Dear Friends and Neighbors,
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.
Last Monday the Senate Education Committee heard three Senate bills and two House bills. Senator Reid's bill creating a sex-ed program for parents to use passed successfully out of the committee. Here is a newspaper article about what the bill will do:
The committee also passed out SB 169 establishing a task force to create long-term education policies that align public and higher education with development and job creation goals. Here is a link to the bill: http://www.le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillamd/SB0169.htm
In the Business and Labor Committee, Senator Bramble proposed changing the GRAMA law to allow public access to legislator's emails. Here is a link to SB 94: http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0094.htm and here is a YouTube video where Senator Bramble describes the bill. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI8g_2XoNsc&feature=youtu.be
Also, Congressman Rob Bishop came to speak to us last Monday. He talked about what the sequestration cuts could do to Hill Air Force Base. He pointed out that the Obama administration has already cut $1 trillion from the defense budgets and sequestration mandates will cut even more. He also expressed his concerns over Utah's adoption of the Common Core curriculum, saying that it will give the federal government too much control over our state education system. Here is a YouTube video of his remarks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_ll0r8kC9I
As you know, on Tuesday evening President Obama gave his State of the Union address. I am so concerned that the President does not seem to be willing to address spending reductions. His solution to so many problems is to increase spending. The debt our nation has incurred is unsustainable, but we are all part and party to it. Right now 40% of what we spend in Utah comes from that unsustainable federal source. It has been a gradual process, but the states have surrendered much of their autonomy to the federal government just so we could get back some of the money we paid in taxes.
We don't know exactly when our nation will sit down to the consequences of the great debt that we have incurred. If Congress does actually "fix the debt problem," every state will see a reduction in federal funds. Or if they do nothing and allow the sequester cuts to take place, every state will see a reduction in federal funds. Either way we will lose budget money. Utah needs to have a real plan preparing us for the consequences and we are working on one.
Earlier on Tuesday morning, Senators Henderson, Harper and Osmond held a press conference announcing a slate of bills creating a contingency plan for when the federal funds decrease. The bill package is called Financial Ready Utah. There are seven bills all aimed at preparing Utah to be less dependent on federal money. We cannot just sever ourselves from all federal funds, and I am not sure that we will ever want to do that. But we certainly need to be more cautious about how much we are accepting and the strings and requirements that come with the federal money we do accept. We need to be more self-sufficient and be less dependent on federal money. This move from dependency needs to be happening on every level right down to our families. Here is a link to the press conference and the bills: http://www.senatesite.com/home/blog2/
The Financial Ready Utah website has been prepared in conjunction with these ideas. Here is the link: http://financialreadyutah.com/. This is an interactive website. Please contribute your ideas on frugal living and debt reduction and help spread the word.
There are many state legislators and leaders worried about the financial condition of the nation and how it will affect Utah. Here is an article co-authored by myself (Senate president Wayne Niederhauser), House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, Richard Ellis the State Treasurer and John Dougall the Utah State Auditor, encouraging everyone to be involved in preparing for the upcoming financial challenges. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865572931/A-plea-for-fiscal-preparedness.html
On Wednesday, Dixie State College became Dixie State University. HB 61 has passed successfully of both the House and Senate floors and will now be sent to the Governor. http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillenr/HB0061.htm
In order to qualify for University status, the school had to meet several benchmarks set by the Utah Board of Regents. They now offer 42 bachelor's degrees. The change gives Utah a total of six state Universities. This will be great for Utah.
Each day we continue to sort out the details of the coming year's budget. The Appropriations Committees met 16 times this week to work on budget distributions.
The state's total budget is about $13 billion a year, but only a small fraction of that money is really discussed in the committees because so much of it is already allocated.
When Senator Jerry Stevenson and Representative Brad Wilson, the executive appropriations vice-chairs, explain the allocation process in town hall meetings, they do it with candy bars.
They start with 13 candy bars--each one representing $1 billion. The first 5 go into a pile that symbolizes public education's budget. The next two go to higher education. Now there are six left. Just over two bars represent the entitlement payments that the Social Services appropriations committee oversees.
Now there are just over three candy bars left.
One bar goes to government operations. This covers the salaries, benefits and retirement for state employees. The courts, prisons and the highway patrol divide another bar. The final full bar goes to transportation. Dividing the last partial bar is where the appropriations committees spend most of their time.
Thus far the appropriations committees have had 84 funding requests above and beyond current funding.
Education always needs more than their seven bars. The new healthcare requirements could soon require considerably more and we are expecting less than usual from the federal government--but we still don't know how much less. All of this makes for tough decisions.
We started to hear a lot of House bills in our standing committees. One that was heard in Health and Human Services on Thursday was HCR2. This resolution calls for the legislature and the governor to support the goals and objectives in the Utah Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan 2010-2020. Here is a link to the website for Utah's plan to address obesity and health issues: http://choosehealth.utah.gov/providers/health-care/hc-tools-and-resources.php
I hope you had a great Valentine's Day on Thursday. Here is a belated Valentine wish from the senate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrsE-uS9Fb4&feature=youtu.be
Many times on the floor, you will hear the presenting Senator say something like, "this is a cleanup bill." There are many reasons that a law might need to be tweaked or "cleaned up." One example this year was HB 41, being run in the Senate by Senator Knudson. This bill removed a portion of the code dealing with campaign filing. The portion removed was outdated and had never been used. Here is a link to the bill. http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0041.htm
Another example was HB 12, sponsored on our floor by Senator Valentine. This bill changes the law concerning people who work in the alarm security industry. The way the law was originally written created an inadvertent problem. Instead of just doing a background check on the people who actually come into your home and install an alarm system, it required that everyone who worked in the office (like secretaries and janitors) have a background check as well. The changes in HB 12 fixed that problem.
When you are reading a bill, if the words are crossed out they are being removed, if the words are underlined, then those are new words that are being added. You can see where the words in HB12 will be changed. http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0012.htm
Making changes like this takes time, but is necessary to keep the state running smoothly.
Senators, staff and interns were busy on the floor and in committees and starting next week we begin our two-a-days on the floor. SB100 passed through the Senate with a favorable recommendation and is on to the House.
You can find a quick update each day on the senate website: http://www.senatesite.com/home/
There is a new way you can follow bills at the legislature! Bill Watch is a mobile app you can use on your phone or ipad to keep track of the issues that are important to you. With this app, you can search Utah bills by topic, bill number, or a legislator's name. You can create a list of bills you want to watch and receive notifications when the status of a bill changes.
Here is the link for the Apple download:
and here is on for an Android:
I encourage you to keep track of what is going on here. Your input is important. If you are ever here at the capitol, please let me know.
Thomas Jefferson said, "Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people." Thank you for being interested and involved. I hope the information I send helps you stay informed.
As always, I appreciate the information you share with me and your interest in the process. Please feel free to contact me anytime.
Senator Wayne Niederhauser