Helping you stay informed and educated.
I wanted to highlight a few bills from the first and second weeks of the session.
SB12 sponsored by Senator VanTassell protects information collected by UTA and classifies customer account information and travel data as a private record under GRAMA. Senator Reid’s bill, SB 20 deals with tightening the security level of data stored by the state. This bill is a response to the data breach last year that compromised the health information of 780,000 Utahans, and cost our state hundreds of thousand of dollars. It directs the Utah State Department of Technology Services to adhere as closely as possible to government and industry best practices for security.
Senator Stephenson’s SB 34 Special Elections Date for Ballot Propositions would make it so that special elections dealing with tax increases be allowed only on regular elections dates. This will make public awareness and participation easier and add to the transparency of the issues.
SB 19, sponsored by Senator Van Tassell. It dealt with safety issues when truck drivers use cell phones. We took a moment to honor Utah Highway Patrol trooper Aaron Beesley who fell to his death during a rescue attempt. Our Troopers portray courage, bravery and professionalism, often at great risk. I am grateful to them and their families for the sacrifices they make.
We passed HJR6. I would like to clarify this bill. There have been some news reports that by passing this legislation, we are giving ourselves a raise. That is not the case. It is not a raise. It defines per diem limits and procedures. For years, the Legislature paid the bulk of their compensation through housing or food stipends. This bill ensures they receive compensation through an actual salary. It makes all compensation much more accountable and more transparent. Under the new plan each legislator will receive a salary of $16,380 per year.
SJR1, sponsored by Senator Stevenson clarifies that performance notes and fiscal notes be handled in the same way. These notes are essential to passing bills responsibly. A fiscal note is attached to every bill and tells us how much funding the legislation will require if it is implemented into law. The performance note will require the bill to set functioning goals. It allows us to ask questions and get answers to questions like: How is this program expected to help the state’s citizens? Which citizens would be helped; would any be hurt? What key performance indicators will be used to track the progress of the program? Is anything being does to improve current deficiencies? Having this sort of information is critical to making value judgments on potential legislation.
SB 122 is a good example of the usefulness of a fiscal note. The requested amount is $240,000. It is not much money in terms of the entire budget, but even so, it is necessary for us to do a cost/benefit for each proposed program so that even small amounts of money are spent wisely.
SCR 3 is a Resolution addresses the advantages of local control when dealing with endangered species. There are many past instances where local conservation timeline efforts have been very efficient. This Resolution supports Iron County in their local efforts to remove prairie dogs from endangered species list.
Congressman Chaffetz spoke to us on Friday. He said that his number one concern is the lack of fiscal discipline from the federal government–the United States currently pays $700 million in interest each day. In the first quarter of this fiscal year entitlement spending increased 16%. He also reiterated the importance of balancing the budget with spending cuts, not tax increase. It made me appreciate Utah’s balanced, well-managed budget process.
SCR 4, was heard in the Senate Business and Labor Committee. I am the sponsor of this Resolution. It states that the Utah Legislature and the Governor support Israel in its legal, historical, moral and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon its own land.
The bill also commends Israel for its cordial and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States and with Utah. The bill also recognizes that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others and that peace can be afforded the region only through a whole and united Israel.
Committee Assignments and Budget Oversight
The Committees, consisting of both House and Senate members continue to work on individual budget as part of preparing the final budget to be passed. Education expenditures make up the largest percentage (just over half) of the State’s budget. The Education Appropriations Committee meets frequently to discuss how to allocate the available funding. They are looking at efficiency levels of the money being spent. And although it will be a few days before final numbers are available, we are seeing a sizable share of the budget will go to Medicaid reform.
With such large portions of our budget allocated to Education and entitlement programs, we have worked to anticipate this issue through wise management. Unlike many states, Utah is not in the red. We do not know how much we will see from Federal funds, but we, as a state are in a much better place than many states, to address these critical issues. It will be challenging, but I, for one am glad that we are not addressing it from a deficit position.
The Infrastructure and General Government Committee is tasked with allocating funds for state buildings and properties. For example, one of the requests made to the committee was from Southern Utah University. They were asking that $2.7 million be appropriated to them to purchase property that could be used for expansion of university housing and parking.
The committees I am serving on are:
Working to keep you informed
Later this week, I’ll be sending reports of last week’s work at the Legislature. Until then…