We officially adjourned sine die last Thursday night at midnight. The 2015 Legislative session is finished. Overall I am pleased with the results. Of course, there are some disappointments. We had a number of big issues to address and completed most of them.
We are down to the last week. At this point in the session, we are working hard on finalizing the budget and moving bills through the process. It is important that the House and Senate work at about the same pace. In order to do that we keep stats on where the bills are and how fast they are moving. We call it the "golden rule list." Here is an infogram that shows the list for March 5th.http://www.senatesite.com/home/golden-rule2/#more-12317
The budgeting process is very methodical. After weeks of study and deliberation, the appropriations sub-committees have passed on their final budget requests. Tough choices had to be made in every committee distinguishing needs from wants. The committees recommend their top priority items and send their lists to executive appropriations. Here is some information about how the Executive Appropriations Committee works: http://www.senatesite.com/home/exec-approps-blog/#more-6251 Utah has a Constitutional requirement that we pass a balanced budget by midnight on the last day of session. That requirement and our compliance with that mandate has been the driving force behind the State's high financial stability rankings.
And here is a link to the most recent funding option list that we are considering.http://www.senatesite.com/2015Budget.pdf
Utah is now the 26th state to pass a resolution supporting the idea of a adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require a balanced budget.
Here is a link to the bill: http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/HJR007.html
Next week will be our final week in the session. There are still many important issues to discuss and I welcome your input.
Last week, the big issues of the session started to get votes on the floor of the Senate and the House. It takes time to get through committee and rise to a vote in each chamber. Medicaid expansion received a lot of attention as the Governor and the House fight over what program to implement. The debate on medicaid will continue this coming week along with transportation funding, medical marijuana, anti-discrimination, religious liberties and prison relocation just to name a few.
Here are a few interesting stats about the movement of bills this past week:
As of noon on Friday there were 133 Senate bills in House committees and 192 House bills in Senate committees. In all the House had introduced 467 total bills and the Senate has introduced 301 into the process.
Last Thursday night, the gavel came down concluding another legislative session. Our session lasts 45 days, one of the shortest in the country. It is fast paced, but it forces the system to be efficient. Here is a funny video clip done by Sutherland Institute that clearly shows how most of the days feel.
We have completed our last full week of the session. It has been very busy. On Tuesday, we met three times on the floor. A morning and afternoon session and then an additional floor session in the evening. Working through the bills takes time and we have a deadline, so working a few nights toward the end of the session is not unusual.
The budget is 95% negotiated. I spent many hours working with the Speaker of the House and the Governor last week. It is interesting processing a budget when three parties have different ideas about the outcome.
You may have been reading about my alleged conflicts of interests in the prison relocation. I would like to give you the facts:
This week, except Wednesday, we met twice a day (morning and afternoon) for floor time. We are working on as many bills as we can each day. As of the middle of the week, these were the bill stats--1170 bill files had been requested. 652 of those files have been numbered, meaning they are active in the system. 56 bills are waiting for their sponsors to approve the content and then those bills will also become public and start their way through the process. Legislative attorneys are still working on 96 bills. 366 bill files have been abandoned. That means that for some reason, the sponsor decided not to run the bill this year.
Here is a great article on the efforts we will be making on education this next year:
This week we hit the halfway mark. We have introduced fewer bills this session than any other session in the past decade. Here is Senator Valentine's report on the number of bills we are working on and his assessment of why that has happened.
We have completed the third week of the session. Just four more to go. Then, you can rest and stop worrying about what the legislature is going to do. It is a good thing that Utah has a short legislative session. The main purpose is to pass a budget. Secondarily, the session provides a forum for issues of policy to be presented. It is an important process for our state, but it is good we keep it short. Can you image if we were in session year-round like Congress or many of the other states? We would pass more laws than we do. I believe that Utah's approach is great!
My newsletter is pretty comprehensive. I hope it is informative.
I was pleased with the outstanding attendance at my first two Town Hall Meetings. Thank you for being involved and supporting me in the senate. Also, I appreciate everyone who took time to fill-out the survey. The results have been posted on my website. I will continue to do all that I can to represent you.
We have finished week two and the bills are beginning to move.
The 2013 Legislative session has begun. We got off to a good start, in spite of a few challenges with the weather.
