Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope your summer has gone well.
Last week, as a legislature, we met for the August interim meetings.
The Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee met on Monday to review the Governor’s recommendations for judicial appointments. The Utah Constitution requires a judicial selection process that includes a nominating commission, an appointment by the governor, and a confirmation by the senate. After they are appointed they are retained by the voice of the people through retention elections. Utah is one of only eight states that require the senate to confirm judicial appointees. This serves as a check on the governor and the nominating commission’s authority and gives the legislative branch some authority in the selection process. By structuring the process this way, the people are represented in the selection process much more than they would be if the Governor alone were allowed to simply make appointments. As with all legislative decisions, there are many factors taken into account when determining someone’s ability to sit as a judge. Here is a link if you would like to hear the discussion that took place in the meeting.
The Executive Appropriations Committee met on the 14th. One of the things they discussed was the implementation of performance notes on bills. Attaching a performance note is a new idea that was presented by Senator Niederhauser in the 2011 session. The performance note would be attached to any newly created program or agency and will provide a baseline that the Office of Auditor General can use to evaluate the usefulness and efficiency of the new department or program. If the newly funded department or program fails to meet the criteria for which it was created, it could then easily be repealed, defunded or have a reduction to its funds. The Executive Appropriations committee discussed how performance notes will be handled and what sort of improvements could be made to facilitate the efficiency of the notes. They also heard a report on the cost of the 1020 fires that have damaged over 400,000 acres in Utah this past summer. So far the estimated price will be about $50 million, $8 million will go to re-seeding. A final request for funds will be presented to the legislature in the 2013 session.
On Wednesday the 15th, each of the interim committees met.
The Executive Development and Workforce Services Committee heard a report from Kristen Cox, the executive director of the Department of Workforce Services on SB 37, “Intergenerational Poverty Provisions” passed by Senator Reid in the 2012 session. Ms. Cox reported on the department’s plans to create a tracking system that will identify trends and assist case workers as they pinpoint children who are at risk of being trapped in intergenerational poverty. The new research they are collecting will set a benchmark so that we can see what the best strategies would be to help break this cycle. The final results of their study will be made public in October.
The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on the parental rights of biological fathers in the adoption process and a report from the Utah Department of Health on efforts that are being made to promote wellness strategies among Medicaid enrollees. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the biggest expenditures in health care (at least 75%) goes to treating heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer–all of which are generally preventable. They estimate that more than $16 billion could be saved annually by preventing or delaying the onset of these chronic diseases. In Utah we are establishing several programs to help encourage better health practices such as a smoking sensation program, a chronic disease self-management program and preventative dental care program. These sorts of programs teach healthier behaviors and accountability to people, reducing many of the problems that cost so much in healthcare.
The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee identified capital punishment as the highest priority for the committee to study this year. In June’s discussion of the issue the committee was presented with a comparison of Utah’s capital punishment execution rate, number of death row prisoners and expenses, with those of other states. This month the discussion continued, with testimony that focused on the fiscal costs (not the pros and cons) of capital punishment versus life in prison without the possibility of parole; the capital offense punishment process and the appeal process. It was a very interesting discussion. You can listen to it here if you would like.
The Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee had a report on the Children’s Land Alliance from director, Margaret Bird. This is a multi-state non-profit corporation that helps to manage the school trust lands in Utah and lands in other states, some of whom do not have trust lands. School trust lands are an important part of our discretionary school funding and must be managed carefully.
They also heard a report from the Division of Wildlife Resources on how tags and licenses for big game hunting are administered and what sort of opportunities the state has for promoting those hunts. This year thousands of acres of prime game habitat was burned. The reseeding program will help recover the damaged rangeland, but in the meantime there will be many displaced animals, which will likely affect the hunting season.
Tax funding for roads is always a major subject of discussion. The Revenue and Taxation Committee took public comment on that issue this week. Some of the concerns that were brought up were the problems that local municipalities are having with road bonding for maintenance purposes and the decreased funding from gas tax revenue. The committee voted to hold a daylong summit to discuss possible ways to address these problems and help fund transportation in Utah.
Along the same lines, the Transportation Committee heard an update from UDOT’s Linda Hull on the federal highway program. They also discussed the need for increased transportation options in the Uintah Basin area.
Here is a link to the meeting.
If there are any other committee meetings you would like to listen to you can find them all here.
I was pleased to see that a Gallup survey released earlier this month gave Utah yet another accolade. The survey asked questions in 13 areas about such things as health, environment and employment. The results ranked Utah as the best place to live in the nation.
I am proud to represent you in “the best place to live.” I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions or concerns.
You can contact me using my contact form or by phone. The number is at the top of the website.