Thursday, December 18, 2014
At the end of last year's session, I was contacted by a local veterinarian who was concerned about Utah's laws governing the business. His problem was that his business had grown and he needed to bring on a partner in the business to continue growing. The partner they selected was not a licensed veterinarian but had skills that helped their business tremendously. As they met with their attorney to discuss the way forward, it came to their attention that state law forbid organizing their business in such a way.
Even more disturbing, however, was to discover that not only did law forbid this from occurring, but that the State had essentially turned a blind eye to enforcing any of these statutes. When I called the Division of Professional Licensing (DOPL) to discuss this issue, they were caught a bit flat footed. What we discovered was that there was significant veterinary industry reform in 2009 that was supposed to address this issue. That was the legislative intent, at least. But, the devil is always in the details. The specific language was somehow overlooked, and while the legislature desired a less rigid form of business model regulation in the veterinary industry, it didn't get written into the law. Since that time, DOPL has been honoring the legislative intent of those reforms by essentially ignoring the existing code.
This discrepancy poses a problem for law abiding folks who want to follow the rules. Without understanding the politics behind the law, any attorney would advise his or her client to follow the statute. That is exactly what happened to this local veterinarian. Fortunately, they were able to identify the problem and we have drafted a bill to correct it. Here is the language of our proposal:
It is my hope that this will open up a lot of opportunity for aspiring veterinarians. It should provide a means for capital to flow into the industry and help grow existing businesses where there is the desire to do so.
The Majority Caucus of the House of Representatives met recently to discuss the heavy issues that are facing our state this coming year. Here is a review of the topics we discussed.
While the media is reporting a budget surplus this year of over $600 Million dollars. After considering obligations already committed to for this next fiscal year, the Legislature will have less than that to appropriate to on-going and one-time programs.
The Governor's recent budget proposal presumes that the Legislature will change existing law to allow some of his budgetary suggestions to come to fruition. So far, we are unsure to what extent that will occur. The Governor has the bully pulpit, but the Legislature has the vote.
House Leadership has tasked us with working to reduce the size of our State Budget by 2% this year. That means each appropriation committee will be looking for places to save money and cut waste. This exercise should give department administrators the opportunity to eliminate programs they see as inefficient or non-essential. If we were to guarantee them the same funding as previous years, there would be no incentive for administrators to select areas where they could reduce their staff or work load.
Finally, unlike last year which was filled to the brim with budget meetings, the first week will be sprinkled with standing committee hearings as well.
Ultimately, there will be major shifts in how the budget construed this year and you can count on a vigorous and lively debate on how taxpayer money is spent in 2015.
The Healthy Utah Plan
The Governor has completed his negotiations with the Feds on his vision for Medicaid Expansion. The plan will cost Utah about $78M annually to pay for covering people who earn less than 138% of what the is currently defined as the poverty level. That price represents 10% of the cost of the whole program and it assumes the federal government will honor its promise to pay the remaining $702M in expenses. Of course, the definition of poverty could always change or the Feds could break their promise to pay, or both. The House is uncertain of the ability of the Federal government to keep its promise. There is also uncertainty as to the future of Obamacare with a new Congress coming and the potential of a political change in the White House in 2016. So, rather than promise benefits today and then revoke them tomorrow when they are no longer financially sustainable, the House is looking at other more sustainable options. Expect a lively debate on this subject.
The Governor's proposal to shift money out of transportation and into education puts the Legislature in a sticky position. Transportation is a lubricant of the economy. Yet, the costs of road construction and maintenance are outpacing inflation. Many of Utah's rural roads are being left without maintenance due to budget constraints. In addition, the Governor's budget proposal appears to put even more roads at risk of deferred maintenance and delay projects that accommodate population growth. That is, unless the Legislature wants to burden the people with a tax increase.
Kids need to be bused to school and buses need roads. Perhaps a future work around is to outfit our school buses with all terrain wheels and suspensions. Joking aside, the Legislature will be working on the issue of how to adequately and fairly address our transportation needs. This includes inter-modal transit options as well.
To fund roads, some have advocated for an increase in the gas tax. Frankly, I am attracted to the idea of toll roads as a means to pay for usage. It is the fairest and most direct way to tie the cost and benefit of road use to the user. However, given that toll roads are terribly unpopular, I believe we could scrap the gas tax entirely and switch to a usage tax based on miles driven each year. The mileage could be accounted for during annual vehicle registration. Obviously, there are a few scenarios in which this kind of tax wouldn't work, but I believe the concept could be adapted to be fair and proportionate.
