Reps. Ken Ivory, Kim Coleman and Kay Christofferson joined delegates from across the nation in Phoenix, Arizona at the Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention on September 12-15, 2017. This assemblage is the first national convention of the states convened since 1861 when states met to discuss an amendment they hoped would avert civil war. The purpose of the convention is to recommend a set of rules to govern a convention convened under Article V of the U. S. Constitution to propose a balanced budget amendment.
The Article V process offers a state-driven way to propose constitutional amendments. Since actions of this kind have seldom been warranted, conducting a well-ordered convention under rules established by historical precedent in Phoenix will produce a model of what a potential Article V balanced budget convention may look like.
“It is an honor to join the Utah delegation this week in Arizona to prepare rules and plans for a possible convention of states authorized under Article V of the U.S. Constitution for States to rein in the out of control federal spending and overreach,” said Rep. Ivory, who was elected to serve as vice president of the convention.
With the national debt approaching the $20 trillion mark, representing a dangerous 105 percent of GDP, many Americans are calling for accountability in Washington through a Balanced Budget Amendment.
“Our Founders always intended the strength of our nation and most of the power to lie with the states,” said Rep. Coleman. “The U.S. Congress has proven over and over that it will not control the debt and deficit it creates. One tool the Founders gave states to counter this tendency was the ability to come together and make amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
The attempt to head off a sovereign debt crisis is not a new one. Ronald Reagan championed the cause of a balanced budget amendment in the 1980s. In his 1982 Address Before a Joint Session of the Indiana State Legislature, he stated, “The Federal Government has taken too much tax money from the people, too much authority from the States, and too much liberty with the Constitution.”
“A balanced-budget amendment will help bring an end to our country being driven further into debt at an astronomical pace,” said Christofferson. “Constitutional or statutory mandates require a majority of states around the country to balance their budgets each fiscal year; the Federal Government should be expected to do the same.”
Currently, 27 of the required 34 states have passed applications for an Article V balanced budget convention. Reps. Ivory, Coleman and Christofferson will help prepare the nation for an exercise of the states’ constitutional liberty, which will begin to restore the balance of power between state and federal governments and limit federal spending that is quickly becoming an overwhelming burden on the U.S. economy.
Legislative Update: July 2017
Addressing Lawlessness in Rio Grande
The crime and drug problems in the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City have only been growing, despite a greater state focus and massive new resources. The recent attacks and deaths in the area are evidence of increased lawlessness and chaos. Criminals are aggressively taking advantage of the vulnerable population, and sophisticated drug traffickers have moved in to exploit those who are already suffering. Every hour of every day is full of open drug dealing, assaults and crime with few repercussions.
Speaker Greg Hughes, in his remarks at the opening of the 2017 General Session, stated, “there are predators among those in Utah who are the most vulnerable and the most needy. There are people, wolves I would call them, who look to expand dependency, who look to multiply the ranks of those in life’s worst situations, and they profit from it.
“This drug dealing, this human trafficking, the crimes that are going on right now in this state and in our community, go on in broad daylight. They go on with very little consequence and I don’t think we know or appreciate that to the degree that it’s happening.”
These conditions of depravity and lawlessness don’t represent our community and cannot continue to exist. Speaker Hughes, along with Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and many other state and local leaders, have come together to ensure that new actions are taken, once and for all, to begin to turn the tide. A plan will soon be implemented that will allow us to not only identify who it is we’re dealing with, but to begin to seek appropriate help for those who are truly in need. Anonymity has only served to increase and protect the criminal population at the expense of those simply seeking shelter and assistance from the services that can be found in the area.
With the recent upsurge in criminal activity, there is a newfound sense of urgency and a willingness among public officials at all levels to work together to ensure that those who would victimize the most vulnerable are dealt with appropriately and those who need to be protected, are. As Speaker Hughes recently explained, the time to hold meetings and lament the growing problem is over. The time for action is now.
Groundbreaking Self-Driving Vehicles
The Transportation Interim Committee recently visited Utah State University to see the groundbreaking technology being developed for cars and trucks, and to hear from leading experts on autonomous control vehicles.
Autonomous features are already being integrated into vehicles to help drivers avoid or mitigate crashes. Such features include lane and brake assist, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a safe following distance.
Utah State University (USU) has a trailblazing Electric Vehicle and Roadway facility. It is the only one like it in the country. Similar research facilities are in development or operation in Sweden, France and South Korea. During the site visit, committee members observed the ‘Aggie Bus, USU’s fully electric 20-passenger bus, drive around the 1⁄4-mile test track at about 30 MPH.
The Aggie Bus is equipped with an autonomous control kit from Autonomous Solutions Inc., a spin-off of USU, and in-motion inductive wireless battery charging, developed at USU. This technology allows wireless power transfer from multiple concrete embedded primary pads/coils in the roadway to vehicle-mounted coils and battery systems to charge the vehicle while driving.
Researchers are aiming for fully electric vehicles, enabled with autonomous control and charged through electric roads. With these technologies, vehicles can charge while in-motion and drive without human control. Drivers also have the ability to take over at any time and operate on standard roads. Autonomous control is a key enabler, and is required to identify inductive power transfer coils embedded in the roadway and to align automatically under various road and weather conditions.
Additional technological development at USU is aiming to advance energy storage in electric vehicles by increasing battery lifetime 30 to 45 percent. The improvements can reduce the cost and weight of vehicle battery systems and improve residual value for second life applications.
Recommendation for New OLRGC Director
The Research and General Counsel Subcommittee recently announced the unanimous recommendation by the hiring subcommittee of the Legislature that John Q. Cannon assume leadership of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (OLRGC).
John Cannon served the Utah State Legislature for over two decades, first as an analyst and then as Managing Policy Analyst for OLRGC. As director, Cannon will succeed Michael Christensen, who has led the award-winning agency since 2000.
The six-member Legislative Research Subcommittee is equally balanced between both political parties and legislative chambers. Their recommendation will now go to the Legislative Management Committee for approval, then ratification by the full Utah State Legislature.
Until recently, public schools did not allow students to possess or use sunscreen while at school, though children were often outside during recess and other activities. In 2017, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 288, School Sunscreen Provision, that made it legal for kids to bring and use sunscreen at school.
On July 19, 125 people from 38 countries, such as the People’s Republic of China, Mexico and the Philippines, filled the Capitol Rotunda. Though these newly-minted Americans’ paths toward citizenship vary, they were all united as they, together, took an oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
“The American dream isn’t a guarantee of success, but a guarantee of opportunity,” said Attorney General Reyes during the ceremony.
“I can now proudly say ‘hello my fellow Americans,’” said Daniel Souza, a new citizen from Brazil. “We may have taken different paths, but we all get here, we all come with the same purpose – looking for a better life and for being so graciously welcomed by this great country. I’m grateful for the privilege that you and I now have now. May we all, current and new citizens, become one indivisible nation under God.”
Following the ceremony, on-site voter registration was available to encourage these new Americans to become actively engaged in local, state and national matters.
Read more here.
National Heatstroke Awareness Day is July 31, which is a good reminder that we need to be diligent about never leaving a child alone in a vehicle.
In 2011, to help increase awareness concerning the seriousness of this issue, the Utah Legislature made it illegal to leave a child under the age of 9 unattended in a motor vehicle.
Recent events in Utah involving two toddlers left in vehicles and the death of a K9 dog that died after being left in a sweltering patrol car for hours, serve as solemn reminders of just how dangerous summer temperatures can be.
One of the greatest challenges is that most people think this could never happen to them. However, sadly, this kind of tragedy occurs far too often. This year alone, 27 children in the U.S. have already died due to vehicular heatstroke, according to NoHeatStroke.org.
The Utah Health Department provides safety tips to help prevent these tragedies:
- Never leave your child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.
- Call 911 immediately if you see a child alone in a vehicle – no matter the outside temperature.
- Leave a purse, left shoe or cellphone in the back seat as a reminder, so you have to open the back door when leaving the vehicle.
- Plan to have a childcare provider contact you if your child does not show up for school by a certain time.
Legislative Update: June 2017
Separation of Powers
The special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz has led to a number of serious questions regarding separation of powers, executive authority and the role of the Attorney General. This is not about the special election itself; the Utah Legislature is not interested in disrupting it. The media has done all of us a disservice by calling this a political fight between the legislature and the governor, rather than articulate what it really is—a real concern over fundamental constitutional and legal principles.
Utah Constitution Article V, Section 1 states, “The powers of the government of the State of Utah shall be divided into three distinct departments, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial; and no person charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of those departments, shall exercise any functions appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases herein expressly directed or permitted.”
The separation of powers is one of the most fundamental principles of our government. The House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, agree that Governor Herbert has blatantly overstepped his authority.
The Legislature Shall Prescribe the Process:
U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 4 clearly states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding an Election for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.”
The only Utah law related to a special election for a vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives is Utah Code 20A-1-502(1) which states, “When a vacancy occurs…in the office of representative in Congress, the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy.”
That state code does not prescribe the “times, places and manner of holding an election.”
U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 2 states, “When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.”
Utah State Code 20A-1-502(1) states, “When a vacancy occurs …”
On May 18, Congressman Chaffetz sent a letter to the governor to announce his “intent to resign from office…on June 30, 2017.”
On May 19, Governor Herbert signed an Executive Order issuing a writ of election and Lt. Governor Cox issued an order setting the special election process for “the June 30, 2017 vacancy.” That process began the same day.
