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.
One of the items the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee discussed was seat belt compliance law. In Utah, 70% of all crash related fatalities occur in high-speed crashes. However, people involved in those high-speed crashes are 13 times more likely to survive if they are using seat belts. Please be careful as you drive and always wear your seatbelt.
A presentation on water rights issues took place in the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. Michael Styler, the Department of Natural Resources Executive Director presented 12 proposals for legislation that would clarify the use of water rights in the state.
Both the Political Subdivisions and the Revenue and Taxation Committee heard reports on the recent UTOPIA audit. Eleven Utah cities formed a consortium, pledging about $500 million over the next 32 years to back the necessary bonds to finance the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), an organization that would build a high-speed fiber-optic network. However, the network has yet to make a profit. The legislature requested that an audit be done to see what the ramifications will be to the cities in the consortium and the results are not good. According to the audit, UTOPIA is failing because of poor management and wasteful spending. So the cities (actually the taxpayers) are left on the hook to pay for a failing company. Sadly there is very little that the state can do to remedy this situation for the cities. Here are some thoughts that Senator Valentine had on the problem.
The Business and Labor Committee heard a follow-up from last month’s discussion on Alarm System Security Licensing. The language in the current law needs to be clarified because right now, people who work for alarm system companies such as janitors or human resource agents are required to hold a license. The Alarm System Security Licensing Board has indicated that this is unnecessary and so the language needs to be clarified. They also heard recommendations for procedural changes from the Uniform Building Code Commission and the Utah State Fire Prevention Board.
A report on the state’s Tourism Development plan was given to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. The good news is that tourism related taxes are continuing to rise. This is due in part to the hard work of our tourism development team that has placed representatives in several European nations and makes a considerable effort to promote the wonders of our state around the world.
Last month that committee had a discussion on intergenerational poverty. S.B. 37, passed last session by Senator Reid, provided for a study on the intergenerational poverty in our state. The results of the study will be presented at a conference on October 9th. You can find details about the conference on this pdf.
The Education Committee was long this month. There was a discussion on the Replacement of the State Superintendent, a report on teacher quality and employment reform, discussion on the possibility of funding a state preschool and a report on the UPSTART program. (UPSTART is a computer pre-school readiness program that can be done at home.) If the state decides to implement a pre-school program it would be contingent on such requirements a small class sizes, trained teachers and use of a research-based curriculum. Senator Osmond is proposing the legislation. There was also a report given to the committee about what will happen as a result of federal sequestration to our education budgets. As part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress was required to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion by January 15, 2012. Because they failed to do so, automatic across-the-board spending reductions will be instated in the FY2013 federal budget. The mandatory reduction rate will be either 8.2% or 7.6% depending what is being funded. If you would like to hear any of these discussions you can listen from this link.
A very interesting report was given to the Public Utilities and Technology committee on Utah’s coal industry. Last year 20 million tons of coal was extracted from Utah mines. There are nearly 5000 jobs in our state that are directly or indirectly related to our coal industry. This puts $600 million into our local economy. Some of Utah’s highest paying jobs are directly related to coal mining. This is a great boon to many of Utah’s rural areas. Additionally, because coal based electricity is so inexpensive here, it is a great incentive to entice business to build here.
The Transportation Committee heard reports on the results of a pilot program that increased the speed limit to 80 mph. in certain sections of the state. The results were good, showing enough of a decrease in accidents that the Department of Transportation is considering the change for other parts of the state as well. The Department also reported that it is looking into increasing the number of carpool lanes in the state as well.
The Senate also met quickly on the floor to confirm gubernatorial appointees. Here are the names of the appointees.