Regardless, expect heavy deliberations on how to meet our transportation needs.
During the general session, we debate bills on the floor and vote them up or down. However, prior to coming to our floor for a vote, the bill has typically been heard in a committee hearing that is open to the public for comment. The committee hearing is a very valuable part of our process. Typically, after a bill passes on the House floor, it is sent to the Senate where it receives a committee hearing on their side and then it is debated and voted upon on the Senate floor.
One of the interesting things that happens at the end of the general session is a compression in time. Due to this, the House and Senate mutually "suspend the rules" so that bills can be debated on the floor without a committee hearing. For obvious reasons, this has sometimes created bad results. (Note: 58% of the 500+ bills passed last year were done so on the last three days of the session when rules were suspended. Over 30% never received a House committee hearing.) After witnessing this process worsen over the past several years, House leadership proposed in our meeting that we change the gameplan.
For 2015, the House will not suspend the rules except on the last day of the general session. Even during this rule suspension, bills will be given priority that have had a House standing committee hearing. This will mean that members of the body will have already had a chance to read the bill, hear the issue, and comprehend the legislation that is being proposed before it comes to the floor. It is anticipated that while this may decrease the number of bills that are passed, it will increase the quality of legislation coming from our body.
At the end of our discussion on this topic, I made the motion that our majority caucus accept leadership's plan. The motion moved forward unanimously.
There will be a lot of attention on education issues this year. Again, with the Governor throwing down the gauntlet with his budget proposals, the Legislature will trying to find a sustainable way forward.
One of the more interesting proposals made to us by a representative from Logan is an income tax increase of 2%. Since every dime of our income taxes pay for education, this is seen by the sponsor as a way to help boost funding. The sponsor cited the institution of the flat tax in 2008 as unfortunate because the state suffered from declining revenues during the recession. Ironically, had taxes been kept higher during that period, the taxpayers would have had even less money in their pocket during that painful economic downturn.
I can't see increasing taxes now during the good times, when the bad times are again certainly on the horizon. We must work to make due with what we have.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Over the past couple of years, I have proposed some significant reforms in how Utah's courts are structured. However, due to the complexity of the problem and a lack of political will from the Senate, these all-encompassing changes failed to gain traction.
So, this last Spring, I was invited by the Administrator of the Courts to participate in a work group studying how Commissioners operate in our District Courts. One of the problems we recognized in my earlier broad proposal was that Commissioners are given the power of judges, but they are not subject to the same public scrutiny and vetting that judges receive.
Fortunately, our work group this past interim recognized that and has made proposed changes to how Commissioners are nominated and retained. Among other recommendations, we endorsed a public comment period that will be open for Commissioners who are tapped to be hired or upon renewal of a term. These comments will be delivered to the presiding judge who will sift through them as the nomination/retention process moves forward.
This is a significant policy change. Hopefully, our work group's efforts will make a difference in how the public relates to its courts and help foster faith and confidence in how justice is administered in our state.
Here is a copy of our report and recommendations for your review. These were presented to the Judicial Council on November 24th and fully approved for implementation.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Utah's Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office released its much anticipated feasibility study regarding Utah's capacity as a State to manage lands currently controlled by the Federal Government.
The bottom line? Utah has what it takes to do the job and do it right. Here are all 784 pages of the in-depth details for your review.
The Legislature will be working diligently this coming General Session to move the ball forward so Utah can gain its rightful stewardship over our public lands.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Our economy is like a balloon. A balloon grows as air fills its interior. Our economy grows as the number of business transactions increase within our borders. Like a balloon, sometimes our economy seems to grow lopsided or in an irregular shape. Sometimes even, the economy shrinks, and like a deflated balloon, it presents unsightly wrinkled patches. These irregular shapes and wrinkled patches of the economy routinely become the object of attention of the media, the public, and policymakers.
I recently completed reading From New Deal Banking Reform to World Ward II Inflation by Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. Before your eyes glaze over in disinterest, let me say that it provided very relevant historical examples of economic manipulation that resonate with what we are experiencing today. It also provided compelling examples of how actions taken by the Government and Federal Reserve laid the foundation for future problems. One of the most poignant examples cited was efforts to manipulate gold and silver markets.
