While moving Stericyle and the Utah State Prison are receiving a lot of attention, the 2014 legislature has been hard at work considering legislation for clean air, health care, and changes to the state’s gasoline tax, according to Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.
Nelson along with Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, and Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, addressed a group of around a dozen Tooele County residents that made a trip to the state capitol for a one-hour meeting with state legislators Wednesday evening.
“We’re in the middle of a good session. It’s been productive and relatively peaceful,” Nelson said.
Clean air has been one issue addressed early in the session with several bills making progress through the approval process, he added.
Among the clean air bills that have cleared House committees and are waiting for final approval by the full house before being sent to the Senate for consideration include House Bill 38 that creates a job position for a coordinator of resource services in the Department of Administrative Services, House Bill 61 that promotes the use of clean fuel vehicles, and House Bill 271 that increases penalties for violations of vehicle emission limits.
The House is also looking at a solution to make healthcare available for the group of low-income citizens caught in a gap between receiving assistance under the Affordable Care Act and being able to afford insurance premiums, said Nelson.
“What we’ve talked about recently in our House Republican caucus is rather than a full or partial extension of Medicaid is to do our own state brand of extending health care to the vulnerable,” he said.
The House Republican caucus plan will use existing programs to target people in need with two one-time allocations of $30 million.
Squeezing out more revenue for roads from declining gasoline sales has also been a topic of concern in this year’s session, Nelson said.
The state’s 24.5 cents per gallon gasoline tax has been generating declining revenue as people drive less and use more fuel efficient vehicles, he said.
Rather than increase the gasoline tax, the legislature is looking at dropping the gasoline tax to 12.5 cents per gallon and increasing the general sales tax on all commodities from 4.7 percent to 4.9 percent.
Revenue from the additional two-tenths of a percent sales tax would go to roads and be divided 70/30 between the state and local governments. The same split is currently used for the gasoline tax, according to Nelson.
“Initially the tax change would be revenue neutral with the hope that over time it will produce additional revenue for roads,” he said.
Nelson also reported that a resolution to allow Stericyle to relocate to Tooele County was approved earlier in the day by the House Natural Resources, Environment, and Agriculture committee (See related story on A-1).
“Stericycle is a good reputable company that provides necessary services,” said Nelson.
Another move, this one involving the state prison, is close to getting approval in the House, according to Sagers.
“The Republican caucus needs to take a position on whether or not to accept the resolution,” he said. “Once that is done the resolution goes to the House floor where I expect there will be large support for moving the prison.”
Once the resolution is passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, then the Prison Relocation and Development Authority Board will start taking bids for building a new prison and consider potential sites.
The resolution to approve moving the prison does not mention new locations or the impact of a prison on any community. Those issues will be addressed by PRADA and ultimately the legislature and governor will approve the new location, Sagers said.
While Tooele County has been mentioned as a potential prison location, Nelson pointed out that Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties have also been discussed as possible hosts for the new prison.
Sen. Thatcher said the most significant bill that he is sponsoring this session will create a statewide crisis hotline for youth using the number 311.
Recent reports of teen suicide and bullying prompted Thatcher to introduce the legislation, he said.
The 2014 legislative session ends in three weeks on March 13.
“During that last week we will probably be working on the House floor considering bills until 10 p.m.,” Sagers said.