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Week One In Review

February 1, 2014

My stake president, Robert Lingard, opened the Senate with prayer on Thursday.

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The general session of the 60th Legislature of the State of Utah officially began at 10:00 a.m. on Monday. We began our opening ceremony with a prayer as we do each morning. Prayers are given by a wide variety of religious leaders and local citizens. If you or someone you know would like to offer our opening prayer some day please let me know. 

President Niederhauser gave us some very wise and timely opening remarks (here is a link to his address: http://www.senatesite.com/home/nieder-2014-opening/) and then after a few formalities and introductions we began our work. We “read in” 98 bills, which means they were introduced by having their titles and sponsors read and then sent to the rules committee where they are assigned to standing committees.

We did have one unusual event that day. Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla from Arizona came to the senate floor, proposed to Senator Luz Robles and she accepted! Here is a link to an overview of the day’s events including a video of the proposal. http://www.senatesite.com/home/1-27-2014/ 

On Tuesday our committee work for appropriations began. This week has been dubbed Base Budget week, all the appropriations subcommittees met almost every day. The work of these committees is to carefully scrutinize the existing budget. Just as you do when you review your household budget, each subcommittee reviews and then determines if the allocated expenditures are achieving the desired outcomes and then we look for any potential savings that could be found within the budget we are responsible for. We look at our budget broken down line-by-line and by individual agency. We compare last year’s budget for each agency to their previous five-year trend and look at how last year’s appropriated funds were spent. We ask if their expenditure goals were met and deemed successful as well as the very important question of how the agency measures success or failure in their expenditures. We also ask what has, will or could be done to increase efficiency and productivity and possibly cut internal expenditures.

In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Governor Herbert pointed out that despite a few challenges, Utah really is doing well. We are creating jobs, our unemployment is the 4th lowest in the nation, we live in the second fastest growing state — and growing in the right way. Here is a link to his speech: http://www.utah.gov/governor/docs/stateofstate/2014StateoftheStateAddress.pdf

It was a long, but important week. We began each day between 7:00 and 8:00 and finished between 5:00 and 7:00 each night. My Social Services Appropriations committee spent 24 hours deliberating and asking questions. In between the meetings I was on the Senate floor or meeting with constituents. We will finish these budget meetings and move on to regular committee meetings to address specific bills early next week. This extra time to examine the budgets has been very productive, but it will make the rest of the session even more intense because our standing committees have yet to meet. 

Some have suggested that we could get more done if our session were longer, but I agree with President Niederhauser when he said that he was glad our time allotment is defined in our Constitution so that we can’t just decide to extend our session time like other states have done. I am certain that having a part-time legislature with a limit to the time we can work is a major contributor to the efficiency with which we are able to run the State. In fact, other states are recognizing that big government is more of a problem than a solution. Here are some links to articles from some other states that are actually trying to reduce the size of their legislatures or make them part-time.

http://www.theadanews.com/local/x1724061064/Enid-lawmaker-proposes-downsizing-Legislature

This article says that in Michigan their goal is to “prohibit the state Legislature from meeting for more than 60 regular session days a year, cap lawmaker salaries at $35,000 and allow for no more than 250 legislative staffers.” http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/01/michigan_part_time_legislature_ballot.html

Makes me shake my head. We only meet for 45 days (including Saturdays and Sundays), lawmakers are only paid for the days they attend official meetings and there are only five full time staffers for the entire Utah Senate. (We do hire extra temporary help during session.) Keeping government small is important. I am glad other states are recognizing what we already know. 

Here is an interesting article related to state’s budgeting. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/01/24/how-states-spend-their-cash-in-5-maps/ It shows the overall percent of each state’s budget that is spent on corrections, highways, hospitals and public health, education and public welfare. It was interesting to me that we are number four in the nation for the percent of our budget that we spend on education. The three states that spend a higher percentage spend only one percent more of their budget than we do. Poling results consistently show that education is the highest priority for the citizens of Utah. The legislature sanctions that priority by allocating such a high percentage of the budget to education. We need to be cognizant that the money we spend is for quality education for our children. This week of drilling down into the details of the budget helps to make sure that it happening.

On Friday, Senator Hatch addressed the Senate. He allowed us time for questions and was queried on federal regulations of the sale of medical devices, immigration, PILT money and free trade. Senator Hillyard asked him why members of congress were excluded from ACA (Obamacare). If you would like to hear what he said, here is a link: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=16352&meta_id=488721

There are several key issues we will be addressing this year. I am sure you are aware of many of them. Funding quality education; alcohol policy; what we can do to improve our air quality; how the state should handle Medicaid; transportation. They are all subjects that will take a great deal of consideration. I value your input and thoughts on these issues.

May I offer a few thoughts on the Amendment 3 issue? Judge Shelby’s rejection of Utah’s definition of marriage is being reviewed by a higher court.  Legislators who are lawyers have actively participated in preparing Utah’s legal response to Judge Shelby’s decision.  It is likely that Utah’s response will argue that Utah’s definition of marriage is legal and constitutional based upon appropriate state jurisdiction over marriage and Religious Liberty.  

This issue is very divisive with strong emotions on both sides.  As your legislator, I strongly support the Legislature’s and Utah’s efforts to defend the definition of marriage adopted by the people of Utah in their constitution.  Winning in court, however, will require strong legal arguments: judges will not be swayed by impassioned legislative statements, whether made orally or in legislation.

It is also important to separate this issue from the people involved.  As your legislator, I respect our gay and lesbian citizens and their families and understand their commitment to their beliefs.  I would urge you, and all the members of our community, to actively show respect for everyone involved with this issue, regardless of their position or their comments.

As you can see, this has been a busy week and there are six more to come. 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/) or you can follow a play-by-play of floor and committee action through the twitter handle @UTLEGtracker 

We are the first state in the nation to tweet legislative action in real time. Here is a little information on this new way you can keep track of the minute by minute happenings. http://www.senatesite.com/home/twitterfirehose/ 

There are actually A LOT of ways to follow what we are doing here everyday and to engage with the Senate. Our staff at the senate has made it easy for you. From this link http://senatecloud.com/ you can find all our social media sites, the senate YouTube channel, Flickr for pictures, the senate’s blog and more. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Also, just in case you are interested, here is a link to a roster for a pdf with all phone numbers and addresses for each member of the legislature.  http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1

Thank you for your support. I am grateful to represent you.

On Thursday, I spoke at a Town Hall meeting in Bountiful.

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From → 2013 Interim

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