As the Great Depression reached a trough in 1933, the Government and Federal Reserve were scrambling to find policy that could help lift the economy. Commodity prices (i.e. wheat, corn, etc.) were very low. The low prices were putting farms out of business and creating a crises in agriculture. In an effort to stop this phenomena, President Roosevelt declared a bank holiday on March 6, 1933. On March 9, Congress passed The Emergency Banking Act which gave the President power over all banking transactions and over foreign currency exchanges and gold and currency movements.
One of FDR's first actions was to institute a freeze on all gold transactions between banks. All banks, persons, and institutions were ordered to surrender all gold bullion in their possession to the Federal Reserve. The U.S. dollar at that time was based on a gold standard. Shortly thereafter, the dollar was depreciated as its gold "content" was cut nearly in half. Also, the U.S. set out on a policy of purchasing gold domestically and abroad to increase the metal's domestic supply and thus allow the supply of dollars to increase and thus allow commodity prices to inflate. Again, the whole point of this program was to indirectly increase the price of commodities and help out ailing farmers. In this, the programs succeeded.
|Chinese line up to receive a stipend of gold during hyperinflation.|
However, despite the success of the gold purchase program, it had the inadvertent affect of kicking other countries off the gold standard. Even more so, it's sister program of purchasing silver left significant wreckage in its wake. On May 22, 1934, the Secretary of the Treasury was ordered to purchase silver domestically and abroad just as had been done with gold. One of the major unintended consequences of reducing the supply of silver in rest of the world was that it exported deflation to countries whose currencies were on the silver standard. China was one of these countries. The reduction in silver available to back its currency (since it was all being sold and smuggled to America which was willing to pay a premium for the metal) caused prices to decline in a disorderly way. The Chinese government was forced to leave the silver standard and adopt a fiat paper currency. But, when it did so, it began to print money to pay its bills and experienced a disastrous episode of hyperinflation. The Chinese economy was wrecked from the chaos and Japan's invasion punctuated the misery of the people. The economic woes followed by the hardships of war planted the seeds of discontent which led to the Communist Revolution. America's silver purchasing program seemed innocuous enough here at home, but abroad it created more problems than it solved.
|Federal Reserve Balance Sheet showing a spike upward in efforts to respond to The Great Recession.|
We have seen similar episodes of unintended economic consequences in the recent past. Following the Great Recession, our Federal Reserve has embarked on an ambitious program of market manipulation. At first it purchased mortgage backed securities in an effort to bolster the mortgage credit markets. Later, it began purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds en mass to help "quantitatively ease" market conditions. This quantitative easing (QE) has basically been a money printing operation that has propped up markets through selective inflation.
As we saw during the Great Depression, the interventionist policies of the Great Recession have spawned problems abroad. As QE pushed up our stock market, it also pushed up the price of food in other countries. In places like Egypt, where the average person lives on less than $2 a day, this increase in food prices proved to be unbearable. Hunger turned to anger and the ugly, yet U.S. friendly, dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was overturned in 2011 and replaced with a very U.S. unfriendly and fascist regime known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Libya, Syria, and Tunisia all experienced similar political revolutions stoked at the onset by the high price of food.
|Tahrir Square Protests - Cairo, Egypt - 2011|
While we may believe we can outsmart the natural laws of economics, our actions do not occur in a vacuum. Squeezing a balloon on one end will only cause the other to bulge. We need to be mindful of the fallout that comes from tinkering too much with the economy. Natural laws of economics follow natural rhythms. As a nation, we would do best to implement policy that adheres as closely to these natural laws as possible. While short term gain may seem the order of the day, it nearly always comes at an expense. May we have the courage to make economic policy with the long view in mind.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I have had a couple constituents ask me recently why the State is considering moving the Draper prison from its current location. There is a perception that keeping the facility where it is now is a better bargain for the taxpayer than moving it to another location.
For insight on the information guiding the process, here is a presentation we received last year regarding the cost-benefits of relocation:
As you can see, the costs of relocation are offset by the sale of the underlying property. Also, the prison will need to be rebuilt since it is old and atrophying. Given all the considerations, it appears that relocating is in the best interest of our economy and our corrections system.
Nevertheless, for those of you not satisfied with the above presentation. Here is lengthy report we received with all the wonkish details. You can relish in the minutia here:
If you have any questions about the process or policy of this decision (that aren't answered in these presentations), don't hesitate to CONTACT ME.
