KEEPING HOUSE June 27, 2012
|The Utah legislature met for its monthly interim committee meetings on Wednesday, June 20. Also on this day, the legislature held a special session called by Governor Gary Herbert.
The two main reasons for the special session were liquor licenses and education funding.
First, the restaurant industry has been warning for several months that the unavailability of additional liquor licenses in Utah is hurting the state’s economic growth and tourism sector.
Applications from 33 different restaurants to serve alcohol are currently pending, but under the state’s population-based quota system, zero licenses were available.
The legislation passed during the special session added 90 licenses to the available quota, which should allow most of the pending applicants to be approved, including a Wing Nutz in Park City.
The bill also added four new officers at the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to increase regulatory enforcement, and provided funding for the Utah Highway Patrol to conduct more DUI blitzes.
To pay for the increased enforcement, the bill raised all liquor license fees by 10 percent, which restaurant industry members said they could accept in order to gain the new licenses.
The bill also postponed for one year a move to allow liquor license holders to sell their licenses on the open market. Opponents of the move claim that it will result in skyrocketing prices for the licenses.
I voted for the bill and support the changes it contains. As always, we can expect to address these same types of alcohol issues when the legislature convenes for its general session in January.
Second, due to an error by the Utah State Office of Education in calculating student enrollment growth during the legislature’s general session earlier this year, K-12 public schools were underfunded by approximately $25 million.
To ensure that school districts and charter schools receive the money this year that they were promised, the legislature and the governor worked together to find the $25 million in unallocated money from three different budgets.
The good news is that the money was found and school districts will not have to cut their budgets or forego the slight raises for teachers that were passed earlier this year by the legislature. The bad news is that, because we had to use money from other accounts rather than from ongoing revenue, the legislature will begin next year’s session $25 million in the hole, and will have to find a way to make up that gap on an ongoing basis.
One education issue that was not addressed in the special session is high school competency testing. Utah has phased out the UBSCT test, but the legislature has failed to give direction to districts as to what should replace it.
A law was proposed in 2012 to require all high school students to take the ACT as a way to measure competency and performance. But due to concerns over possible alignment with the Common Core movement, the bill stalled in the general session and was never passed.
Many legislators, including me, hoped to give official direction to high schools during the special session, but Governor Herbert did not include this item in his letter calling the special session. So for now, the status and requirements for Utah’s competency testing during the coming year are uncertain.
An interesting action that was also taken during the special session was the removal from Utah’s November 2012 ballot of an opinion question regarding taxes for arts and culture.
The opinion question would have asked Utahns to vote, in a non-binding fashion, whether they would be willing to support a tax increase to fund arts and culture programs.
The legislature voted narrowly in March to place this question on the statewide ballot.
But since then, many cities and counties who currently have ballot propositions scheduled for the November election worried that this question could confuse voters and affect the results of those other propositions.
I voted to keep the question on the ballot, because I felt that voters are smart enough to distinguish between these issues, but the repeal passed by a wide margin in the special session.
Finally, I will be holding a symposium on the Common Core education standards during the first full week of August, as I promised in an earlier column. Please check the Facebook page for Representative Kraig Powell for details and updates on this symposium.
As always, you are welcome to contact me directly about any legislative matters of interest to you.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 435-657-0185.
BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL