When the Utah State Legislature met Monday morning to convene its annual 45-day session, for the first time in 30 years there were two representatives from Tooele County seated on the floor of the Utah State House of Representatives.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, RGrantsville, joined Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, for the 60th session of the state legislature. Nelson represents House District 68, which stretches south from Grantsville and includes parts of Juab, Beaver and Utah counties, along with all of Millard County.
Sagers is starting his second term representing House District 21, which includes Tooele City and Stansbury Park.
The last few years the legislature has seen a flurry of message bills aimed at political posturing. States rights issues and federalism have been the most recent subjects of message legislation, including bills that establish a deadline for the federal government to turn over public lands to the state, and a bill exempting guns manufactured in Utah from federal regulations. Sagers sees a quieter more productive session for 2013.
“Speaker [Becky] Lockhart set the tone in her opening address,” he said. “She chastised us for passing over 200 pages of new laws last year, and said we can’t keep up that pace. I think you will see a session that gets right down to doing the people’s business this year.”
Nelson agrees with Sagers’ expectations of the 2013 session.
“The legislature will do their job in business-like manner and get down to the business of the people,” he said. “The legislature will deal with laws that solve problems and make life easier for people instead of meaningless action.”
A big chunk of that business will be the 2014 fiscal year budget. Presented by Gov. Gary Herbert in December, the budget included an extra $300 million in ongoing revenue over the 2013 budget.
Herbert directed the major portion of that funding to public and higher education. He allocated an additional $70 million to fund enrollment growth in public schools; $26.2 million for a one percent increase in the weighted pupil unit funding allocated to local school districts; $13.2 million for computer adaptive testing; and $10 million for technology-based early intervention programs.
While the legislature is watching revenue forecasts to see if the $300 million will materialize, Sagers said funding education is a priority.
While education will be at the forefront, the legislature will also have to decide how much of the Affordable Care Act to implement, Nelson said.
“We will need to decide how much to extend Medicaid coverage,” he noted. “At the same time we must make sure our students and teachers are kindly treated.”
For the third time, Sagers has introduced a bill that revises laws governing the Utility Facility Review Board hearing schedule and oversight. He wants to eliminate problems that Tooele County faced while fighting Rocky Mountain Power’s Oquirrh-to-Mona transmission line project. Sagers’ bill passed the House 62-0 in 2012, but died in the Senate as time to consider the bill ran out. “It should make it through both houses this year,” said Sagers.
Nelson, who served one term in the House from 1991 to 1992, has introduced two bills — House Bill 89 and House Bill 86 — for this year’s session. House Bill 89 provides for the judicial appeal of a suspension or revocation of the certification of a peace officer by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
Nelson said the idea for the judicial review came after watching the POST council suspend Grantsville Police Chief Dan Johnson’s police certification in 2012 following a hunting incident.
“I don’t know if it would have made a difference in Johnson’s case.” said Nelson. “But the idea of having a judicial review of an administrative body’s action, especially one that affects a person’s livelihood, is not new.”
House Bill 86 adjusts the requirement that taxing entities must adopt tax rates by June 22 of each year. If the taxing entity has not received its approved certified tax rate by the week before June 22, it has until two weeks after receiving its certified tax rate from the tax commission to adopt its tax rate.
In the past there have been times when taxing entities have had to adopt budgets before receiving a certified tax rate. Nelson said his proposed changes will keep taxing entities from having to guess revenue figures when adopting budgets. The Tooele County Commission has two things on its mind as the legislative session begins, according to Commissioner Jerry Hurst.
“We want to keep an eye on legislation affecting EnergySolutions,” he said. “If they were allowed to accept other waste streams, like depleted uranium, it would help their bottom line, which also helps the county’s and the state’s bottom line.”
The county is also looking for the state to create a revenue stream from gravel pits to help pay for wear and tear on county roads caused by trucks hauling gravel, added Hurst. According to Sagers, tax increases are probably out for this session.
“I don’t think you will see the proposal for a hike on the sales tax on food, or any other tax increase, go very far,” he said. “Most legislators aren’t of the mindset that we need to increase taxes.”
The legislature may be called back into session to make adjustments to the budget after congress and the president reach an agreement on the federal budget cuts. The federal government provides 27.7 percent of Utah’s revenue, according to Sagers.
“There will be an effort as we write the 2014 budget to reduce the reliance on federal funding, which right now is very unstable,” he said. “Depending on what congress does, we may have to come back and make changes to our budget.”