Better UTAH Beat Episode 35 – February 5, 2013

The following is the transcript from this week’s Better UTAH Beat. It aired on February 5, 2013.

During the legislative session this year Utahns can expect to see upward of 1000 bills written and shepherded through various parts of the legislative process. Of those bills, some 400 will become law. With only 45 days in the session, its obvious that some legislators are in a hurry to make their mark. The irony is that for a majority party that argues for small government, the abandon with which our very conservative legislature will pass laws should give proponents of small government pause.

To help make sense of the hundreds of bills over the next 45 days, we’ve developed an intuitive system for tracking them all. Our system is mirrored off of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index color rankings that are used for the public to easily assess the air quality on any given day.

Green stands for good, and just like a green air day, these bills are a breath of fresh air.

Yellow is used to identify neutral bills. Though many organizations will certainly take a stance on them, these bills are harmless, if at times unnecessary.

We are using the color orange to highlight bills that are a waste of time, or that cause us some concern. These bills could be harmless on the surface, but suggest that legislators are either using resources in an unproductive way, or that unintended consequences could emerge should the bill move forward.

Our final color ranking is red. This is reserved for bills that are harmful to Utahns and our ability to help make Utah an even better place to live. In the past, bills that would have fallen in this category include the ill-conceived change in the state’s open records law and the sex education bill that would have nearly eliminated sexual education from Utah public schools. Keep a close eye on these bills as WE work in opposition to their passage.

In today’s episode I want to draw your attention to two bills we have classified as orange.

After a brief respite the inversion is back, but instead of considering bills that would alleviate our foul air, the legislature will instead hear HB 83, sponsored by Jim Dunnigan, that would increase highway speeds to 80 mph. The bill applies only to rural areas on I-15. There is some evidence that raising freeway speeds reduces the incidence of speeding. However, that is hardly the only consideration–increased highway speeds increase the emissions a car produces and thereby increases the amount of pollutants in our air and though the freeway speed remains unchanged in the northern valleys and more populated areas, we are seeing our air quality diminish across the state and this bill contributes to a culture of ignoring the welfare of the air we breathe.

The second bill also relates to the problem of clean air in Utah. HB 23, sponsored by Stephen Handy, would give the Utah Department of Transportation the power to limit the number of clean air vehicles that are allowed in the high occupancy lane on I-15. Proponents argue that the bill is necessary because clean vehicle manufacturing is increasing (as though that is a bad thing) and these vehicles may soon overrun the carpool lane, causing speeds to slow below the federally mandated 45 miles per hour. Let me restate that — clean air vehicles MAY eventually overrun the carpool lane.

However, the bill makes no mention of growing number of higher emission, single occupancy vehicles that drive in the HOV lane everyday because they have paid to be exempt from the multiple occupancy requirement. The legislature should consider bills that encourage carpooling and the purchase of low-emission vehicles, not discouraging low-emission vehicles by penalizing their use of the HOV lane.

There are obviously big problems that require serious solutions in Utah: medicaid expansion, poor air quality, education deficits, etc. But these big issues, issues that would allow various legislators to really make a name for themselves, are brushed aside for the hundreds of non-starter problems that sail easily through the legislature. The majority party, if it is serious about small government, should be equally interested in small bill volume.

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