As one of your representatives in the Utah Legislature, I would like to provide a brief report of some highlights from our recently completed legislative session.
Budget: One of our most important responsibilities is the prudent expenditure of public funds. We passed a balanced budget of $12.9 billion, with no tax increase. Economic growth provided for a budget increase of about two percent over last year. Public and higher education were the highest priorities this year, receiving about 70 percent of available new revenue. State employees received a one percent pay raise, plus increased funding for health insurance and retirement.
Public Education: The legislature provided public education with its largest funding increase in several years, amounting to over $150 million. This includes $70 million for enrollment growth and more than $45 million to increase the WPU (base funding formula) by two percent. Ten million dollars was budgeted for the new STEM program, whose purpose is to better prepare students for college science and math and meet the rising demand for employment in technology and engineering careers. The budget also includes $5 million for out-of-pocket classroom supplies, $2.2 million additional funding for small rural schools, $100,000 for youth suicide prevention, and $250,000 to defray school district on-line education costs.
Prison Relocation: The legislature established a commission, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, to request and review proposals for location and operation of a new prison and development of the current prison site. The bill contains strict conflict-of-interest rules and provides for an open process and public hearings. The legislature and governor must approve any recommendation by the commission.
Healthcare: The legislature provided funding to increase the number of medical students at the University of Utah School of Medicine by 40 students per year, additional funds for newborn illness screening, and $250,000 for the Utah 2-1-1 Referral Information Network. Decision on expansion or modification of Medicaid is delayed pending further review by the governor’s office.
Environmental Quality: The legislature appropriated $50,000 to the Utah Clean Air Initiative and $1 million for fleet conversion to Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles.
Infrastructure: The legislature appropriated $2.5 million for improvement of access roads to the USU Tooele Campus and $8 million for the Tooele Campus Science and Technology Building.
Fire Suppression and Re-seeding: The legislature appropriated $13.5 million to pay for suppression of last year’s wild fires and $5.2 million to re-seed affected areas.
Legislation: New legislation establishes an independent executive branch ethics commission; provides for parental contact with children placed for adoption by DCFS based on the best interests of the child; affirms our Second Amendment right to bear arms; provides for a study of the possible transfer of public lands to state ownership; prohibits smoking in a vehicle with a child under 15; establishes an advisory committee to combat intergenerational poverty; establishes the Utah Marriage Commission; and allows for consideration of fault in setting alimony.
I passed four bills: HB 86 allows cities and school districts additional time to adopt their budgets when they fail to receive their certified tax rate by the budget deadline; HB 89 provides for judicial review of disciplinary action against police officers; HB 144 provides representation for Tooele County on the UTA Board of Directors; and HB 231 allows hazardous waste disposal facilities to pass state regulatory fees through to the generators of the waste.
Public input: I feel privileged to represent you in the state legislature. During the session, I had meetings with Gov. Herbert and Lt. Governor Bell, county commissioners and other local elected officials, law enforcement and fire officials, education leaders, teachers, parents, seniors, and various citizens. I received several hundred emails and phone calls on the myriad of issues that came before the legislature. I personally responded when I could, and asked my intern to respond when I could not do so personally. I tried to analyze proposed legislation and issues in a reasoned manner informed by your input. I did my best to represent your needs and views. I welcome your continuing input. The best way to reach me is by email at email@example.com.
Rep. Merrill Nelson’s District 68 includes Grantsville and all of Tooele County except for Tooele City and Stansbury Park; all of Millard County; and portions of Juab, Beaver and Utah Counties.