Before I give you an update on our first week, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to represent you in the Senate. I appreciate your trust and look forward to your input and any thoughts on the legislation we will be considering this session.
Remember, this week holds my first two Town Hall Meetings on Tuesday, February 5th and Thursday, February 7th @ 7pm and the Sandy Library. I hope to see you there!
I have greatly appreciated working with our past leadership team and look forward to many new experiences. We also met in November for our final interim committee meetings before the 2013 session begins in January. Looking forward I am currently scheduling Town Hall Meetings to be held in February, during the 2013 session, and invite you to come be involved. Also, I will be conducting a survey on my website www.wayneniederhauser.com beginning in January to understand your opinions better and would appreciate your input.
This September, we celebrated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. We are fortunate to live in a country where our rights are protected and governed in law. There is a federal requirement to teach about the Constitution in schools. Additionally, Utah has state laws requiring several additional elements of patriotic education.
The Executive Appropriations Committee met and heard reports on grants the state is receiving and a report from the Medicaid Inspector General. This office is new to Utah and the goal is to create proactive communication with medical providers that will diminish excessive expenditures, fraud and eliminate excessive medical practices that end up costing the state money. There were also reports from the Utah State Office of Education on the implementation of on-line testing and from the fiscal analysts office on how student growth will be calculated in the future.
The Education Committee meeting was long in September. There was a discussion on the Replacement of the State Superintendent, a report on teacher quality and employment reform, discussion on the possibility of funding a state preschool and a report on the UPSTART program. (UPSTART is a computer pre-school readiness program that can be done at home.) If the state decides to implement a pre-school program it would be contingent on such requirements a small class sizes, trained teachers and use of a research-based curriculum. Senator Osmond is proposing the legislation. There was also a report given to the committee about what will happen as a result of federal sequestration to our education budgets. As part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress was required to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion by January 15, 2012. Because they failed to do so, automatic across-the-board spending reductions will be instated in the FY2013 federal budget. The mandatory reduction rate will be either 8.2% or 7.6% depending what is being funded. If you would like to hear any of these discussions you can listen from this link.
Both the Political Subdivisions and the Revenue and Taxation Committee heard reports on the recent UTOPIA audit. Eleven Utah cities formed a consortium, pledging about $500 million over the next 32 years to back the necessary bonds to finance the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), an organization that would build a high-speed fiber-optic network. However, the network has yet to make a profit. The legislature requested that an audit be done to see what the ramifications will be to the cities in the consortium and the results are not good. According to the audit, UTOPIA is failing because of poor management and wasteful spending. So the cities (actually the taxpayers) are left on the hook to pay for a failing company. Sadly there is very little that the state can do to remedy this situation for the cities. Here are some thoughts that Senator Valentine had on the problem.
A very interesting report was given to the Public Utilities and Technology Committee on Utah's coal industry. Last year 20 million tons of coal was extracted from Utah mines. There are nearly 5000 jobs in our state that are directly or indirectly related to our coal industry. This puts $600 million into our local economy. Some of Utah's highest paying jobs are directly related to coal mining. This is a great boon to many of Utah's rural areas. Additionally, because coal based electricity is so inexpensive here, it is a great incentive to entice business to build here.
The Transportation Committee heard reports on the results of a pilot program that increased the speed limit to 80 mph in certain sections of the state. The results were good, showing enough of a decrease in accidents that the Department of Transportation is considering the change for other parts of the state as well. The Department also reported that it is looking into increasing the number of carpool lanes in the state as well.
A report on the state's Tourism Development plan was given to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. The good news is that tourism related taxes are continuing to rise. This is due in part to the hard work of our tourism development team that has placed representatives in several European nations and makes a considerable effort to promote the wonders of our state around the world.
Last month that committee had a discussion on intergenerational poverty. S.B. 37, passed last session by Senator Reid, provided for a study on the intergenerational poverty in our state. The results of the study will be presented at a conference on October 9th. You can find details about the conference on this pdf.
The newsletter is sent out weekly during the legislative session in January through March and monthly during the balance of the year. Occasionally, I will send you alerts when there is important or urgent information. Your email will be kept safe by my email service, Constant Contact, and I don’t share it with anyone.