, religion, or other personal characteristics. Another bill streamlines expungement of certain criminal records.
--Alcohol: Compromise bill allows increased alcohol content in beer from 3.2 to 4 percent. Increased funding for Alcoholic Beverage Control package agencies.
--Heritage and Arts: Appropriated $2 million for grant program.
--Natural Resources: Appropriated $5 million for Bonneville Salt Flats restoration.
--Redistricting: Appropriated $1.6 million to implement Prop. 4 Redistricting Commission and conduct redistricting following 2020 Census.
--Legal Notices: I opposed the bill to exempt publication of certain legal notices in local newspapers.
--Gravel Pits: I opposed the bill to expand zoning protections for existing gravel pits at the expense of other private property rights and local control.
To discuss these or other matters considered by the Legislature, feel free to contact me by email: email@example.com.
2018 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
After another action-packed legislative session, I offer this report of session highlights to my constituents in Tooele and Millard Counties and portions of Juab, Utah, and Beaver Counties. I am grateful to local county, city, and school officials, as well as other interested individuals, who took time to meet with me and contact me during the session to provide needed information and perspective for good decision-making. I also enjoyed meeting with several student groups and other guests who visited our beautiful Capitol to see the process first-hand.
STATE BUDGET AND TAX REFORM: Our state is fiscally well-managed and in sound financial condition. We have a strong, balanced economy and essentially full employment. Our concern is to ensure that all our citizens, especially those in rural areas, share in this economic prosperity. We balanced our state budget at $16.7 billion, a moderate annual increase to account for population and student growth. We used surplus revenue to replenish our rainy-day funds, which were depleted during the last recession. We also reduced the personal and corporate income tax rates to provide relief to taxpayers and stimulate economic growth. Strong revenues also allowed for a modest pay increase for state employees, improvements for state parks, and funding for homeless shelters, suicide prevention programs, and early-reading programs.
EDUCATION: Public education received over $500 million in new funding, a nearly 7 percent increase, to cover rapid enrollment growth, improve teacher retention and recruitment, and hire additional school counselors. We also provided additional funding for bus transportation in rural school districts. The Legislature also adopted a funding equalization plan that freezes the basic school property tax levy to redistribute revenue to school districts with lower property values. Also, voters will decide on a potential increase in the fuel tax that would free-up additional general funds for education. With these school funding elements in place, the citizen initiative that would have raised income and sales taxes by $700 million will be dropped. All interested parties appear satisfied with this funding compromise.
SCHOOL SAFETY: With more school shootings in the news, we are all aware of the need for increased school safety. We must ensure that, of all places, our schools provide a safe environment for our children and those who work with them. We formed a school safety task force to develop measures that we can implement as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Legislature will develop funding sources to assist local school districts in evaluating and meeting their unique school safety needs.
TRANSPORTATION: During the legislative session, I met with the UDOT Director and staff to ensure that they are aware of the transportation needs of Tooele County and take necessary action to meet those needs. The first stage of the Mid-Valley Highway is funded and now in the design phase, with construction to begin next year. This new construction, coupled with rebuilding the freeway ramps and adding lanes to I-80 and SR36, will significantly reduce congestion and enhance safety. UDOT is also designing, and the Legislature is looking to fund, an extension of SR201 to SR36. Meanwhile, we hope to expand use of mass transit. I thank UDOT and local officials and citizens who attended our public transportation meeting last month in Stansbury. In addition, the Legislature modified the governance of UDOT and UTA to increase multimodal planning and capital development for transportation projects.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The Legislature approved two large land-development projects in Salt Lake County, both associated with the prison re-location, which will have statewide impact. One is the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority to develop land vacated by the prison; the other is the Utah Inland Port Authority to develop a commerce and trade zone on land between the airport and the new prison site.
RURAL INITIATIVES: Legislation of particular interest to rural counties includes an incentive for employers to expand into rural areas, including use of more telecommuting. Another provision authorizes the PSC to spread the costs of natural gas infrastructure expansion to the larger customer base. Wireless providers are also authorized to expand service in rural areas through agreed use of existing utility poles.
HEALTHCARE: The Legislature authorized expansion of Medicaid to individuals within the federal poverty level, conditioned on 90 percent federal funding, work effort by recipients, and fixed enrollment caps. In a separate provision, pharmacists may now disclose cost information to patients, permitting less expensive access to medications. In tightly contested votes, the Legislature also authorized medical use of cannabis.
OTHER LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS: I sponsored legislation: 1) expanding protection of children from sexual abuse; 2) clarifying the duty of the Attorney General to provide legal opinions to the Legislature; 3) creating the right of the Legislature to intervene in legal actions contesting state law; 4) facilitating disposition of county property; 5) honoring the life of President Thomas S. Monson; and 6) honoring the Topaz Museum and the Japanese-American internees during WWII. I also helped secure an appropriation for the Historic Wendover Airfield.
