I am privileged to represent Tooele and Millard counties and parts of Juab, Utah, and Beaver counties in the State Legislature. As I have done in the past, here is a brief report of highlights from our recently completed 45-day legislative session.
State Budget: One of our most important responsibilities is the prudent expenditure of public funds. We spent the first two weeks of the session scrutinizing department base budgets for possible cuts and savings. We reallocated existing funds and assessed the fiscal impact of legislation throughout the session. We produced a balanced budget of $14 billion, which includes significantly increased funding for education, transportation, criminal justice reform, and Medicaid services.
Public Education: The budget provides significant additional funding for education, including $58 million for enrollment growth, a 4 percent increase in the WPU (amounting to $104 million), and $75 million for school district capital equalization, which provides particular benefit to rural areas with lower property tax revenues. The budget also provides $5 million for digital literacy, $3 million for early intervention K-3 literacy, and $6 million for teacher supplies and materials. Significant legislation provides grants to help school counselors improve college and career counseling and targets improved math competency and graduation rates.
Transportation: The Legislature enacted long-needed reforms of transportation funding, which has lost one-third of its value since 1997. Facing a multi-billion dollar funding shortfall, the Legislature revised the funding formula from a per-gallon tax to a percentage-sales tax based on the average wholesale price, to maintain stability and predictability. The law also authorizes counties to enact a quarter-percent sales tax to share with cities and towns for maintenance of local roads.
Prison Relocation and Criminal Justice Reform: The Prison Relocation Commission deferred its decision on a site for the new prison until later this summer. Legislative leadership did not permit reconsideration of the current site, as provided in my HB 262. After much wrangling, we successfully ensured that the relocation decision will be made by the entire Legislature.
I will continue my efforts keep the prison in Salt Lake County. In connection with reconstruction of prison facilities, the Legislature adopted significant criminal justice reforms designed to reduce incarceration of non-violent offenders in favor of increased treatment programs. New facilities and programs will reflect this renewed emphasis on treatment, education, and rehabilitation to reduce recidivism.
Economic Development: I supported adoption of SB 216, sponsored by Sen. Okerlund, which provides post-performance tax credits for businesses that create new utility infrastructure, creating incentives in rural areas presently underserved by essential utilities.
Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR): Legislators are working with county officials, our congressional delegation and the U.S. Air Force on the proposed expansion of the UTTR. The expansion plan includes trading state trust lands within the expansion area for more valuable and developable federal lands outside the expansion area. Parcels proposed to be acquired in Tooele County are located near Aragonite for mineral and industrial development, near Grantsville for flood control and recreation development, near Tooele for residential development, near Stockton for mineral development, and near Gold Hill for agricultural use.
Parcels proposed for acquisition in Juab County are intended for mineral extraction and agricultural use. Parcels in Millard County are located near Intermountain Power Project for industrial use, near Eskdale for community use, and near the current limestone operation for expanded mineral extraction. Parcels in Beaver County include the Blawn Mountain project to provide access for mineral extraction and the Thermo Hot Springs site for geothermal development. I am working with SITLA to ensure that all these rural counties benefit from the UTTR expansion.
Civil Rights, Religious Protection, and Marriage: The Legislature passed historic SB 296, which prohibits employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill exempts religious institutions and the Boy Scouts of America, protects free exercise of religion under the Constitution, and retains the right of employers to require employment qualifications.
We also passed SB 297, which exempts religious institutions from performing or recognizing gay marriages against their doctrine. Government officials retain discretion whether to perform such marriages, as long as the county clerk’s office performs them. I co-chaired the Judiciary Committee that reviewed this legislation.
Other legislation of interest: I supported legislation prohibiting a total ban of wood burning, which is particularly important in rural areas without access to natural gas. The Legislature also passed laws giving terminally ill patients access to investigational drugs, allowing the state to assume management of wild horses and burros, expanding benefits to survivors of peace officers and fire fighters who die in the line of duty, modifying procedures for water change applications, and (my favorite) permitting milk-cow sharing.
I sponsored the following bills: HB 84, which deters theft of lead batteries from farm and construction vehicles by requiring metal-recyclers to track the sellers of used batteries; HB 201, which exempts IPP and rural power companies from regulations applied to other inter-local agencies; HB 317, which deters poaching of livestock by imposing full-value-restitution requirements on the culprits; and SB 21, which exempts ATI Metals from sales and use taxes in processing titanium from molten magnesium. Further consideration of Medicaid expansion and State School Board selection were deferred to a later session.
For questions or concerns, feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Over the past two years, I have received and read over 10,000 emails — I try to respond to all constituent inquiries. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you in the Legislature.
Nelson lives in Grantsville and is currently serving his second consecutive term in the Utah House of Representatives.