|This week I would like to update readers on some of my highest priorities for this year's legislative session. By discussing the progress of certain bills that I am sponsoring, I hope I will be able to give you a small glimpse into the intricacies of the legislative process.
House Bill 17, Enterprise Zone Amendments: In the summer of 2010, I was approached by several constituents who own businesses in my legislative district. They told me that they had recently been subjected to audits by the Utah State Tax Commission.
The focus of the audits was the claiming of enterprise zone tax credits. These tax credits are available to non-retail businesses in rural counties (under 50,000 population) for hiring new employees or investing in new buildings and equipment.
All of Duchesne County, all of Uintah County, and portions of Wasatch County are currently designated as enterprise zones.
In the past two to three years, virtually 100 percent of businesses claiming tax credits under this law have been audited by the state tax commission. When every taxpayer who tries to follow the law is being audited, I believe something is wrong and needs to be fixed.
The bill that I introduced clarifies several issues under the enterprise zone statute, such as the fact that sole proprietors may claim the credits, and the percentage of retail trade that will disqualify a business for the credits.
Every bill must pass at least one legislative committee (House or Senate, but usually both) and then be passed by the entire House and the entire Senate. Then if it is signed by the governor it becomes law.
My enterprise zone bill has passed the House Economic Development Committee and is now before the entire House for consideration.
A slight wrinkle in the progress of the bill currently is its fiscal note. A fiscal note is attached to a bill whenever passage of the bill will result in decreased revenues or increased costs to the state.
Because my bill aims to give back to businesses money that I believe is wrongly being denied to them, the bill will decrease revenues to the state as a whole.
When a bill has a fiscal note, legislative rules provide that it may not be passed by both the House and the Senate until the legislature appropriates money to cover the cost of the bill.
So I am currently meeting with legislative budget leaders to convince them of the benefits and the fairness of funding this important bill. Before the House passes the bill on to the Senate, I want to get some firm commitments that it will be funded.
House Bill 55, Search and Rescue Volunteer Benefits: Most counties in Utah use many volunteers in search and rescue operations. These highly-trained experts give willingly of their time and save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Unlike fire and emergency medical volunteers, search and rescue volunteers have not been covered by workers compensation disability benefits if they are injured while on a call.
Without coverage for potential lost wages from their regular jobs, many volunteers face a large, and in my view unjustified, risk while volunteering.
My House Bill 55 requires all counties that use such volunteers to purchase disability insurance to cover them while they are on calls. The annual cost for the premiums ranges from $250 for small counties to $2,000 for the largest counties. This bill passed the House Political Subdivisions Committee last week and is now before the full House for consideration.
House Bill 54, Electronic Communications in Public Meetings: Many public officials, both state and local, have asked me over the years if it is illegal for them to communicate with their fellow Board members or Council members by e-mail.
The question arises because the Utah Open Meetings Act requires all meetings of a quorum (a majority) of the members of a public body to be held in public.
If a city council member is communicating online in real time with his or her fellow council members, are they holding an illegal meeting?
After much study of practices in other states, I concluded that we need to encourage more discussion and deliberation among our public officials. Most officials serve part-time and are unable to attend frequent meetings. E-mail is an orderly, efficient manner to communicate and discuss issues that are before public bodies.
Also, promoting the use of written e-mails by public officials will allow for greater transparency, because all e-mails concerning public affairs are available for inspection upon request by a citizen.
For these reasons, my House Bill 54 provides that the exchange of e-mails among any number of members of a public body does not violate the Open Meetings Act. The bill passed the House Technology Committee and is now before the full House.
As always, please feel free to contact me to express your thoughts on any legislative items that interest you.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 435-657-0185.
BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL