Legislative Update: Week #1
Opening of the 2017 Utah Legislative Session
On Monday morning, Jan. 23, the 2017 Session of the Utah Legislature was called to order by former Speaker Mel Brown. After a prayer by LDS leader Elder Dallin H. Oaks, the Hillcrest High School Vocal Ensemble performed the National Anthem.
The posting of Colors was performed by the Utah National Guard, and Ted Garcia led the Pledge of Allegiance.
After the election that just took place last November, all members of the House were administered the Oath of Office by Mel Brown.
Speaker Greg Hughes’ Opening Remarks
Speaker Greg Hughes spoke on the opening day of the 2017 General Session of the Utah Legislature. His speech focused on a number of issues, including the carnage and human suffering that is occurring within the state as homelessness has proliferated. The Legislature has started to move the needle on the issue, he said, through work done by the Justice Reform Initiative (JRI), Medicaid funding through HB 437 and the Homeless Initiative, as well as coordination and collaboration with local governments to make the system better and provide much-needed assistance where appropriate.
He went on to say that this effort is just beginning, and a critical component of further reform rests on the ability of officials to rid the downtown area of those criminals who would prey on the very vulnerable. With the best of intentions and the idea that economies of scale would most effectively and efficiently meet the needs of the homeless population, we have found that the greatest beneficiary of this consolidation of services has been the drug cartels that have infiltrated the area.
The Speaker also spoke about the recently-designated Bears Ears Monument as proof that the federal government clearly believes they are better stewards of the lands within our state than those families and individuals who have lived on and around those lands – taken care of them, worked on them – their entire lives. He expressed that Utah has become the ATM for political payback to special interest groups as Democrat presidents leave office.
He went on to speak about the state income tax reform under Governor Huntsman in 2007 that gave our state a flatter tax, allowed us to be more competitive with surrounding states and strengthened our economy. If we want more money for education, he pointed out, the very most important policy issue we can focus on is public lands. Those states that spend substantially more money on education aren’t left without 68 percent of their state’s lands to fund that system. We all need to realize that a successful fight for public lands ultimately leads to more education funding.
Speaker Hughes closed by explaining that he and Senate President Niederhauser would be tasking the Commission on Federalism to begin the process of identifying where the federal government has infringed on the state’s sovereignty and right to govern, and submit that information to our federal delegation so changes can be considered at the federal level.
With the recent designation of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument and changes in Washington, public lands are a big issue and one that impacts Utahns in many ways. Yet, many in the public still have questions. We’re going to try to answer a few of them periodically, so stay tuned.
Has a transfer been done before?
Yes. During the 19th century the federal government controlled as much as 90 percent of all lands between Indiana and Florida. Midwestern and Southern states recognized the toll this was taking, banded together and compelled Congress to pass legislation transferring federal lands to their care and management. Today, less than 5 percent of the land in these states is controlled by the federal government. The transfer of public lands to willing states is nothing new; it has a long and storied history.
Moving from Homelessness to Self-reliance
After being convicted of a federal crime in another state and spending 21 years in the Utah State Prison, Brandon Kitchen was released into a strange city – homeless, jobless and unsure of where to go next.
Brandon just happened to meet a woman who told him about The Road Home, and that is where he spent his first night of freedom. He still recalls the palpable feelings of despair that permeated the facility and its inhabitants.
At one point, Brandon recalls, he faced losing his bed at the shelter as a consequence of having a job; he was told there was no way for him to have both, because leaving to work a job kept him from standing in line all day for a bed. Eventually, through the efforts of the Pioneer Park Coalition, a workers’ bed program was instituted to help those like Brandon, who were trying to become self-reliant.
The morning after he arrived at the shelter, Brandon met Salt Lake City Police Deputy Chief Fred Ross, who told him about the department’s Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST) program. This program allowed him to secure a job and within three weeks, Brandon worked his way out of the shelter and into transitional housing. Soon after, he moved into his own apartment and is now living with his partner, Heather, and their twin boys, born June 9th.
Despite his past, Brandon understands that self-reliance is the path his future will follow. As he will tell you, “Fred Ross, Scott Howell, HOST, the Pioneer Park Coalition and others, they showed me the way. They gave me hope. Not a handout, but a hand up. That’s the key.”
Did you know?
Last year, in 2016, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that amends the traffic code to allow the operator of a vehicle to cross the double white lines of an HOV lane when necessary to ensure the safety of emergency vehicles and emergency services personnel.
In other words, it is not a violation of the law to cross the double white line when moving out of the carpool lane to clear room for emergency vehicles and personnel on the side of the road.
Annual Capitol Event: Maps on the Hill
Maps on the Hill takes place each year in the State Capitol Rotunda during our Utah Legislative Session. The Utah Geographic Information Council (UGIC) and AGRC put on the event. Students and professional topographers teach electedofficials and the general public about maps and new mapping technologies. These presentations also demonstrate how mapping technologies can be used to support lawmakers in their decisions.
House Floor Debate
The Utah House of Representatives met on the floor to debate eight bills Tuesday, Jan. 24. H.B. 12 stirred the most discussion on the floor before being successfully passed, 74-0-1.
This bill ensures the inclusion of a place for voters to write an email address and phone number on absentee ballot return envelopes. Poll workers will use this contact information if a returned ballot is rejected. A poll worker will then contact a voter via email or text, and the voter will be permitted to correct their rejected ballot.