I opposed and helped defeat legislation that would have: 1) created a legislative oversight committee over all state and local government entities; 2) required local governments to permit night-time gravel-truck traffic; 3) limited required publication of legal notices in local newspapers, and 4) restricted state agencies from lobbying the Legislature.
To discuss these or other matters considered by the Legislature, feel free to contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your continued support.
2017 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
Another legislative session in the books! Forty-five days filled with budget meetings to carefully apportion public funds, committee meetings to consider new laws, caucus meetings to formulate public policy, floor debates to vote on bills, and individual meetings and communications with constituents and interested parties to guide our decisions in the public interest. I am honored to represent Tooele and Millard Counties and parts of Juab, Utah, and Beaver Counties. I appreciate the input and support of my constituents and local officials in this annual exercise of government of, by, and for the people. Here are some session highlights.
STATE BUDGET: One of our most important functions is the prudent expenditure of public funds. Utah enjoys one of the strongest economies in the nation, with sustained growth and low unemployment. We produced a balanced budget of $16 billion, with no general tax increase. We significantly increased funding for public and higher education, provided modest pay increases for public employees, funded needed college buildings and highways, and provided improved care for the homeless, elderly, and disabled.
EDUCATION: About 60 percent of new revenue, $230 million, went to public education. That includes $70 million for enrollment growth and a 4 percent increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit for allocation by local school boards. That amounts to a 6.7 percent funding increase over last year. We also provided increased funding to reimburse teachers for supplies, materials, and licensing fees, and to provide bonus incentives for teachers in poverty areas with high turnover. We also enacted more reliable student assessment measures. We value our school teachers and administrators who give so much and work so hard for our children.
TRANSPORTATION: We passed a highway bonding bill that provides an average of $250 million per year over four years to accelerate construction of high priority projects identified by the Transportation Commission, including choke-points along I-15 in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah Counties and the Mid-Valley Highway in Tooele County. These projects will improve traffic flow, enhance safety, and facilitate economic development. The bonds will not increase our debt level, as we continue to retire prior bonds, and will not affect our AAA bond rating, which only nine states possess.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: We passed the Rural Jobs Act, which provides tax incentives for investment in small businesses in rural counties, and provided better funding for the Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure Grant Program, both sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund. We also adopted tax incentives for a hydrogen fuel plant, sponsored by Rep. Doug Sagers.
FEDERALISM: I sponsored and passed HCR6, a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment that would give two-thirds of state legislatures the authority to invalidate a federal executive order or administrative rule. We also passed a resolution calling on Congress and the President to restore reserved powers to the states. My resolution calling for an Article V convention of states to limit the power of the federal government passed the House but fell three votes short in the Senate. I will continue to push this important cause forward.
OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST:
Protection of Children: I worked with Attorney General Sean Reyes to pass HB199, a bill to prevent the internet trafficking of high needs children in failed adoptions.
- Healthcare: Bills addressing suicide prevention, opioid addiction, telehealth, and additional Medicaid funding.
- Clean Air: Incentives for refineries to produce cleaner Tier 3 fuels, funding for alternative fuel UTA buses and school buses.
- Water and Irrigation: SB63 clarifies the rights of a shareholder in a water company.
- Alcohol: Increased prices to fund school lunch programs and underage drinking prevention efforts; clarified dispensing rules to prevent over-consumption and prevent sales to minors.
- Justice Reform: Increased funding for mental-health and addiction treatment; revised standards for confinement and treatment of juvenile offenders.
2016 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
STATE BUDGET: One of our most important responsibilities is the prudent expenditure of public funds. Each legislator serves on a budget subcommittee that makes recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Committee. We discuss fiscal issues throughout the 45-day session in relation to proposed spending bills until we reach a consensus. This year, we produced a balanced budget of $15 billion dollars with no general tax increase. We significantly increased funding for education, with a small pay increase for public employees and increased funding for Medicaid and homeless services. We also paid down our bond debt and set aside increases for our rainy-day funds. Through the appropriation process, I procured funding for improvements to the Topaz Museum in Delta and the J. Reuben Clark Farm in Grantsville.
EDUCATION: We increased funding to education by $445 million, including a three percent increase in the WPU (weighted pupil unit) and $94 million for new-student growth. We also revised funding for charter schools to eliminate conflicts with district school funding. We increased funding for the popular Regents’ Scholarships by several million, increased funding for Applied Technology Colleges, and funded new college buildings, including a business building at SUU. Other legislation restricts use of student testing for teacher evaluations, increases funding for digital teaching and teacher training, and resolves the impasse on election of the State School Board.