Monday, November 3, 2014
If you are reading this, you are either wanting to know more about the candidates in the race for House District 9 or you are a regular recipient of my political newsletter. If you are not receiving the newsletter, but want to, email me and I will make sure you are included.
So, in case you are wondering why I am worth re-electing, here are the top reasons for your consideration:
That's right, you are reading this and these are my thoughts.. Politics is volatile and often times politicians find themselves contradicting their own positions or speaking in a duplicitous manner. I have found that writing my thoughts in a public forum does two things. First, it lets you know where I stand and why. Secondly, it acts as a permanent reference that can be used to understand history on an issue, the changes in circumstances surrounding issues, and it can be accessed at any time by anyone. This shared record of my thoughts and views keeps me grounded.
I make it a point to strongly represent our district's interests at the State Capitol. Prior to my election, our district's voice was literally ignored in the halls of government. However, through relationship building, strong advocacy, and a consistent voice, District 9 is now respected again and recognized as having a seat at the table.
Our district is unique in that it has rural, suburban, and urban areas. Legislation that impacts one area may affect another in a different way. It is a Legislator's job to reconcile the needs of his or her constituents. The best way to do that is through open communication and dialogue with citizens in the community. I have continuously made myself available to you to discuss concerns and I have been very effective in turning the wheels of our state government to address your needs.
People often wonder what compels men and women to enter politics. There are many reasons. Some are good; others are less desirable, perhaps. For me, it is a passion for serving the community and helping to improve the lives and circumstances of our people. Our family has done some bold and risky things in an effort to help our neighborhood. Fortunately, the efforts have made a difference. Our life experience has been an excellent training ground for me in serving at the State Capitol and I have learned many valuable lessons that have helped me to better address the needs of our diverse district.
Here are a few points from my record that I am proud of:
- Endorsed by Independent Business Owners and the NFIB
- Rated 100% in 2014 by the Salt Lake Tribune on responsiveness to Clean Air Legislation
- Passed Legislation Reducing Unemployment Taxes by $24 Million
- Introduced the Latinos In Action mentorship program to Ogden School District which boasts a 90%+ college placement for hispanic youth
- Appointed by Governor Herbert to the Multi-Cultural Commission in 2011
- Proposed Legislation to Reform Utah’s Court Systems to increase accountability
- Passed Legislation that reduced repeat crime by fixing poor record keeping of incarcerated offenders
- Passed Law bringing common sense to building codes related to owners of older homes
- Sponsored and passed legislation protecting Weber County’s Railroad Museums
Of course, there is much more and you can find that here on the blog.
If you have any concerns or issues, I am here to assist you. I look forward to your support as you go to the ballot box. Thank you for your past support. I hope to continue to serve the people of District 9.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Have you ever wondered about those judges on the ballot who are up for retention election? Unless you have had the privilege of getting acquainted with one while standing in court next to your public defender, the judges are probably the candidates that most of us know the least about.
So, if you live in Weber County, please click on the link below to read about each judge that will appear on our ballot this year:
Let's make sure we are as informed as we can be when we reach the ballot box. Our government will be much better for our efforts.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
I was honored this week to receive a "Legislative Champion" award from the Utah Business Coalition for my work in the House to make Utah a business friendly environment. I am grateful for the part I can play to help keep Utah's economy moving forward and encourage an environment that creates jobs for its citizens.
Monday, October 13, 2014
How much does our electorate know about Utah State Government? This hilarious video hosted by Lt. Governor Spencer Cox gives us some insight.
Next Up: Who is the Utah House Majority Whip? (...and what IS a House Majority Whip anyway?)
Thursday, October 9, 2014
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I was invited by the director of the YCC Center in Ogden to speak to advocates and stakeholders about the importance of recognizing the impact domestic violence has in our community.
Ogden Police Chief Mike Ashment spoke before me and shared some shocking facts. Ogden Police Department responded to over 1,400 domestic violence calls last year. Currently, they are on pace to nearly match that for 2014. After my remarks, we heard a compelling personal story from a survivor of domestic violence.
This brave woman talked about how her boyfriend began to control all aspects of her life and eventually cut her off from communication with her family. He became physically and emotionally abusive. His vices cost him his job and it put both of them homeless on the streets of Las Vegas. They barely survived by foraging in the the city center.
