November Is a Time to Be Grateful…And to Learn More About the Legislature

It’s the middle of November, which means we are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Next week is Thanksgiving and Christmas is just around the corner. For me, the middle of November also means the next Legislative Session is just around the corner as well.

We are now only 67 days away from the first day of the Utah Legislature’s 45-day whirlwind session. I have to admit this realization is has begun giving me night terrors. And I’m not the only one. Legislators, reporters, lobbyists, and everyone else are all getting ready for the lawmaking frenzy to begin. November was the last time the Legislature met in Interim Session before next year, and here is my report.

Education Funding: Equalization or Adequacy?

For the past two years, Senator Lincoln Fillmore has been trying to pass legislation dealing with funding equalization in K-12 education. During the Public Education Appropriations Committee meeting on Nov. 8, he presented his plan to bring it up again in the coming General Session.

Education funding is a complex topic, one that I’m still trying to wrap my head around and I’m not sure I ever will. In extremely simple terms, Fillmore believes there should be tax equity in providing for school districts across the state. Basically, because the Legislature set up the school district system, they are responsible for providing a basic level of funding for every district. Therefore, the Legislature should draw upon the wealth of the whole state to fund districts.

His plan would freeze the basic property tax rate at its current level (normally, it shifts up and down to bring in a set amount of funds) to bring in extra money for schools, operating under the assumption that property values will continue to rise. This money would then be distributed to those districts with lower tax bases. For example, Park City brings in large sums of money through their property taxes, whereas Jordan School District lost a large portion of its tax based when it split from Canyons. Fillmore’s plan aims to bring equity to the disproportionate funding between various districts.

This plan sounds good, and in fact sounds extremely progressive. However, there have been concerns about whether we should be redistributing funds when there aren’t any districts in the state that could even be considered to have adequate levels of funding. Should that be the focus first? We’ll be watching this proposal as it moves forward.

Making Government Work Better for You

I’m a nerd, but the Government Operations Committee is usually my favorite meetings to sit in on when the Legislature is in session. They talked about a lot during this meeting, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

National Popular Vote

Rep. Jeremy Peterson made a presentation on this innovative idea that is capturing the attention of politicians and voters across the country. Do you ever notice that Utah is a “flyover state” during presidential elections? Every once in awhile, we’ll get someone to visit us but normally, we just get passed by because our six electoral votes just don’t do very much in the current winner-takes-all system.

The National Popular Vote is a compact between states, whereby signing states would give all their votes to whoever wins the popular vote, making every vote matters. Some believe this would make Utah more relevant; however, others believe it could disenfranchise Utah voters (basically, they just didn’t like the idea of Utah’s votes going to Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote over Donald Trump). Personally, I think it sounds like an idea worth trying.

Harassment Training for Lobbyists

This had to be the most controversial piece of the meeting. The committee staff had proposed requiring lobbyists to receive harassment training as part of their lobbyist registration. They figured this would help prevent instances of harassment, which have happened in the past, and would also limit liability for legislators.

The first sticking point came when Rep. Patrice Arent proposed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the classes of people protected under the harassment law. It was shocking that three legislators, Senator Dayton, Rep. Ivory, and Rep. Thurston all voted against this inclusion.

Most significant among the arguments against the bill itself came from Rep. Brian Greene who thought such training was “paternalistic” and that adults “know what is right and what is wrong.” This is ironic coming from a Republican legislator who also supports extremely paternalistic views on alcohol, pornography, and other issues, as well as coming from the man who only a few years ago questioned whether having sex with his sleeping wife would be considered rape.

Ultimately, the bill was rejected because of opposition from Reps. Thurston, Sanpei, Ivory, Greene, and Moss, and Senator Dayton. However, Republican leaders are already planning on bringing the bill back during the General Session. Read more here.

Other Happenings Up on the Hill

We figure that’s enough deep reading for now, so we’ll summarize the rest. Click on the links for more information from our wonderful Capitol press!

Taxes

Senator Howard Stephenson unveiled a nearly 250 page bill reforming Utah taxes. If this gets passed, be prepared to pay more for your Netflix subscription as Utah might start collecting taxes on it! Read more here. There was also a report showing that the current federal tax reforms will most likely result in Utahns paying more in their state taxes.

Federalism

We had the extreme pleasure of sitting through another torturous meeting of Rep. Ken Ivory’s Commission on Federalism. Most of the same, however, Reps. Coleman, Christofferson, and Ivory, and Senators Adams and Van Tassell attended a mock Convention on States (one of the ways the U.S. Constitution can be amended) where rules were drafted to show that such a Convention couldn’t do whatever the heck it wants (like the original convention that threw out our old system of government and gave us the Constitution). Too bad it was mostly only white Republican men in the room, but hardly surprising.

Arrested Nurses

Legislators are attempting to change laws that led to the arrest of Nurse Wubbells earlier this year when she refused to give a cop blood samples of a patient. But some fear the proposed changes don’t go far enough and will not prevent similar arrests. Read more here.

Fireworks

After statewide unrest over fireworks this year, legislators are proposing to allow cities to nearly cut in half the number of days fireworks can be used in cities. No more fireworks going off in the middle of the night and waking up every single dog in the neighborhood? Sign me up! Read more here.

Marijuana

The debate over whether to allow medical marijuana in the state continues as lawmakers received a report that cannabinoid oil is not doing nearly as much to alleviate pain and seizures as some had hoped. Will full-plant medical marijuana soon be available? Don’t hold your breath. Legislators want to continue studying the issue. Read more here.  

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