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Day 6: Week in Review

February 3, 2013

Capitol

The 2013 Legislative session has begun. We got off to a good start, in spite of a few challenges with the weather.

Before I give you an update on our first week, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to represent you in the Senate. I appreciate your trust and look forward to your input and any thoughts on the legislation we will be considering this session.

Although things happening on the national level are causing a great deal of frustration, there are many, many good things happening in Utah. A recent survey done by Zions Bank shows that Utah residents are much more optimistic than the rest of the country. We have reason to be optimistic. Our state economy is now the second strongest in the nation. Our current growth rate is 2.9%. Our jobless rate is expected to decrease even more this coming year and our housing markets are seeing an upward trend. This stability did not come about haphazardly. It comes from hard work and carefully planning priorities that protects families; promote business and education; and saves for the future. I am glad that together we are part of this great state.

On Monday morning, we began with our opening ceremony. We swore in the new senators, had a beautiful choir number performed by the American Leadership Academy and presentation of the colors. We heard opening remarks from President Niederhauser and then we set to work. First we adopt our working rules, then we read in bills to be sent on to committees. Later that afternoon, we heard from the Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.

Several standing committees also met that day. In the Education Committee, Senator Thatcher discussed his education transparency bill. This bill would make financial information from school district easily available and comparable on the state public finance website.

By the second day, committee work began in full swing. I sit on the Business, Judiciary and Social Services Appropriations committees and I am the chair of the Retirement committee.

On the floor that day we had two bills that dealt with data collection. SB12, sponsored by Senator Van Tassell protects information collected by UTA about who is riding where. Senator Reid’s bill, SB 20 deals with tightening the security level of data stored by the state. This bill is a response to the data breach last year that compromised the health information of 780,000 Utahans, and cost our state hundreds of thousand of dollars. It directs the Utah State Department of Technology Services to adhere as closely as possible attention to government and industry best practices for security.

As the ability to collect and share data increases, we will need to do all that we can to protect sensitive personal information.

On Wednesday, one of the bills we voted for on the floor was Senator Stephenson’s SB 34 Special Elections Date for Ballot Propositions. This bill would make it so that special elections, dealing with tax increases, be allowed only on regular elections dates. This will make public awareness and participation easier and add to the transparency of the issues.

Another bill on that day’s calendar was SB 19, sponsored by Senator Van Tassell. It dealt with safety issues when truck drivers use cell phones. Also that morning we took a moment to honor Utah Highway Patrol trooper Aaron Beesley who fell to his death during a rescue attempt. I am grateful for the unselfishness that our Troopers portray and am grateful to them and their families for the sacrifices they make.

On Wednesday evening, we met in the House chamber to hear the Governor’s State of the State address.

Thursday and Friday were full of committee meetings and floor time. Each of the appropriation subcommittees met and most of the standing committees met.

On Thursday, Congressman Matheson addressed us; the next day we heard from Congressman Chris Stewart.

On Friday, there were a lot of people seeing red. Not because they were angry, but because nearly everyone was wearing red in support of Heart Month, sponsored by the American Heart Association. (Senator Van Tassell forgot to wear something red, but made up for it by spraying his hair red!)

Friday on the floor we passed HJR 6. There have been some news reports that by passing this legislation, we are giving ourselves a raise. For most legislators, it will not be a raise. For years, the Legislature has ben paid the bulk of their compensation through housing or food stipends. This bill ensures they receive compensation through an actual salary. It makes all compensation much more transparent. Under the new plan each legislator will receive a salary of $16,380 per year.

Another bill we voted on was SJR 1. This bill, sponsored by Senator Stevenson, clarifies that performance notes and fiscal notes be handled in the same way. These notes are very important and essential to passing bills responsibly.

A fiscal note is attached to every bill and tells us how much funding the legislation will require if it is implemented into law. The performance note will require the bill to set functioning goals. It allows us to ask questions and get answers to questions like: How is this program expected to help the state’s citizens? Which citizens would be helped; would any be hurt? What key performance indicators will be used to track the progress of the program? Is anything being does to improve current deficiencies? Having this sort of information is critical to making value judgments on potential legislation.

The biggest issues are of course budget related. Starting last Tuesday morning and continuing through the next few weeks, the appropriations subcommittees will meet and work out their individual budgets.

These committees are made up of both House and Senate members and their task is to look at the available funds and then allocate them.

Education expenditures are the largest percentage (just over half) of the states budget. The Social Services Appropriations Committee met for this week to discuss how Medicaid funds, etc. should be allocated. One of the things we will be looking at in all the budgets is the efficiency level of the money that is already being spent.

As you can see, this has been a busy week. There are several more coming up. You can keep track of what we are doing each day on the legislative website http://le.utah.gov/ or on the daily posts on the senate blog
http://www.senatesite.com/home/

I look forward to answering any questions or concerns you may have.

I can be reached at tweiler@le.utah.gov.

On Saturday, I held town hall meeting at Bountiful City Hall and answered questions for almost 90 minutes.
Thank you for your support. I am grateful to represent you.

Sincerely,

Todd Weiler
801-599-9823

Senate

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