The 2015 General Legislative Session is now over. Serving as your Representative has been a privilege and an honor. Thank you!
At this point, all 104 state legislators will return to their non-legislative responsibilities, which often include providing for our families. As such, I will return to my day job at the law office in Spanish Fork. Of course, legislative service never stops and I’ll be fielding questions or helping resolve constituent issues through the year as I always have. With our work completed, I want to provide a overview of all that was accomplished in the last 45 days.
The House, Senate and Governor were not able to agree to on a compromise for Medicaid expansion. The competing plans included Healthy Utah (SB0164) and Utah Cares (HB0446). The legislature and the Governor have agreed to empower a group of six people (Governor Herbert, Lt. Governor Cox, President Niederhauser, Sen. Shiozawa, Speaker Hughes, and Rep. Dunnigan) through HCR 12 to continue to work on a solution to problems created by Obamacare. They will recommend a bill to the Legislature that will be considered in a Special Session by July 31, 2015.
Anti Discrimination & Religious Freedom
History was made this year with the passage of anti-discrimination and religious freedom legislation. I commend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their diligent work on this legislation. Often times, the political process can be frustratingly slow. However, this is a great example of what happens when stakeholders stay engaged and work together.
SB0296 expands the current discrimination prohibitions in state law to include sexual orientation and gender identity so that a person can’t be fired or made homeless just for being gay or transgender. Religious organizations, religious affiliates and the Boy Scouts of America would be exempt from the provisions of this bill. In addition, SB0297 would ensure that county clerks could opt out of performing gay marriages as long as there is somebody at the clerk’s office that is willing to perform the marriage.
Public Education Funding
This year the Legislature allocated approximately $435 million in new funds for public education. Education funding is often measured by the weighted per pupil unit or WPU. Last session we increased the WPU by 2.5%. This year we have increased the WPU by 4% which translates to approximately $104 million. This is the largest increase in the WPU since 2008. Other important public education funding items include:
• $48.6 million for new enrollment growth
• $6 million for additional classroom supplies
• $2.6 million for K-3 reading programs
• $4.5 million for arts programs
• $3 million for concurrent enrollment for high school students, and
• $3 million for digital learning initiatives.
Additionally, the Legislature passed SB097 which provides key equalization funding for school districts across the state. The Nebo School District has the second lowest property tax base rate per student in the entire state. This is a significant disadvantage to the Nebo School District in comparison to nearly every other school district in the state. For this reason, the equalization bill was a vital piece of legislation for the Nebo School District.
Transportation funding has been a hot topic since the gas tax increase in 1997. There has been a statewide funding gap for transportations needs that has continued to grow. Ultimately, the legislature passed HB0362. This legislation addresses two different funding options for transportation. The first is a local tax option which could lead to a sales tax increase of .25%. Using this local option, a county requesting the increase would have to hold a countywide vote prior to rising the tax and revenues would stay within the county or be split between the cities and counties for road needs. The second element of HB0362 raised the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon. While I did not support this legislation, I am hopeful our transportation needs will be addressed for decades to come.
In September of 2014, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the State’s multi-tiered nominating and vetting process for state school board candidates violated constitutional guarantees of free speech and directed the Legislature to devise a new system. Since we had a directive from the Court to change our state school board elections, many ideas were discussed. In the end, the legislature did not craft a solution which received the necessary votes to pass in both the House and Senate. I expect the legislature will continue to work on this issue in the next session.
HB0232 Veteran Employment Protection Act – This bill allows private, non-public employers to create a voluntary, written veterans employment preference program. (Sen. Bramble).
HB0378S02 White Collar Crime Registry – This bill modifies the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure to include a registry for persons who commit specified white collar crimes. The registry requires a 2nd degree felony conviction to be considered. (Sen. Bramble).
HB0290S02 New Car Dealership Franchise Amendments – This bill modifies provisions relating to new automobile franchises. This change will open much of the new car dealership market in South Utah County. (Sen. Bramble).
HB0276 Agriculture Structure Amendments – This bill exempt those constructing a high tunnel from the permitting process so long as the structure is not permanent. (Sen. Mayne).
HB0046S01 Mechanics Lien Revisions – This bill amends provisions relating to unauthorized and excessive claims of preconstruction and construction liens. (Sen. Urquhart).
HB0154 Jury Duty Exemption Amendments – This bill exempts nursing mothers from jury duty service. (Sen. Henderson).
HB0234 Lobbyist Disclosure and Regulation Act Modifications – This bill amends provisions of the Lobbyist Disclosure and Regulation Act relating to expenditures. Authorizes legislators to donate books to charity. (Sen. Bramble).
HB0044 Surface Leases Procedure Amendments – This bill amends provisions related to the leasing of state lands. (Sen. Hinkins).
HB0059 Agriculture Modifications – This bill authorizes the killing of feral swine. (Sen. Hinkins).
Again, thank you for the privilege of representing House District 66. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me any time. I can be reached on my cell phone at (801) 836-7597.