Ultimately, she escaped to Utah and was able to rebuild her life and her self esteem with the help of the staff at Ogden's YCC Center. It was a compelling and emotional story to hear.
Domestic violence is abundant in our society much more than our culture recognizes. We seem to pay attention only when it escalates to the point of irreversible tragedy. I believe we can do better. We need to let those in abusive relationship know that they need not tolerate abusive treatment and that there are safe havens available to help them escape the cycle of violence. The YCC is one such safe haven in Weber County.
Let's take a moment to contemplate the impact that domestic violence has on our community and future generations of kids who witness it in their homes. We need to be willing to reach out to those who are suffering and encourage them to seek help. May we have the courage and wisdom to do so.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
|Photo Courtesy The Salt Lake Tribute|
During our most recent interim legislative meeting, we received an update on the the Draper Prison relocation process. We were told that 25 sites have been selected throughout the state for vetting based on a specific set of criteria. Out of curiosity, I inquired if Weber County was on the "Top 25" list and I was told that it was.
So, could the State Prison end up in Weber County? To answer this question we have to dig into the moving parts of the process. First, lets discuss the criteria that PRADA (the agency tapped to vet the proposition of a new prison) is using to determine the best site. The agency is ranking sites based on a score of 100 possible points with points being given for the following characteristics:
Proximity to Society and Amenities - 35 Points (the closer the prison is to services the higher the ranking)
Community Support - 15 Points
Land Quality and Environmental Impact - 15 Points
Infrastructure - 15 Points
Community Services - 10 Points
Development Costs - 10 Points
Development Costs - 10 Points
We were not versed in the exact way points would be assigned, but this helps give us an idea of the general criteria.
Obviously, Weber County scores well on proximity to amenities. It would score high in that category. But, when it comes to the Community Support issue, the discussion becomes interesting. While some local governments scoff at the idea of hosting a prison, others are contending for the prison to come to them because it is a source of stable jobs. Thus, these communities are competing with each other in the form of economic incentives to attract the prison to their location. In talking to those informed on this issue in Weber County, the county is not really interested in participating in this bidding war. Combined with the ill-will expressed by most residents of Weber County regarding the idea of bringing the prison here, local leaders would be hard pressed to give away precious taxpayer money while simultaneously poking those taxpayers in the eye with a stick. The proposition appears to be a non-starter as local leaders look to avoid displeasing the electorate.
Another area Weber County scores low on is land quality. The only place a prison could be built without using eminent domain to acquire farm land would be in the extreme western portion of the county near the lake. That land has a water table that is nearly above ground. The swampy land is just too difficult to build on without incurring a tremendous expense. The water table issue also means that our environmental impact may be larger than is desired due to its proximity to wildlife habitat. Finally, we have development costs and community services which are also impacted due to the swamp lands problem.
So, when factoring all these things together, Weber County scores pretty low on the dial. I am told that due to this, it has not made it to the Top 10 of potential sites. But, given our citizen's general unease with the proposition, that may just be for the better.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I recently finished reading John Kenneth Galbraith's book The Nature of Mass Poverty. It is a fascinating read on the dynamics at play that keep people trapped in the poverty cycle. While the book was specifically addressing the rural poor in other countries, some of the concepts discussed apply to our own urban populations who struggle to improve their wages and standard of living.
One concept discussed in the book was the idea of accommodation. When enough poor people are congregated in an area together, poverty is reinforced in that community. The life experiences and culture of that population are limited to their immediate surroundings. Thus, the opportunities that would help lift them out of poverty are often out of view or go unrecognized when present due to a lifetime of experiences and culture that focus on survival rather than economic improvement.
Often, when the poor are living extremely close to the edge of daily survival, the risks associated with changing their life's circumstances for the better are perceived as being very high. So, when opportunities do arise and are recognized, they are rejected due to the perceived risk. We see this in folks who cannot take time away from work to go to school. The schooling would increase their standard of living in the future but may threaten to put them out on the street today. Such hard decisions are made everyday in poorer communities; and thus, the poor communities stay poor.
I live in an area of Ogden that has a high proportion of families living in poverty. I see the culture that has kept generations of families in bondage to the poverty cycle. This has been a major concern of mine. As Ogden blossoms as a rose and our community (along with others) continues to beautify and rise from obscurity, what is to be done to lift the urban poor who live among us? The topic deserves our attention.
