KEEPING HOUSE January 31, 2011
|Last week I hosted two legislative open house meetings, in Heber City and Roosevelt, to discuss issues facing the General Session of the Utah Legislature which began on January 24. I am grateful to all those who attended these open houses and shared their ideas and opinions with me.
The first week of the legislative session ramped up slowly, as many lawmakers continued preparing their bills for introduction and initial committee hearings.
In the House of Representatives, legislators were forced to begin the session short-handed, as Rep. Craig Frank was removed from office after discovering that he does not live within the official boundaries of his legislative district. On Saturday night, Utah County Republican delegates chose Holly Richardson of Pleasant Grove to fill Frank's vacant seat.
Much of the early work on Capitol Hill has been centered on the state budget. Each legislator sits on at least one appropriations subcommittee, and those committees have been asked to cut all state agency budgets by at least seven percent for the upcoming fiscal year. This comes on top of cuts already made in the past two years totaling approximately 20 percent.
Although state tax revenues have finally begun to rebound slightly from the recession, the amount of funds available to pay for state programs is actually down this year, due to the expiration of federal stimulus money and the dwindling of Utah's rainy-day fund, both of which were heavily used to plug budget holes the past two years.
The general mood on the budget seems to be to cut spending even further this year rather than to raise taxes.
These further cuts will mean reductions in areas such as prisoner capacity and services for the elderly and disabled, as well as increases in class sizes for public schools and tuition hikes for state colleges and universities.
The only tax increase possibly being mentioned so far is a restoration of the full sales tax on food items, which was reduced from four percent to one percent three years ago.
Bills that have already been considered by the House include the following:
Veterinary school: A bill to establish the state's first veterinary program, consisting of two years at Utah State University, followed by two final years at Washington State, passed the House 48-23. The bill carries a yearly price tag of $1.7 million. I voted yes.
UDOT settlements: This bill will require the Utah Department of Transportation to inform the Governor and Legislature prior to entering into any settlement of a lawsuit in excess of $1 million.
The bill was prompted by a previously-undisclosed $13 million settlement that UDOT paid last year to a losing bidder on the I-15 reconstruction project in Utah County. The bill passed the House unanimously.
State firearm: This bill designates the Browning model M1911 automatic pistol as the official state firearm. The designation is intended to honor the gun's inventor and Utah native, John M. Browning, on the 100th anniversary of this widely-used weapon. The bill passed the House on a vote of 51 to 19. I voted yes.
Spice ban: Many cities and counties in Utah have faced difficulties this past year dealing with spice, also known as synthetic cannabinoid. This substance produces a high similar to marijuana and has become prevalent among youth. The House passed a statewide ban on spice and related stimulants by a vote of 69 to 3. I voted yes.
These bills now move to the Senate for consideration.
A bill that I am sponsoring to clarify enterprise zone tax credits in Utah’s rural counties passed a House committee and will soon be considered on the House floor.
Some other issues looming on the horizon include an increase in the state's number of available liquor permits, a bill requiring that hotels allow guests to bring guns on the premises, and state enforcement of federal immigration laws.
I encourage you to contact me to share your opinions on any matters that may come before the legislature. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 435-657-0185.
BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL