In a decision with potentially sweeping implications for Utah and other western states, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee voted yesterday to delay a listing decision for greater sage grouse for at least 10 years, allowing Utah’s management plan to continue to demonstrate adequate conservation for the species.
The U.S. House committee concurred with a recent Army report suggesting that efforts to encumber the greater sage grouse habitat under the federal Endangered Species Act could hurt training operations at numerous U.S. military facilities throughout the West.
The state of Utah has also argued to federal officials that additional regulation regarding the species potentially interferes with the interests of ranchers, energy producers and miners, hampers tourism and stymies needed economic development, particularly in the southern regions of the state. Millions of acres of Utah lands could be blocked from development or use by a decision to place the bird on the endangered list.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said he’s “elated” with the decision, as should be all Utahns, crediting Utah’s congressional delegation, particularly Rep. Rob Bishop, who serves on that House committee and his staff, as well as Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, as being instrumental in the outcome.
“We have been up against a deadline for potential listing and this gives us time to continue to do what Utah and other western states are doing very well, which is to improve the habitat for the greater sage grouse,” Hughes said.
Utah Rep. Michael Noel, who represents multiple counties in southern Utah that would be affected by the greater sage grouse listing, said he was thrilled to hear of the action taken by the House Armed Services Committee. He thanked the Utah House and Senate leadership, Gov. Gary Herbert and his colleagues for their foresight in funding the state’s fight against the listing in congress.
“Utah is leading out in the western states on this issue and has made the health of the bird a priority,” Noel said. “As a result of the millions of dollars applied toward the species, Utah’s greater sage grouse populations are increasing in numbers while habitat is being improved for the long term survival of the species.
“Our Division of Wildlife Resources Director Greg Sheehan and our Division of Natural Resources Director Mike Styler, with support from the Utah Legislature, have created a scientifically based plan build on decades of research and on the ground habitat restoration work,” Noel said.
Three informational public open houses with question and answer sessions have been scheduled for citizens to learn about the five potential sites for the new Utah State Correctional Facility. Events will be held in Salt Lake, Tooele, and Utah counties.
Sponsored by the Prison Relocation Commission (PRC), each event will start with an open house session at which attendees can browse informational displays and talk with staff members from the PRC, the Utah Department of Corrections, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, and the PRC’s consulting team.
A moderated question-and-answer session will also be held immediately following each open house to allow attendees an opportunity to ask questions, hear their neighbor’s questions and concerns, and receive answers to those questions. Attendees will be asked to submit their questions before and during the Q&A session. Questions will be answered by a panel, which will include experts from the organizations identified above.
“We are committed to making this decision-making process as transparent as possible and encouraging meaningful public participation,” says Rep. Brad Wilson, co-chair of the PRC. “We want to take this opportunity to both educate the public and get their feedback about the new prison and where it will be located.”
The open house displays will be available throughout the 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. time period. The Q&A sessions at each event will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Event dates and locations are:
Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. Promontory Building, Utah State Fairpark, 155 N.1000 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116
Thursday, May 28, 2015, 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. Grantsville High School, 155 E. Cherry Street, Grantsville, UT 84029
Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. Frontier Middle School, 1427 Mid Valley Road, Eagle Mountain, UT 84005
The PRC also intends to hold a formal public hearing regarding finalist sites. The five finalist sites being considered by the PRC as the new location for the Utah State Correctional Facility are:
I-80 / 7200 West in Salt Lake County– Site is located west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
SR 112/Depot Boundary Road in Tooele County– Site is located near the Miller Motor Sports Park between the cities of Tooele and Grantsville.
Lake Mountains West in Utah County – Site is located at the southernmost part of Eagle Mountain City.
Cedar Valley South in Utah County– Site is located southwest of Eagle Mountain City at the southern end of the town of Fairfield along SR 73.
SR 138 Industrial Site in Tooele County– Site is located near the Walmart Distribution Center on the west side of SR 138 in Grantsville.
For more information about the Prison Relocation Commission, please visit the PRC’s website at le.utah.gov/prc.
Reviewing the 2015 Legislature from a big picture perspective helps bring into focus the magnitude of what was accomplished during the just-concluded 45-day session. Cooperation between the House and Senate resulted in generational lawmaking achievements on several fronts. There was plenty of heavy lifting starting with S.B. 296, historic Anti-discrimination and Religious Freedom legislation co-sponsored by Representative Brad Dee and Senators Stephen Urquhart and Stuart Adams. This grand compromise brings together all of the various stakeholders in ensuring protection against discrimination in sexual preference, gender identity and religious expression in employment and housing. This, and companion bill S.B. 297, are the culmination of significant work over a period of many years and feature contributions from both the House and Senate members.
S.B. 296 and S.B. 297 recognize the rights of individuals to the expression of personal beliefs and prohibit discrimination against employees for that expression outside the workplace. Additionally, S.B. 296 forbids discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity.
The significance of reaching consensus on long-term funding reform for transportation infrastructure would have garnered bigger headlines had it been a less remarkable session. Representative Johnny Anderson’s H.B. 362, the first major overhaul of transportation funding since 1997, changes the current gas tax of $.24 per gallon to a specific percentage based on a three-year rolling price average.
The current gas tax has surrendered nearly one-third its value to inflation since 1997 and its purchasing power has been further eroded by vehicle fuel efficiency. The House and Senate each presented legislation addressing transportation infrastructure funding before ultimately compromising on a bill that serves the people of Utah now and into the future. H.B. 348, sponsored by Representative Eric Hutchings, will result in millions of dollars of reinvestment in the criminal justice system by changing the way we sentence and treat offenders.
Integral to this reform is the relocation of the Utah State Prison and the building of a new state-of-the-art facility capable of accommodating the types of treatment and rehabilitation programs proven to reduce recidivism and return offenders to society better prepared for reintegration.
Some may point to the inability to reach a compromise on the highly charged issue of Medicaid expansion as a session disappointment, but the joint announcement on Day 45 by the House, Senate and governor that they will work together to resolve the coverage gap created by Obamacare represents tangible evidence that the session generated sufficient traction for work to go forward on this issue.
The 2015 budget was achieved through collaboration and compromise between the House and Senate and many programs were able to see funding increases.
The State Board of Education had requested a WPU funding increase of 2 percent and received 4 percent, without opposition in either legislative body. This amounted to the largest increase in WPU funding in nearly a decade and was joined by a $50 million allotment for enrollment growth.
Higher education also saw a boost, with $170 million budgeted for new buildings and maintenance. State employees will also benefit from a 3 percent salary increase.
The process in the House saw some changes this session as legislators were given more time in committees to dive more deeply into the issues before them. This also sped up the floor process as House members were able to debate bills more confidently knowing they had been already been vetted in committees by their colleagues.
Throw in incalculable hours of study and debate, motions and substitute motions and hundreds of votes of conscience, and you are left with a truly consequential legislative session.
Utah becomes the 26th state voting to call for a constitutional convention to propose a federal balanced budget amendment.
H.J.R. 7, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell passed the Senate 15 to 13 last week. It had previously passed the House of Representatives 40 to 30.
In addition to Utah, 25 other states have called for a convention to deal with a balanced budget amendment. It takes 34 states to call for a convention and 38 states would need to vote in favor of the amendment for approval.