Dear friends and Neighbors,
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:
1. I only support the prison relocation if it will save the taxpayers money in the long run. The prison needs to be rebuilt. It may make sense to rebuild it on land that is less valuable than the Draper location. The legislature is organizing an independent commission to determine whether the prison should be relocated.
2. Al Mansell is a friend of mine and business partner in some buildings we own together. With regard to his interest in the prison relocation, I have no financial connection. I will neither gain or lose financially from the prison relocation if it happens.
3. I own land in Bluffdale some four miles from the Draper prison. I have owned the land for over 10 years, several years before I was elected to the legislature. The land is being developed now and will probably be finished before any potential move of the prison. Little chance that the prison relocation will benefit my project if it even happens.
It is good that my conflicts are revealed and questioned. This is part of good government and transparency. To view my complete disclosure report visit: http://www.utahsenate.org/documents/NIEDERHAUSER.pdf
A lot of time was spent wrangling through the budget this week. On Monday, the executive appropriations committee began their meetings to put together the final budget bill.
We are leading the nation in economic recovery, but just as every year, there are more requests for additional finances or money for new programs than available funds. As an example, the Social Services committee alone had 68 new funding requests totaling over $80 million. The committee's discretionary budget for such expenditures is less than $10 million. This is why budget allocations are so difficult.
A few decisions have been made concerning what the final budget bill will contain.
The legislature will increase the Weighted Pupil Unit by 2%, which should mean a raise for teachers. That money will filter down to the districts so they can increase employee compensation including salary and benefit changes. We are recognized nationally as having the most equitable method of income tax revenue. (100% of state income tax revenue goes directly to this public education budget.) An additional $68.5 million will be spent to manage the growth in schools.
State workers will also get a 1% pay raise.
There will be one-time allocations (meaning we are giving them that amount for the current year only) made to several organizations like the Pioneer Museum, Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Moab Music Festival and The Leonardo.
It will take $19 million to pay the bill for last summer's fire damage.
$2,400,000 will be allocated to purchasing iPads for school children.
As the Executive Appropriations committee puts the final budget together, they are constantly referring to the prioritization of the committees. This process makes the budgeting allocation public and transparent--don't you wish the Federal government would do it this way?
Even though the sequestration cuts have gone into effect and we have much uncertainty on the horizon, I was pleased to see that, in general, consumer confidence in our state is holding steady. We are all frustrated at the way the federal government is handling the current economic situation, but I am grateful that Utah has weathered the storm as well as it has.
Here is a link to an article about Utah's Consumer Attitude Index done by Zion's Bank. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865574212/Utah-consumer-confidence-holds-steady-report-says.html
In Utah the sequestration cuts will have the biggest effect on Hill Air Force Base. Maintaining the base is critical to Utah's economy. Senator Jerry Stevenson has worked closely with the base for many years. Here is a link to his thoughts on what can be done to help support HAFB in the near future. http://www.senatesite.com/home/hafb2012/
These are some of the bills we will be addressing in the next few days:
We are still discussing the prison relocation bill. We are now on the fourth substitute of the original bill. Here is the link http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0072S04.htm. It is very important that the decision making process be handled the correct way. The discussion regarding the possibility of moving the prison has been going on for many years. The Prison Relocation Development Authority met for over a year before the decision was made that relocating the prison would be economically feasible. Here is a link to Senator Jenkins discussing the newest version of the bill. https://soundcloud.com/utsenate/senator-jenkins-prada (When he says PRADA board it means the Prison Relocation And Development Authority.)
SB 226 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0266.htm is a bill that would collect sales tax on Internet retail sales. 24 other states are trying to pass the same legislation.
SB 279 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0279.htm would provide funds for an interactive web-based individualized math program for students in kindergarten through grade 6.
