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.
Senator Wayne Niederhauser
Topics of Focus:
On Wednesday morning, there was a press conference announcing the release of SB 296, a bill that addresses religious liberties and non-discrimination issues. The bill would give churches and religious organizations (including religious schools) the ability to use religious criteria in making employment decisions. Small businesses (with 15 or fewer employees) would be able to hire based on religious and value-based criteria. The Boy Scouts of America fall into the same category. It would make it so that employees could express their religious commitments in the work place. And employers would be able to establish employment regulations that are consistent with their values. In terms of housing, landlords renting from their homes or renting small units would be able to determine who will be in those spaces. Churches and religious organizations that own noncommercial housing units would be able to give preferences to those of their own faith and religious schools would be able to establish value-based standards for student housing.
SB 296 would provide basic rights for the beliefs of marriage and family for people of faith as well as carve out non-discrimination protections in housing and employment for the LGBT community. It creates a balanced live-and-let-live approach affirming that one person's rights do not come at the expense of another's. It achieves a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people, while respecting those with differing values. Senator Adams and Senator Urquhart were both listed as chief sponsors of the bill. To my knowledge, this the first time in the history of the State that we have had a bill with two chief sponsors.
Here is a link to our live stream recording of the press event:http://www.senatesite.com/home/nondiscrimination-2015/
Here is a little more explanation: http://www.senatesite.com/home/sb296/
Here are some newspaper articles about the event: Article 1
Article 2 Article 3
and here is a link to the bill: http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/SB0296.html
The other event that drew a lot of attention on Wednesday was the hearing in the House Business and Labor committee regarding Medicaid expansion. The Committee had a long debate on both the House version and the Senate version of how to implement healthcare coverage. Some members of the committee said that the reason they could not vote for the Senate's plan was because the majority of their constituents did not agree with it. Other members of the committee said that they thought that although the Healthy Utah plan was untenable because it was only a pilot program. They did pass HB 446, which has been dubbed "Utah Cares." This bill will come to Senate floor for us to discuss next week. Here is a link to the recording of the committee meeting where the debates on both bills took place:http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=18738&meta_id=238470
Transportation needs and the question of how to fund it continue to be at the forefront of discussions and will continue into next week. We have to remember that transportation is more than just getting from here to there--it is about getting from here to there safely and efficiently. We cannot safely ignore the maintenance of our roads and at this point it appears that we are facing an $11 billion deficit by 2040. No one wants a tax increase, but in this case there may be no choice. We have several scenarios on the table that we are considering as to how the best way to manage the problem and plan for the future. One would add a 6 cents per gallon tax that would increase incrementally until it reaches a dime. Another would calculate the average wholesale price of fuel from the previous year and multiple that by the percentage-based tax set by the legislature, which then converts that to the cents-per-gallon for collection purpose.
Here is an article that further identifies our needs for a careful infrastructure plan.
UDOT has released the draft of their 2040 Long Range plan and is seeking public comment on their proposal. Here is a link if you would like to view the plan and comment. http://blog.udot.utah.gov/2015/03/udot-seeks-public-comment-on-draft-2040-long-range-transportation-plan/
SB 60, requiring High School students to pass a citizenship test has now passed the Senate and is on its way to the House. Utah is not the only state to take such measures; several other states have already passed it into law. Here is a link to some possible test questionshttp://www.deseretnews.com/top/3036/0/Can-you-name-your-US-Representative-See-how-you-do-on-this-civics-test.html
Odds and Ends:
Wednesday of this week was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address that admonished "malice toward none; with charity for all..." reminding us of the critical need to balance moral truths. UVU President Matthew Holland is something of a scholar on Lincoln. Here is a link to an article he wrote about the speech. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/03/14580/?utm_source=The+Witherspoon+Institute&utm_campaign=2d89259457-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_15ce6af37b-2d89259457-84151977
And here is another article about why his message has endured so well.http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/03/04/lincoln-second-inaugural?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=storiesfromnpr
Thanks and congratulations to Carl Rasmussen for 75 years of Boy Scout service. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865623194/A-Boy-Scout-for-75-years--and-counting.html?pg=all
Here is an article from a national education magazine highlighting Senator Howard Stephenson's innovations in education and how Utah has benefited from them. http://theeducatorsroom.com/2015/02/teaching-for-mastery-in-the-21st-century/
Also, this week marked the 84th anniversary of the official adoption of the "Star-Spangled Banner" as our national anthem. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-star-spangled-banner-becomes-official
Here are Former Senator Bob Bennett's cautionary thoughts on the idea of global warming: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865623207/Climate-change-question-should-change-from-Is-it-real-to-How-bad-is-it.html This was surprising--or not. http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/021015-738779-climate-change-scare-tool-to-destroy-capitalism.htm
Senator Knudson responded to a constituent concerned about air quality and the failure of SB 87 to pass off of the senate floor. Here is his response:http://www.senatesite.com/home/knudson-air/
The Senate Judiciary Confirmation Committee is seeking public comment on Governor Herbert's appointment of Paige Peterson as a judge to the Third District Court. If you would like to comment, here is a link to more information: http://www.senatesite.com/home/march-appointment/