NATURAL RESOURCES: We established a Wild Fire Suppression Fund and procedures for the state to assist local governments in the suppression of wild fires. The Legislature also established a long-term water infrastructure fund to study future water needs and to plan and construct needed water projects. We also budgeted for possible litigation on public lands and endangered species issues.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: We passed the High Cost Infrastructure Tax Credit Amendments to encourage energy and resource development, particularly in rural areas. We also modified the population requirements for local governments to qualify for enterprise zone incentives. A new Office of Outdoor Recreation is established to administer grants to local governments for construction of recreational infrastructure such as trails. We also provided for improved long-term management of the Utah State Fair.
LAW ENFORCEMENT: In cooperation with law enforcement agencies, we adopted rules for use of body-cameras to protect officers and the public. We also established an Indigent Defense Commission to assist local governments in providing legal counsel to indigent defendants, as required by the Constitution. With last year’s adjustments to our corrections system, we also provided for additional probation and parole agents to increase offender supervision in the community.
OTHER LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS: In consultation with Intermountain Power Agency and local officials, I passed HB 341, which authorizes IPA to create subsidiary energy companies to diversify use of company assets and maintain levels of local employment during future transition to natural gas power generation. I also passed HB 179, which increases protection of young teens from sexual predators. As Vice-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I helped defeat proposed legislation that would have eliminated parental gender distinctions in state adoption and foster placements. Both mothers and fathers are important for child development. Other proposed legislation to allow medical marijuana, to impose “hate crime” penalties, to abolish the death penalty, and to tax internet sales failed before coming to a vote in the House of Representatives. I continue in support of legislation to strengthen state sovereignty and to improve the redistricting process to protect rural representation in the Legislature.
2015 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
STATE BUDGET: One of our most important responsibilities is the prudent expenditure of public funds. We spent the first two weeks of the session scrutinizing department base budgets for possible cuts and savings. We reallocated existing funds and assessed the fiscal impact of legislation throughout the session. We produced a balanced budget of $14 billion, which includes significantly increased funding for education, transportation, criminal justice reform, and Medicaid services.
PUBLIC EDUCATION: The budget provides significant additional funding for education, including $58 million for enrollment growth, a 4 percent increase in the WPU (amounting to $104 million), and $75 million for school district capital equalization, which provides particular benefit to rural areas with lower property tax revenues. The budget also provides $5 million for digital literacy, $3 million for early intervention K-3 literacy, and $6 million for teacher supplies and materials. Significant legislation provides grants to help school counselors improve college and career counseling and targets improved math competency and graduation rates.
TRANSPORTATION: The Legislature enacted long-needed reforms of transportation funding, which has lost one-third of its value since 1997. Facing a multi-billion dollar funding shortfall, the Legislature revised the funding formula from a per-gallon tax to a percentage-sales tax based on the average wholesale price, to maintain stability and predictability. The law also authorizes counties to enact a quarter-percent sales tax to share with cities and towns for maintenance of local roads.
PRISON RELOCATION AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: The Prison Relocation Commission deferred its decision on a site for the new prison until later this summer. Legislative leadership did not permit reconsideration of the current site, as provided in my HB 262. After much wrangling, we successfully ensured that the relocation decision will be made by the entire Legislature. I will continue my efforts keep the prison in Salt Lake County. In connection with reconstruction of prison facilities, the Legislature adopted significant criminal justice reforms designed to reduce incarceration of non-violent offenders in favor of increased treatment programs. New facilities and programs will reflect this renewed emphasis on treatment, education, and rehabilitation to reduce recidivism.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: I supported adoption of SB 216, sponsored by Sen. Okerlund, which provides post-performance tax credits for businesses that create new utility infrastructure, creating incentives in rural areas presently underserved by essential utilities.
UTAH TEST AND TRAINING RANGE (UTTR): Legislators are working with county officials, our congressional delegation and the U.S. Air Force on the proposed expansion of the UTTR. The expansion plan includes trading state trust lands within the expansion area for more valuable and developable federal lands outside the expansion area. Parcels proposed to be acquired in Tooele County are located near Aragonite for mineral and industrial development, near Grantsville for flood control and recreation development, near Tooele for residential development, near Stockton for mineral development, and near Gold Hill for agricultural use. Parcels proposed for acquisition in Juab County are intended for mineral extraction and agricultural use. Parcels in Millard County are located near IPP for industrial use, near Eskdale for community use, and near the current limestone operation for expanded mineral extraction. Parcels in Beaver County include the Blawn Mountain project to provide access for mineral extraction and the Thermo Hot Springs site for geothermal development. I am working with SITLA to ensure that all these rural counties benefit from the UTTR expansion.