The filing period for interested candidates closed on May 26. The Lt. Governor certified candidates who collected signatures on June 16. Major political parties held their nominating conventions on June 17.
The entire election process began, candidate filing period closed and party nominations all happened prior to a vacancy actually occurring. The U.S. Constitution and Utah State Laws are clear—none of this can happen until a vacancy occurs. Therefore, the entire special election has been put in legal jeopardy.
Preparing to Fix a Potential Legal Challenge:
Legislators are concerned about a legal challenge and have been preparing to step in, if needed, to define the process into law so there is no delay in this election.
On May 23, legislative leaders asked for a formal legal opinion from Utah’s independently-elected Attorney General related to concerns about the process and seeking clarity in an attempt to inform their lawmaking process.
Utah Code 67-5-1(7) says the Attorney General shall, “give his opinion in writing and without fee to the Legislature or either house and to any state officer, board, or commission, and to any county attorney or district attorney, when required, upon any question of law relating to their respective offices;”
On May 26, the office of Attorney General Reyes completed and signed the legal opinion requested by the Legislature. However, in a further attempt to overstep his authority, Governor Herbert and his office blocked the Attorney General from releasing it to the Utah State Legislature, claiming a conflict of interest and stating that to do so would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.
These claims made by the Governor and his office are erroneous and fly in the face of state law and established procedure, especially when the duties of the Attorney General are clearly defined.
By constitutional design, the Attorney General is accountable directly to the people. This accountability is a fundamental part of our system of checks and balances and separation of powers between the three branches of government.
Additionally, in seeking a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, as allowed by law and which they are REQUIRED to provide, the Legislature is not a client. The opinion is simply that – an opinion – and not legal advice. Therefore, the claim of a conflict of interest and concerns related to attorney-client privilege are not justified.
That said, assuming those concerns are real, situations like these are allowed per state law and State Bar rules.
A 1990 attorney general memorandum contains a plethora of information related to the role of the Attorney General in giving opinions to agencies in conflict and ensuring that those conflicts are walled off – referencing the American Bar Association Rules and National Association of Attorneys’ General Rules and Recommendations. The arguments as to why the Legislature can’t be given the opinion that the Attorney General’s Office completed back in May are arguments already answered with decades of rules, opinions and laws. In fact, we can’t seem to find anything that would allow the denial of the release of this opinion.
To further emphasize this, in 1994, the Utah State Bar issued an opinion stating that government lawyers, including the Attorney General, are not viewed the same as private attorneys and that laws and rules governing attorney-client privilege either don’t apply at all or simply require firewalls to be created within an office.
In 2013, this opinion was codified in the Utah State Bar Rules. These very rules are the ones referenced as to why the attorney general won’t release his opinion. This raises the question of how a concern over the issuance of an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office to the Legislature even exists.
Unfortunately, the Attorney General, chief legal advisor of the state, is unwilling to fulfill his constitutional and statutory duty and provide the Legislature with a legal opinion on these matters because of concerns about the individual attorneys within his office being harmed by ethics violations due to these claims by the Governor’s Office. Exercising executive authority over an attorney general opinion is not a power held by the Governor. This entire fiasco makes us wonder what the Governor’s Office is trying to hide. Could it be he fears the process he has gone through is not on solid legal ground?
In addition to requesting a legal opinion from the Attorney General, legislative leaders also asked for a legal analysis to be completed by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel and they received it. The conclusion states, “Establishing an election process is a power that may only be exercised by the Legislature and that the Legislature has not, and cannot, delegate to another branch of government.” Read the entire opinion here.
Additional information with the complete timeline of events, letters, memos and constitutional provision, related laws and the OLRGC legal opinion can be found here.
Brian Head Fire
Utah’s Brian Head Fire is the largest active fire in the United States. It has burned nearly 85 square miles, over 54,000 acres and 13 homes. The current cost of this effort is around $11 million and is projected to exceed $20 million with 1,700 firefighters currently deployed.
At a press conference on Monday, June 26, Rep. Mike Noel expressed his frustration:
“We had bark beetles here in 1993. The Forest Service tried to take those bark beetles out, to cut those trees, to stop the progression of bark beetles. They were stopped by The Friends of Dixie. Where are The Friends of Dixie Now? Where’s the Grand Canyon Trust? Where’s the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance? They’re not here when this disaster happens. … When you have 70 million board feet of timber being grown every single year and you’re allowed to harvest 6 million board feet, that’s 64 million board feet of fire. When you allow trees to die from bark beetle, and you build them up, you get a catastrophic fire. … When we turned the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers we turned our history over. And the fire is going to do more damage because we are going to lose our watershed, we are going to lose our soils, we are going to lose our wildlife, and we are going to lose our scenery—the very things you people wanted to protect. It’s just plain stupidity.”
We encourage you to watch the full video here.