It shouldn't surprise us that motivation is one of the key factors to be affected when improving the standard of living of a poor people. Mr. Galbraith quizzes us on this concept in his book:
Motivation, like so much else, is subject to conditioning by its culture. If forces, great or overwhelming, act to inhibit or exclude economic improvement, will not people - some, if not all - abandon the struggle?Indeed, he is correct. What kind of forces could overwhelm economic improvement? In urban centers, many of the social ills like addiction, violence, and a lack of proper education provide sufficient road blocks to improvement. These overwhelming forces thus cause the afflicted community to surrender. Mr. Galbraith continues:
People do not strive, generation after generation...against circumstances that are so constituted as to defeat them. They accept. Nor is such acceptance a sign of weakness of character. Rather, it is a profoundly rational response. Given the formidable hold of the equilibrium of poverty within which they live, accommodation is the optimal solution.Why would we expect people to fight what they think they can't change? Yet, there are solutions to the problems. The very first thing that needs to be done is to open the minds of the people to the proposition that life can be better than it is today. In many parts of the world, this new motivation to improve has been spurred by trauma as poor people were displaced by persecution, wars, and natural disasters. Obviously, using those as policy tools is repugnant. Yet, we still have a significant and highly effective tool at our disposal. Education is the key.
In light of this, Ogden School District has recently made a remarkable transformation in the results it delivers to its students. For instance, Dee Elementary, where my daughters attended kindergarten, was the worst school in Utah as recently as 2011. It had been in that unenviable spot for years. Yet, Ogden School District leadership drafted a bold new plan to reinvent the district and the way it delivered an education to its students. The results were profound as Dee Elementary launched from dead last in rankings to the middle of the pack of Utah schools in the space of just two years.
As a member of the Multi-Cultural Commission, I connected Ogden School District with Latinos In Action to help establish a mentor program for hispanic youth. This mentor system has created leadership opportunities for aspiring young people in the schools. It has also created role models for the students that are mentored. For those students participating in the program, college placement is 90%+ in a community that normally sees just a small percentage of its youth go to college.
These kinds of programs are helping people escape the poverty cycle in Ogden. Showing people the opportunities that are available to them and then giving them a means to engage those opportunities are the key.
Yet, there is more we can do. One of the aspects that holds Ogden's neighborhoods back from flourishing is the sheer volume of disadvantaged people. Without more mentors and advantaged neighbors in close proximity to act as role models and provide opportunity for their less advantaged neighbors, the neighborhoods find themselves stuck in a status quo of impoverishment. To overcome that inertia I will be making a proposal this next legislative session to address this problem and provide some affordable and creative solutions.
May we continue to work to break the cycle of poverty in our communities. Through opening minds to the opportunities that are available; and, by providing the means to accept those opportunities, we build our neighborhoods and cities into better places.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
During interim session in our Judiciary Committee, we heard a compelling presentation from the Pew Charitable Trusts regarding the state of Utah's corrections system. We discussed how non-violent offenders (typically drug or property crimes) were receiving ever longer prison sentences for their crimes.
While on the face of it, it seems to make sense that people should pay for their crimes. Yet, at the same time, the corrections system itself is having the effect of making personal reform harder on those that are incarcerated. Prison may lock up drug users, but it is poorly equipped today to break their addictions.
Interestingly, when door knocking my district while campaigning for office, I have often stumbled open felons who have shared their experience with me. When I asked them what could be done to improve the system and promote better outcomes, almost unanimously, these folks have expressed the need for more drug treatment within our prisons. I agreed with that sentiment then and it appears today we now have the data to support shifting our policy towards better treatment.
Here is the presentation we received during our committee:
As you can see, there are a lot of charts and information to digest. The bottom line is that our prison population is increasing at a rate faster than population growth. The data suggests that our current policies are driving this increase.
Incarceration is just one part of our corrections system. Yet, it seems to be the tool that is most readily relied upon. I believe that there could be better results if we improved our efforts to curb addiction and address mental health issues among our inmate population. I look forward to discussing this issue more with our Judiciary Committee as we move along toward the next General Session.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
The 10th Circuit has sustained the Federal District Court's overturning of Utah's same-sex marriage ban. Here is the court's written opinion.
In the Court's words:
We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.