CIVIL RIGHTS, RELIGIOUS PROTECTION, AND MARRIAGE: The Legislature passed historic SB 296, which prohibits employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill exempts religious institutions and the BSA, protects free exercise of religion under the Constitution, and retains the right of employers to require employment qualifications. We also passed SB 297, which exempts religious institutions from performing or recognizing gay marriages against their doctrine. Government officials retain discretion whether to perform such marriages, as long as the county clerk’s office performs them. I co-chaired the Judiciary Committee that reviewed this legislation.
OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST: I supported legislation prohibiting a total ban of wood burning, which is particularly important in rural areas without access to natural gas. The Legislature also passed laws giving terminally ill patients access to investigational drugs, allowing the state to assume management of wild horses and burros, expanding benefits to survivors of peace officers and fire fighters who die in the line of duty, modifying procedures for water change applications, and (my favorite) permitting milk-cow sharing. I sponsored the following bills: HB 84, which deters theft of lead batteries from farm and construction vehicles by requiring metal-recyclers to track the sellers of used batteries; HB 201, which exempts IPP and rural power companies from regulations applied to other inter-local agencies; HB 317, which deters poaching of livestock by imposing full-value-restitution requirements on the culprits; and SB 21, which exempts ATI Metals from sales and use taxes in processing titanium from molten magnesium. Further consideration of Medicaid expansion and State School Board selection were deferred to a later session.
2014 LEGISLATIVE REPORT
State Budget: One of our most important functions is to issue a balanced state budget, making wise use of our limited tax revenues. Again, we balanced our state budget with no tax increase. This year we initiated a new approach to the budgeting process, taking a full week to scrutinize base budgets before considering allocation of new revenues. We produced nearly $70 million in savings that could be allocated to higher-priority uses. We then allocated new revenue from Utah’s steadily-growing economy, devoting over half of the new revenue to education. Our total budget is $13.5 billion, with 42% going to public and higher education, 34% to social services, 13% to infrastructure and government operations, and the rest to executive offices, courts, and other state functions.
Marriage Law: Last December, right before Christmas, a federal judge ruled that our Utah law restricting marriage to one man and one woman violates the federal constitutional rights of gay couples. While many Utahns were shocked into resignation, and gay couples rushed into marriage ceremonies, I issued a legal opinion that the court decision was erroneous and should be appealed. (See “My View,” Deseret News, Jan. 3, 2014.) As member of an ad hoc House committee appointed to review the case, I met with the Attorney General and his legal staff to outline the legal grounds for appeal and the content of the State’s brief to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. I also helped draft a supporting brief to the appellate court, which was signed by nearly all of Utah’s legislators. Oral arguments in the case are set for April 10 in Denver. Throughout this session, my assignment was to monitor the marriage case and all marriage-related legislation to ensure support of our state policy favoring traditional marriage. I continue in that assignment.
Education: This is one of our top priorities. The budget allocates $61 million of new revenue to fully fund increased enrollment of over 10,000 students. In addition, we provided another $62 million in new money to increase the Weighted Pupil Unit funding by 2.5%. We also provided $5 million to reimburse teachers for out-of-pocket expenses, and provided funding for teacher professional development, on-line and concurrent education, assessment software, licensed music therapists, State Board and parent review of curriculum, after-school programs, and suicide and abuse-prevention programs. While we would have liked to provide more, this is good news for education.
Election Reform: The House of Representatives concluded its investigation of former Attorney General John Swallow. This investigation led to Swallow’s resignation and to the enactment of stricter campaign finance and disclosure laws. The Legislature also enacted a compromise that preserves our caucus-convention system of nominating political candidates, while allowing alternative access to the ballot through gathering a certain number of signatures, and expands primary voting to unaffiliated voters in 2015. I encourage all voters to attend their caucus meeting this week.
Healthcare: The Legislature refused full expansion of Medicaid, as contemplated under Obamacare. Instead, the state will continue to care for its most needy citizens under current programs while the Governor explores possible alternatives with federal officials to expand care to additional persons left uncovered under the federal law. We did approve use of hemp extract for persons with intractable epilepsy, and we extended insurance coverage requirements for children with autism.
Air and Water: We provided funding and tax incentives for alternate-fuel vehicles and replacement of gas-burning engines and wood-burning stoves. We defeated a measure that would have imposed additional fees on owners of alternate-fuel vehicles. We provided for monitoring and safety of canals in residential areas and defeated a proposal to impose stricter requirements on water companies.
Military Veterans: We established the Veterans’ and Military Affairs Commission to improve services to veterans, a Veterans’ Assistance Registry to provide information on available services, and ordered a study for veterans’ centers on college campuses.
Law Enforcement: We reaffirmed rights of gun owners to bear arms, authorized trial hunting permits, prohibited unauthorized distribution of intimate images, increased funding for the Crime Victims Reparations Fund, authorized relocation of the state prison, expanded county jail contracting for state prisoners, and strengthened prohibitions against sexual contact with students.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns using my legislative email address: email@example.com. Thank you again for your support.