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.
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.