Monday, March 10, 2014
2014 General Session: Update 3
The sixth week of our General Session was a building crescendo of activity in anticipation of the last week's grand finale.
As Vice-Chair of the Political Subdivisions Standing Committee, I had several opportunities to chair our meetings and vet bills in a group discussion.
A notable bill included increasing the subpoena power of the Legislature. This comes in response to the John Swallow investigation. The Legislature sent many subpoenas to our former Attorney General's lawyers in order to obtain evidence in the investigation. His lawyers contended that legislative subpoenas were not of the same weight as those issued by other entities and thus they were ignored. Rep. Jim Dunnigan's bill HB414 should make a significant difference if we ever have to convene an investigative committee in the future.
I also sit on the the Business and Labor Standing Committee.
We heard a bill that would eliminate business property taxes for any item worth less than $10,000. The sponsor of this bill, Jim Nielson, suggested in HB391 that the tax revenue lost from this change should be made up by being shifted to real property instead. It was a very interesting discussion and we moved the bill to interim study over the summer to iron out the wrinkles and get a better understanding of the effect this would have on the taxpayers.
This week we also passed some significant bills on the house floor.
One bill we passed would give parents who are threatened with having their parental right revoke the opportunity to have their case heard before a trial jury rather than just a judge. I voted against the bill because we will be discussing the issue in a larger context at the Courts Task Force. Nevertheless, the House passed out LaVar Christensens's HB318 to the Senate with a 46-27 vote.
We also passed out HB105 which was Gage Froerer's bill allowing oil extracts from low/no THC cannabis plants to be administered legally as medicine with a prescription. Parents of children with epileptic seizure problems celebrated its passage.
There was a lot of debate on the Legislatures effort to create a compromise with Count My Vote regarding their effort to neuter the Convention system of nominating candidates to go on the ballot. Senator Bramble's SB54 passed the House. I supported the compromise plan which created an alternative means of placing a candidate's name on the ballot through a petition while also holding intact the convention system. The bar was set high enough on gathering signatures for a petition that it will allow the convention system to continue without the threat of becoming obsolescent.
A vote on HB228 to allow Utah School Board elections to become partisan races failed.
My bills had an easy ride this week.
HB336 - Courts Systems Task Force we heard in a Senate Standing committee and was voted favorably out in a unanimous fashion. The bill now sits on the Senate's 2nd Reading Calendar and is scheduled for debate.
HB340 - Local District Boundary Adjustments also passed out of a Senate Standing committee unanimously.
HB53 - Juvenile Restitution Amendments - has passed both Houses and sits on the Governor's desk awaiting a signature.
I am grateful for our part-time legislator. I was paid $14,770 (not a typo) last year by the taxpayers to serve in the House of Representatives. The General Session is 45 days plus once a month meetings during Interim Session. Of course this does not include campaign time, meetings with constitutents and stakeholders on issues and all the other obligations that come with being a local dignitary.
However, this low pay and part-time status keeps the Legislature close to the people and grounded in the real world. Nearly all the Legislators I serve with work full time jobs and sacrifice a great deal of time and fortune to care for the public's business at the capitol. I have great respect for my colleagues who care enough about good public policy to work as hard as they do to make a difference in their respective communities.