Legislative Update: May 2016
The Utah State Legislature had its first interim day May 18, in conjunction with a special session convened by the governor. The purpose of the special session was to deal with restoring funding for some education initiatives and to vote on H.C.R. 201, declaring opposition to the unilateral designation of national monuments in Utah through the Antiquities Act.
Within the state of Utah, one can find seven national monuments and five national parks. There is concern that President Obama is planning to unilaterally, without legislative approval or support, establish another national monument in Utah before leaving office. The Bears Ears National Monument that many fear will be proposed is said to encompass approximately 1.9 million acres, yet the Antiquities Act limits a presidential monument designation to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” This clearly seems to be a misuse of the Act.
A new poll, by Dan Jones & Associates for Utah Policy, shows only 17 percent of Utahns support for a national monument designation of the Bears Ears area. In 2015, the San Juan County Commission, as the duly elected representatives of the people of that area, passed a bipartisan resolution advocating for local control, ownership and management of the lands within the county and strongly opposing the unilateral use of the Antiquities Act. This is the only resolution put forward by the residents San Juan County and not by outside interests and organizations.
On May 17, a press conference was held at the Capitol that included a number of members of the Navajo Tribe from San Juan County. They expressed their frustration with federal interference on their lands and pointed out that many of the tribes advocating for the monument wouldn’t be supportive of a monument on their own lands.
Despite the fact that some say national monuments stimulate the economy and growth in an area, that has simply not been the case for the areas surrounding the seven national monuments in Utah. In our state, those areas have seen a significant loss of population and jobs.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has indicated she will be visiting the state soon to discuss Bears Ears and we hope that she will listen closely to the people and communities that will have to live with the consequences of a potential monument designation which will be, according to Democrat County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, “a devastation for my Utah Navajo grassroots people.”
During the May Special Session, the Legislature voted to restore funding for a number of education programs and initiatives, including:
- $1.5 million ongoing Education Funding, plus an additional $500,000 TANF for UPSTART, an early education initiative targeted toward an individualized reading, mathematics and science curriculum. This restored funding will allow about 2,300 additional children to participate in the program, which has been found to be a unique solution especially for rural and low-income families with limited access to pre-K opportunities. Year after year, third-party evaluations have shown UPSTART children to be two to three times as prepared for Kindergarten as children evaluated within a control group.
- $275,000 one-time Education Funding for ProStart, a school-to-career culinary arts program providing career training and certifications for high school students throughout the state. The ProStart program is in 62 schools and every district, and has been training Utah culinary professionals for 20 years.
- $500,000 ongoing Education Funding for Elementary Reading Assessment Tools, a statewide program that enhances the evaluation of early education programs. This funding is intended to provide every school district and charter school within the state to access these programs.
- $3 million one-time Education Funding for K-3 Early Intervention. With this funding, schools can choose from among five different interactive reading software programs to assist in early reading learning. Without these funds, 22,000 students currently receiving high-quality reading instruction through technology would be unable to continue. Third-party evaluations of these programs have shown significant positive effects in kindergarten and first-grade students.
- $500,000 one-time Education Funding for IT Academy, a program that provides opportunities for high school students to obtain basic to advanced certifications in software and network administration that will help prepare them for college and careers. Utah currently leads the nation in this program, with a 22 percent increase in the pass rate of certification exams.
The Governor’s Office and the Legislature will continue to monitor these programs, including visits to participating schools and discussions with participants, to ensure their effectiveness.
Though there was enough support in the Legislature to override Governor Herbert’s veto of these items, agreeing to a special session in conjunction with the regularly-scheduled interim meetings saved the state approximately $40,000 in taxpayer funds. Speaker of the House Greg Hughes said, “While the House had the support for a veto override session, it was always our top priority to restore the funding for these programs and that was accomplished when we came together for our interim meetings in May.”
The Interim Process
During the 45-day general session, many items that don’t make it through committee are put on a master study list. The committee chairs then prioritize what should be studied over the interim period based on this list and input from committee members.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senate President and committee chairs meet to collectively determine the final list. The Legislative Management Committee then votes on and adopts the interim study items and schedule. Due to the limited number of meetings, committees focus on those issues that are top priority to help ensure a proper vetting.
Interim committees, which are comprised of both representatives and senators, meet throughout the year. They listen to expert and public testimony regarding the particular issues they are studying and determine whether or not to recommend legislation. The interim committees also vote to prioritize particular bills for the upcoming general session and occasionally for future special sessions, should one occur.
Interim committee meetings are held throughout the year, generally the third Wednesday of the month, are open to the public. They can be streamed live or listened to later at le.utah.gov.
A list of agenda items that are scheduled to be studied during the 2016 interim, and schedule, can be found at UtahReps.net.
Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program
The Utah Legislature recognized 36 students from around the state who received the Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship. Since the program was launched nationally in 2001, Comcast has awarded close to $24 million in scholarships to nearly 23,000 recipients to help them pursue their higher education goals. Congratulations to these students for their hard work and dedication! See additional photos here.