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May Day

May 1, 2013

The 2013 General Session of the Utah Legislature ended on March 14th. The next session begins on January 26th. But we have our first interim meeting on May 15. During “interim”, we meet as committees to study key issues and recommend legislation for the upcoming session. We meet on the 3rd Wednesday of every month from April through November. We usually take one month off in the summer. This year we will not meet in August. These meetings are open to the public and you may speak at them just as you can during committee meetings held during the session. This is an excellent way for you to participate in the lawmaking process. I encourage you to join us either at the capitol or online. (All the meetings are live streamed and then archived so you can listen any time.) You can find the schedule and see upcoming agenda items on the legislative website under the calendar tab at http://le.utah.gov/#iframe There are over 200 topics that will be discussed by the committees. Here is a list: http://le.utah.gov/interim/2013/pdf/00001715.pdf. Let me know what if you have any feedback. I sit on are health and human services, retirement, and law enforcement interim committees.

We passed a total of 524 bills over the course of the 45-day session earlier this year. Here is a link to the bills that we passed: http://le.utah.gov/asp/passedbills/passedbills.asp. Here is a post from the senate blog with recaps of some of the session’s highlights: http://www.senatesite.com/home/4-12-2013/ I will highlight a few. HB 43 will provide greater transparency of corporate donations as their funds move through the political process. Right now, Utah law requires that if an individual donates to a political campaign, the campaign must disclose who the donor is and how much was donated. If someone donates to a Political Action Committee or a Political Interest Committee who in turn donate to a candidate or lobbies for or against an issue, those PACs and PICs must also disclose their donors and the amounts donated. But, corporations who make donations to political campaigns or lobby for or against an issue are not under the same requirements to disclose their donors. Sometimes donors do not even know that their contributions will be used for political contributions. HB 43 adds an additional level of transparency to campaigns in Utah by making the same transparency requirements for corporations. The impetus of this bill was to try and ferret out the sources of negative campaign funding that is funneled through profit or non-profit corporations. Here is a link to the bill: le.utah.gov/~2013/bills/hbillenr/HB0043.htm Until now, if you donated to a non-profit organization or other corporation, your name and the amount of money you were contributing would be kept secret. While I value this sort of privacy I believe that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. There are many people who specifically donate to non-profit or limited profit organizations like a 503(c) 3 or an L3C so that their name will not be disclosed.

In Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that the government is prohibited from restricting political expenditures of corporations and unions, because such expenditures represent free speech. The problem is that we still don’t know which individuals are contributing how much to the “speaking” corporations or unions. Values are becoming more and more polarized. I have no doubt that it will be necessary to stand up for what we believe more than ever before. I am hope that HB 43 will help alleviate some of the negative campaigning that has become so prevalent in our state. It will also help many people recognize whom they can trust. If how you spend your dollar is equivalent to what you would say in support of or against an issue or a candidate, then it seems fair that everyone knows what you believe–even though all you did was write a check.

The year, we added $70.8 million to fund education to provide for new students and $47 million to the local districts to increase the WPU (the weighted pupil unit–the funding measure used for Utah schools) to fund administration and teacher benefits and salaries. This constitutes a 2% increase over and above last year’s funding. We also passed legislation to make schools more accountable, safe and transparent. Funding was added to programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), classroom supplies and dual language immersion. Here is more extensive overview of what was accomplished for education this past session: http://www.senatesite.com/home/2013-education-highlights/

Using technology in digital learning has been a focus of education in Utah. We recently received the only “A” ranking in the United States for our use of technology in the classroom. Here are some thoughts on the importance of advancing education technology in our schools: http://www.senatesite.com/home/digital-learning/#more-7349

I am getting a lot of questions and feedback about the Common Core Standards being implemented in Utah’s schools. Here is an thorough summary I compiled: http://www.senatesite.com/home/weiler-common-core/ ). The State School Board adopted common core — not the legislature. While the Legislature funds education, the State School Board is charged in the Utah Constitution to create standards for the curriculum that is used in Utah schools. The Board decided to abandon the previous standards and replace them with Common Core Standards. They did this because the U.S. Department of Education indicated that if the state would adopt Common Core, then Utah could apply for a temporary waiver from some of the regulations in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Those would have required Utah to report, which schools were failing to meet the AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) — Or in other words, which school were failing. NCLB compliance has been an issue for a long time in our state. Here are some recent thoughts from Senator Dayton about Common Core and the NCLB problem.http://www.senatesite.com/home/dayton-nclb-commoncore/

The State School Board, with counsel from the State Office of Education, made the change to the Common Core Standards. They were not required to consult with the Legislature before making this important decision. Like many of you, I have concerns about Common Core. There are issues regarding privacy and student data collection required by the assessment testing involved with Common Core Standards. There are still questions as to just how much local control we will have regarding the curriculum, since the national testing will drive what content teachers will cover. While some argue we will maintain local control over the curriculum, it is the nationally prescribed Standards that cloud the issue. Although the State School Board held some public hearings about common core in 2009-2010, very few people were paying attention. We can learn a lesson from that. We all need to pay more attention to what is happening at the State School Board. We need to be aware of who the candidates are and vet them appropriately.

We are taking a hard look at these concerns about Common Core at the legislative level. At this point, however, it is unclear what the legislature can actually do or if we should withdraw Utah from the Common Core. That does not mean that we are not investigating the possibility — just that we are proceeding cautiously. Other states are working on the issue as well. We may be considering some legislation in the future. In the past, when the Legislature has stepped in to try and adjust what was happening in the State Office of Education, we are accused (sometimes VERY loudly) of “micro-managing.”

As per our state Constitution, the Legislature only gets to allocate money to the State School Board. We don’t have the authority to set curriculum. Our system was created to allow the state and local school boards to make those decisions. We fund education, but it is up to them to do as they see fit to best educate our children. So while I am concerned about the yet unknown ramifications of Common Core Standards on Utah’s students will be, the answer to the question of what can the Legislature do about it is… “I am not sure. Have you contacted your State Board Representative?” You can get more information about who your representative is and when they meet at http://www.schools.utah.gov/board/Board-Members.aspx Right now in Utah, school board positions are non-partisan, so asking tough questions is important because they do not have a party platform that might help guide your vote.

In spite of the trouble in Washington and the fact that taxes seem to be eating up more and more of our personal income, our state economy continues to be buoyant. Job availability is increasing at a healthy rate–the highest in over 5 years. Here are some articles about Utah’s job growth: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865576463/Utah-jobless-rate-at-52-percent.html and http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865571045/Report-Utah-experiences-highest-job-growth-rate-since-2007.html

Our health care costs are the lowest in the nation according to a recent analysis done by the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323884304578328173966380066.html#project%3DIVCostsprint%26articleTabs%3Dinteractive And the latest report from the Governor’s office is that Utah’s Economy is “robust and rolling.” Numbers from his Management and Budget office show that, “While our unemployment is higher than we like, it is still 1 percent lower than it was one year ago, and far below the national rate. We also have 49,000 more private sector jobs than we did last year.” http://www.utah.gov/governor/news_media/article.html?article=8739

Here are some thoughts on from Senator Harper on Congress’ Marketplace Fairness Act: http://www.senatesite.com/home/harper-mfa/ And in case you missed it, here are Senator Reid’s thoughts on why religion has a place in the debate on marriage: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765627078/Religions-place-in-marriage-debate.html?pg=all Congratulations to Senator Lyle Hillyard on receiving the 2013 Amicus Curiae award for his outstanding service to Utah justice courts, judges, and staff: http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/local/article_75c18ee6-ad08-11e2-a63f-0019bb30f31a.html

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From → 2013 Interim

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