The Utah State Legislature continues to work to preserve our lands through increased local management. Local control renders communities with the ability to enhance their economies in a sustainable way and adequately support residents and their families, provide a better education system, protect historic and culturally significant sites and reduce restrictions on recreational use of the land.
While Secretary Ryan Zinke’s interim report on the Bears Ears National Monument does not recommend rescinding the monument, it is a step in the right direction. Secretary Zinke requested that Congress authorize tribal co-management, review optimal land use designations for the Bears Ears area and clarify intent where national monument and wilderness designations seem to conflict.
Utahns’ input concerning alternatives to preserve our lands, while providing economic opportunities for those living in the area, is well received by this new administration. This was demonstrated during Secretary Zinke’s recent four-day listening tour of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature led efforts to encourage the federal government to allow more state control in the management of our lands. H.C.R. 11, Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation, urged the administration to rescind the 1.35-million-acre monument created by the previous administration in December 2016. H.C.R. 12, Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument calls for allowing greater use of the lands for locals and recreationists.
The status of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is still under review. Public comment to the Department of the Interior is open until July 10.
On June 8, 2017, Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3353, which aims to improve sage-grouse conservation and increase collaboration, cooperation and communication between federal and Western state governments. One-size-fits-all protection of sage grouse does not work because of the vastly different habitats in which the bird can be found. The review of the sage grouse plan provides states, and those closest to the issue, the opportunity to devise solutions that protect the ground-nesting bird without hindering local economic opportunities.
We appreciate the Trump administration for taking steps to reduce federal overreach and bring some control back to state and local governments.
The Utah Legislature significantly increased education funding during the 2017 General Session, with 60 percent of new revenue dedicated for that purpose. This was done without raising taxes. Some highlights include:
- 4% increase in weighted pupil unit (WPU), amounting to $115,452,200, putting money where it can allow for greater flexibility and local control
- 7% funding increase over last year
- Funding for Schools for the Deaf and Blind to build a new campus in Utah County
- $5 million teacher supplies and materials reimbursement, shifted from one-time to ongoing funds
- Bonuses of up to $5,000 (through HB 212) for highly effective teachers in schools in high poverty areas
Even prior to these funding increases, U.S. News recently ranked Utah 9th in the nation in overall education. Read more here.
Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program
The Utah Legislature recognized 36 students from around the state who received the Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship for their academic achievements and leadership. Congratulations to these students for their hard work and dedication!
We celebrate Flag Day to commemorate the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States, which happened on June 14, 1777. Throughout our history, the American flag has served as a symbol of freedom and opportunity that exist in this great democracy.
Both President Woodrow Wilson, in 1916, and President Calvin Coolidge, in 1927, issued proclamations of national observation of Flag Day. Though, it didn’t become official until President Harry Truman signed the joint resolution approved by the U.S. Congress August of 1949 proclaiming June 14 as Flag Day.
The U.S. Army also celebrates its birthday on this day as well.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2017
UTAH LEGISLATIVE LEADERS REACT TO INTERIOR SECRETARY ZINKE’S ANNOUNCEMENT ON BEAR EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT
SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Utah legislative leaders expressed support for U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s initial review and recommendations on the Bears Ears National Monument. Speaker of the House Greg Hughes and President of the Senate Wayne Niederhauser issued the following statement:
This year, in response to President Obama’s devastating unilateral overstep declaring the Bears Ears National Monument, the Utah Legislature encouraged the federal government to give the state more stewardship of our lands. We sponsored H.C.R. 11, which asked the new administration to rescind the 1.35-million-acre monument designated in December of 2016. While today’s announcement does not rescind the monument, it is a movement in the right direction.
The people of the American West are frustrated with heavy-handed land management decisions from Washington D.C. The priorities and local knowledge of Western people have too often been ignored. It is incredibly refreshing to interact with an administration that values collaboration with those closest to the land.
We also commend Secretary Zinke’s recognition of the limits of executive power. He asked Congress to authorize tribal co-management, review optimal land use designations for the Bears Ears area, and clarify intent where national monument and wilderness designations seem to conflict. In doing so, Secretary Zinke appropriately recognized that the executive branch is not a monarchy, and that the legislative branch has a vital role to play. We value our working relationship with Utah’s congressional delegation and appreciate their willingness to partner on land use solutions. We encourage them to follow up quickly on the secretary’s request, and stand ready to assist.
We also encourage Congress to narrow future presidents’ ability to misuse the Antiquities Act for purposes beyond its original intent. We hope congressional action will put an end to the abuse of executive power that has been used as a weapon against the people and economy of the American West.
We look forward to the ongoing partnership with the Department of the Interior to preserve our lands, protect traditional use, increase local management, and secure economic opportunity for all Utah citizens.
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House Chief of Staff
Senate Chief of Staff
See the Utah House Leaders statement here.
See the U.S. Department of the Interior press release here.