Dear friends and neighbors,
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: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865574685/A-plan-to-create-a-vision-for-Utah-education.html
Here are some of the Senate bills discussed this week:
SJR 13 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SJR013.htm This joint resolution urges the federal government to transfer title to the public lands within the boundaries of the state of Utah to the state.
SB 68 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0068S01.htm privatized our state's surplus program. Right now the way we handle surplus actually costs us money. Surrounding states have successfully implemented a plan similar to this.
SB 169 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0169.htm creates an Education Task force that will help align public and higher education with long-term economic goals to keep Utah economically competitive. Here is more information on the bill.
Some House bills that we passed off of our floor were
HB 83 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0083.htm expanded the I-15, 80 mph zones. A few years ago, we designated several areas of I-15 to test the 80 mph zones. Some concerns then were that because speed had increased, that deaths would increase also. That has proved to be untrue. Deaths were actually down in that area. The new areas will be between Santaquin and St. George.
HB 254 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillamd/HB0254S01.htm was passed to direct state colleges and universities to give credit for experience as well as classes. A tasks force has been studying how the state can help veterans re-assimilate in to society. This was one of the recommendations of the task force.
Utah is the first state to create an innovative mobile tracking service for state legislation. Utah.Gov has created an app called Legislative Bill Watch. It works with the state's legislative website to track and follow legislation. On the app you can search for bills by topic, bill number or legislator's name. You can create a subscription list to notify you about bill status changes and see the details of those changes. This is just one more way that Utah's legislative process is accessible and transparent. Here is a link for iPhone and iPad: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/watch-utah-legislature-bills/id598951706?mt=8
And here is one for Andoroid: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nicusa.utah.billtracker
You can also search any bill by number or sponsor on the legislature's website The address is http://le.utah.gov/.
On Monday, we had our first glimpse of the budget numbers for the coming year.
There are many factors that impact our expected revenue, including the federal government's choice of sequestration. Right now, Utah gets $4,768 billion in federal funding. The biggest chunk of that goes to Medicaid ($1,357 billion) most of the rest goes to unemployment insurance, food stamps, highway funding and education. Those federal funds are used to pay for federal programs. As Senator Hillyard and many others say, "If you live by the federal dollar, you die by the federal dollar," meaning that the state does not have the money to fill in for these federal program's deficits. So when the money is gone, the program ends. This is why we had each department prepare for potential cuts even when this problem seemed far away.
We probably won't see an immediate impact because the decrease in funding will be gradual. But the long-term impact will very likely be significant. This is what we should expect when we spend federal dollars that are borrowed or just printed. It is sad Washington can't get together and allow us to solve this problem in an organized way. Their inability to do so means that our day of reckoning is coming.
In contrast to the federal economy, Utah's economy actually looks rather healthy. Because we don't know how much health care costs to the state will increase, we still need to be very cautious and judicious in our budget commitments. However, the numbers we received this week indicate that we will have $264 million in ongoing revenue and $161 million to spend on one-time expenditures.
Here is a link to a discussion on the budget: http://www.senatesite.com/home/2-25-2013/
Here is a link with the revenue numbers we were given on Monday: http://www.senatesite.com/home/revenue-2013/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+senatesite%2Ffeedme+%28The+Senate+Site%29
After weeks of study and deliberation the appropriations sub-committees met for the final time this week to approve their program budgets. 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.
Week 5 Highlights
On Tuesday, we honored Ann Millner, Weber State University's retiring president. http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/02/27/utah-legislature-honors-millners-service-wsu
On Thursday 29 teachers were recognized on the Senate floor. These teachers are unique because they are all from China and Taiwan. They have come here to teach Chinese in our dual-language immersion program.
Utah's dual-language immersion program is one of the many things that Utah is doing to set an example across the nation. Educators from other states often come to Utah to see how we have accomplished what we have with such limited funds. Here is more information on this very successful program: http://www.senatesite.com/home/blog2/
The Office of the Legislative Auditor General has completed three audits so far this year. One was done on Utah's Child Welfare System, one on the programs and funding for Utah College of Applied Technology and another on the Labor commissions Adjudication Division. Here are links to a pdf for each of the reports. http://le.utah.gov/audit/13_01rpt.pdf
The purpose of performance audits is to help legislators oversee and evaluate state agency operations and state program results. Audits answer the following basic questions: Is an agency being run as efficiently as it could be? Is a program meeting the needs of the public? Is an agency or program serving as the Legislature intended? Any legislator can make an audit request by writing a letter to the Audit Subcommittee.
Every morning after floor time, Senate Leadership and usually a few other senators meet with the press to answer questions. This meeting is live streamed on our Senate channel. To watch, go to the blog site: http://www.senatesite.com/home/ select the Senate Channels tab and then select Live Stream. If you would like a question answered during the live stream, you can text it to 801-505-1457.
Utah continues to do more and more to make government accessible and available to its citizens. I am grateful to represent you in the Utah State Senate.
Senator Wayne NIederhauser