Air quality, defending Utah’s constitutional definition of marriage, Medicaid expansion and education funding were some of the top priorities heard as Utah legislators gathered in January for their 45-day annual general session.
Legislators went home on March 13 with some missions accomplished and other work delayed for another day.
Among the missions accomplished was legislative approval for Stericycle officials to begin the process of seeking state and local permits to move their medical waste incinerator from North Salt Lake to Tooele County.
A third prison relocation commission in three years was also created. This time the commission was given the charge to select a site or sites for a new state prison, with Tooele County rumored as a possible contender. The new commission will consist of seven yet-to-be-named legislators.
House Bill 61, Clean Air Programs; House Bill 7, Energy Efficient Vehicle Tax Credits; and House Bill 154, Wood Burning Amendments, all passed.
HB 61 promotes clean fuel technology and HB 154 authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to investigate reports of wood burning on days that wood burning is banned.
The bill also directs the DEQ to start a public awareness campaign on the effects of wood burning on air quality and establish, as funding allows, a program to convert homes burning wood as the sole source of heat to cleaner fuel sources of heat.
HB 154 does not ban wood burning in Utah’s most populous areas during the inversion season, a suggestion made by Gov. Gary Herbert during his 2014 state of the state address.
House Bill 121, would have allowed the DEQ to adopt air quality standards that are more stringent than federal regulations. It passed the House, but failed in the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.
Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, and Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, both voted for HB 121.
The legislature passed a balanced budget with no tax increases. The budget totaled $13.5 billion with 42 percent of the budget going to public and higher education.
The legislature fully funded growth in public school enrollment and increased the per pupil funding formula by 2.5 percent, according to Nelson.
A solution to make health care available for a group of low-income citizens caught in a gap between receiving assistance under the Affordable Care Act and being able to afford insurance premiums eluded the 2014 legislative session.
The House, leery of a promise of federal funding, did not want to expand Medicaid to cover people caught in the gap while the Senate wanted a partially extend Medicaid, according to Nelson.
“It is now in the governor’s hands to negotiate an agreement with the federal government and the legislature will need to meet to ratify any agreement he makes,” Nelson added.
Three weeks before the legislature opened, a federal judge ruled that Utah’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman violated federal constitutional provisions of equal protection and due process.
Nelson introduced legislation to set up a fund for private contributions to help pay for the appeal of the court ruling.
Nelson said he later requested that his proposal not be considered out of concern that legislation related to the definition of marriage might adversely affect the appeal.
Proposals to increase or restructure the state’s motor vehicle fuel tax to provide additional revenue for local and state road maintenance failed to gain traction this season.
Legislators had 45 days to consider 1,471 introduced pieces of legislation, including up to four revisions of some bills.
Out of the 486 bills and resolutions that were passed, 161 or 33 percent passed on the last day of the session.