HB 76 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0076S01.htm has been a bit confusing to some. This bill will NOT change anything concerning Utah's concealed carry permit. It changes the open carry law. Right now, anyone can legally carry a gun--but it must be in full view at all times AND the gun cannot be in "ready fire" which means the chamber must be empty. The problem is that if for any reason your gun becomes covered, like your jacket flips over the top of the gun or it starts to rain and you put on a jacket, then you have broken the law because your weapon is now concealed. HB 76 changes the law so that you can put your jacket on but the requirement to carry it with an empty chamber if you do not have a concealed carry permit will remain just as it is now.
Passed House Bills
Some of the House bills we have passed so far:
HB 24 Utah Retirement System Amendments http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0024S01.htm
This bill amends the provisions of the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefits.
HB 294 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillamd/HB0294.htm modifies the Traffic Code by amending provisions relating to overtaking and passing bicycles and mopeds on the highway.
HB 194 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillamd/HB0194.htm removes a $70 million unfunded liability that the state has. Currently, public employees can transfer sick time to a retirement benefit of health insurance. There simply is not enough money to continue this practice. The Utah Public Employees Association supports the bill.
HB 73 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0073.htm establishes a procedure for the holder of a prescriptive easement for a water conveyance to abandon all or part of the prescriptive easement.
HB 254 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0254S01.htm. This bill requires a college or university within the state system of higher education to award credit for certain military service training and experience.
HB 113 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillint/HB0113.htm enacts provisions authorizing a county governing body to represent the county and consult with the federal government in certain federal land development and regulation actions.
HB 272 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillamd/HB0272.htm provides that under certain circumstances an operator of a vehicle facing a steady red arrow signal may cautiously enter the intersection to turn left from a one-way street into a one-way street.
On Monday, Senator Adams held a press conference with Governor Herbert to unveil his bill SB 275 http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/sbillint/SB0275.htm.
This bill creates incentives for school districts to convert their buses from diesel fuel to natural gas. Hopefully UTA will consider converting to natural gas as well.
There are many advantages to using natural gas to fuel vehicles. Because natural gas burns much cleaner than conventional gasoline or diesel, natural gas reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 90-97%. CO2 emissions are reduced by 25-30% and nitrogen oxide emissions are cut by as much as 60%. In addition to those reductions natural gas emits almost no particulate matter. Also, in Utah, natural gas is about half the price of gasoline.
Every bus that is converted to natural gas will have the equivalent effect of taking 15 to 20 gasoline-powered cars off the road. Here is a link to the press conference and more information on this important step in improving the air quality in Utah. http://www.senatesite.com/home/sb-275-presser/#more-6407
Another bill that addresses air quality is HB 210. http://le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillamd/HB0210.htm This bill will allow each county to work with the Department of Air Quality to address air quality problems unique to their own county. Currently the entire state must comply to the same requirements even though the degree of the problem varies considerably according to the geography.
John Nord, who is retiring as the state's transportation director was honored this week in the Senate. In the 12 years he served at UDOT, he oversaw, among many other projects, the I-15 corridor project. That massive project was completed under budget and sooner than expected, saving the state billions of dollars. Here is a link to the citation presentation on the senate floor. http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=2986
It is an honor to represent you in the Utah State Senate. Feel free to contact me but please be patient if I am slower to respond in the next few days. I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible.
If you send me an email here are some things that will help me respond to you:
1. Please include your name and address. If you do not do so, I will assume you are not one of my constituents.
2. Let me know what you are asking me to do in the subject line of your email.
3. Please reference the bill number AND the short title or topic if possible (i.e., SB 66 -- Referendum Revisions). You can find the status of any bill at http://le.utah.gov.
4. Please explain why you are for or against something. Many bills get substituted at the last minute so it helps if I can follow your logic. Cutting and pasting is not especially helpful to me. As your representative, I need to know your personal opinion.
5. Please remember, "Civility costs nothing, and buys everything." Most of my colleagues are sincere, hard-working people who only want to do what is best for the state and their constituency. All of us are far from perfect.
Senator Wayne Niederhauser