Dear Friends and Neighbors,
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. http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/29410286/highlight/326363
Monday was Washington and Lincoln Day and the Legislature did not meet but the rest of the week kept us busy.
The last town hall meeting of the session was on Saturday. Every meeting this year was well attended. A hardy thank you for participating. The dialogue was open and substantive. It will help me in representing you!
I plan to do some more meeting in the fall this year. If you want to sponsor a neighborhood meeting let me know.
Tuesday morning there were some important discussions in the Public Education and Social Services Appropriations Committees about an education funding equalization idea and a discussion about what effect an operational expansion in Medicaid would have on the state.
The appropriations committees are putting together their priority lists. These lists rank the importance of the programs the committee is responsible for funding. The lists will be sent to the Executive Appropriations Committee as the final budget bill is prepared.
Public Education receives the largest portion of the state's money in the state budget. Just over half the state's $13 billion budget goes directly to the State Board of Education (public k-12 education) and the State Board of Regents (higher education).
Here is a break down of where the State Board of Education gets the money they are given to spend. About ten percent comes from the federal government. The rest is from various state and local taxes. The Utah Constitution mandates that every bit--100%, of all individual and corporate income tax be spent on education. All of the profits from the sale of alcohol in the state are spent on K-12 public education. A portion of the state sales tax goes to education; money collected from our Trust Lands fund about 1% of the education budget. Just over half of all property tax revenue goes directly to public education.
It is a little complicated. What seems to be even more complicated is keeping track of how it is spent and making those expenditures transparent.
Senator Thatcher is running a bill that will help with this problem. It won't take any authority away from the State School Board nor will it be a burden to the schools because they are already collecting the information of how they spend the money, but it will make the expenditures available to the public. Government expenditures should be transparent and easy to access.
When a tweet went out about what SB 128 would do, there were two responses that spoke volumes about the problem we are facing in education funding transparency. Tami Pyfer, a State School Board member, commented that even many legislators had difficulty understanding the complexity of the education budget. Tim Beagley, Chair of the State Charter Board said, "there may be three or four people in the whole state who fully understand it."
Senator Thatcher's bill is now in the House. Every member of the Senate voted in favor of the bill. Here is a link to the bill: http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0128.htm
Senator Mike Lee spoke to us on Tuesday. He talked a lot about the pending budget cuts. These cuts will have a significant impact on national defense spending. One thing Senator Lee found "stunning" was that even though they knew the cuts were coming, the Pentagon has done nothing to prepare for them. Once again I am proud of Utah. We have prepared for pending budget cuts. Last November, each state agency created a plan for how they would cut their budgets in the event of 5% or 25% cut of federal funds. If our funds are cut, it won't be easy, but at least we have a starting point, even if we don't know when the cuts are coming or how severe they will be.
Here is a link to Senator Lee's remarks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElHrruZ87RA
On Wednesday, Senator Hatch visited. His message was similar: Sequestration will likely happen; there seems to be no real effort to pass a federal budget; "We are going to go through some trying times."
Here is a link to Senator Hatch's remarks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eVbnO4x9E4
Here are some bills that passed third reading in the Senate this week and will move on to the House:
This bill, sponsored by Senator Weiler, creates the Utah 211 Referral Information Network. 211 can be called for help navigating community service organizations. Here is a link with more information. http://www.fcc.gov/guides/dial-211-essential-community-services
SB 60 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillamd/SB0060.htm sponsored by Senator Dayton, requires the State Health Department to annually report data to the Health and Human Services Committee on abortions performed in the state. The data is already collected and sent to the Federal government. This bill simply requires that it be reported to the state legislature as well.
SB 158 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0158.htm allows a municipality to keep up to 25% of the excess of their estimated revenue in their general fund. Senator Henderson's bill provides another way that cities and counties will be able to prepare for upcoming volatility in their budgets.
So far about 100 bills have passed both floors. The only bills that have been signed by the Governor are the base budget bills and HB 61 that gave University Status to Dixie State. The last day the Governor may sign or veto a bill is April 13th. The normal date for bills to take effect is May 13th. Here is a link to the running list of the bills that have passed and are waiting for the Governor's signature. http://le.utah.gov/asp/passedbills/passedbills.asp
One bill on that list is SB53. It passed off both the House and Senate floors with no dissenting votes. This bill, sponsored by Senator Reid will help the state address the problem of intergenerational welfare.
Another one on the list is SB 141. This bill would create an account called More for Education where you could donate additional money to the education fund via your state income tax form.
Senator Jenkins is sponsoring legislation that would examine relocating the state prison. SB 72 creates a board that would study the possible relocation of the state prison in Draper. If the decision to relocate the prison were made, the board would then study possibilities and oversee new development of the land. The major reasons that relocation of the prison needs to be considered are: modernization, rehabilitation needs, and potential economic development. Here is a link to the bill: http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0072S01.htm
A Special Tribute
Floor time ended on an emotional note on Friday. We passed HJR 6 recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The last few lines of the resolution sponsored by Senator Jenkins were, "NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War and those who fought, suffered, and died in the conflict. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor urge the citizens of Utah to reflect on the service and sacrifice of many during the Vietnam War."
Next, holding with our annual tradition, we honored members of our Armed Forces and recognized the fallen soldiers from our state. Ten units from Utah have deployed members. Eight of those units were represented on the floor. But our recognition was happily incomplete. I am pleased to report that no members of our Utah Units were killed in the past year.
If you would like to see pictures of these tributes, they are on the Senate Site. http://www.senatesite.com/home/
I, like you, am so grateful for the tremendous sacrifices that have been made by others to preserve the freedoms of our land and to protect and promote freedom in other parts of the world.
Every day on the senate blog, we post the Senate Journal. It is a fun way to keep track of the events of the day. The link to the blog is http://www.senatesite.com/home/
You can also follow what is happening during session on Facebook, Twitter or Pintrest. http://www.facebook.com/utahsenate
I am grateful to represent you in the Utah State Senate. I encourage you to be involved and please remember to let me know if you come to the Capitol.
Senator Wayne Niederhauser