Why are we here? According to the plaintiffs:
Being excluded from the institution of marriage has caused Kitchen and Sbeity to undertake a burdensome process of drawing up wills and other legal documents to enable them to make important decisions for each other. Even with these protections, however, the couple cannot access various benefits of marriage, including the ability to file joint state tax returns and hold marital property. Sbeity also states that the legal documents the couple have obtained “do not and cannot provide the dignity, respect, and esteem” of marriage. The inability to “dignify [his] relationship” though marriage, Kitchen explains, communicates to him that his relationship with Sbeity is unworthy of “respect, equal treatment, and social recognition.”
I support Utah's appeal of this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The law cannot compel or conjure "dignity, respect, and esteem" in an individual. These are earned attributes that transcend legal constructs. I am afraid the plaintiffs will be disappointed in their expectations and unfulfilled by the results if the ban is ultimately overturned at the Supreme Court.
Since a society founded on the freedom of conscience cannot guarantee these earned characteristics to individuals, will the suppression of that freedom be next? Will the honest voices of disapproval be silenced and marginalized? Will an inquisition attempt to purge a dissenting ethos from our culture?
We shall see.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Chris Martenson, the author of this video, came to our legislative interim meetings last year to discuss his research findings. His vision of the future is not as bright and rosy as we would like, but the research he has done is sound. With our economy dependent on cheap natural resources and energy, we are about to see fundamental changes in how things function. This video is a must see for policy makers and anyone interested in financial health and wealth.
Very good information. I hope you found this video illuminating.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
As we watch our nation's influence in the world ebb, our citizens' dependency on government programs escalate, and our economic engine become mired in crony capitalism, it would not be out of the question for us to hear calls for reform. In fact, it seems the voices calling for a 'reset' in Washington have only grown louder over the past decade as these unmistakable markers of decline become more obvious and prevalent by the month. Yet, despite the rhetoric and the fervor, we have not seen a man rise to wield the power necessary to implement the much desired reforms.
To shed light on this conspicuous absence, it may be helpful to look to a historical example. For that, let us turn to Edward Gibbon's account of ancient Rome. On March 17, 180A.D. Marcus Aurelius, the great benevolent philosopher emperor died. In his stead, he conveyed the throne to his son Commodus who came to power at a time when Rome had vanquished all its foreign enemies and enjoyed peace and prosperity throughout the empire.
|Bust of Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius|
After Commodus executed several iterations of his ministers to appease the riotous rebellion of the public, his lastly appointed ministers realized that their lives would soon to be next. So, in an act of palace intrigue, Commodus was poisoned by one of his servants and subsequently strangled to death. This act of self preservation ended the miserable tyranny of his 15-year reign.
Without an heir apparent, who would replace Commodus? The Praetorian Guard which quartered in the city would have to support or even make the the choice of Emperor. Emperors for generations had secured the loyalty of the military by making lavish donations to the troops. Such donations and urban living had slowly softened the military's preparation and discipline. Nevertheless, their support was absolutely necessary if an Emperor was to rule with authority.
"The vigor of the soldiers instead of being confirmed by the severe discipline of camps, melted away in the luxury of cities. The excessive increase of their pay and donatives exhausted the state to enrich the military order, whose modesty in peace, and service in war, is best secured by an honorable poverty."
Fortunately, a man of virtue was sought to fill the vacancy on the throne. Pertinax, a noble Senator and a man respected for his temperance and wisdom, was solicited to ascend to that great station. He hesitated at first, believing the news of Commodus death to be a ploy to accuse him of treason. But, when his death was confirmed, he agreed to assume the royal garments and the Senate celebrated and the Preatorian's ratified the ascension.
|Bust of Pertinax|
"That he was better satisfied to administer a poor republic with innocence, than to acquire riches by the ways of tyranny and dishonor."
Further, he forced the resignation of Commodus' imperial ministers and confiscated a portion of their wealth which they had accumulated through graft. He reduced the taxes on the people and he engaged in economic development by deferring taxes on those willing to cultivate agriculture on vacant land. These reforms were immediate and effective. The people began to increase in industry and prosperity.
Yet, there was one more reform which Pertinax pursued, and that was to invigorate the military spirit and discipline of the Praetorian Guard. He reduced their pay, and increased their military rigor. Unfortunately, these changes agitated the sentiments of the soldiers who had become accustomed to luxury. One day, 300 soldiers rallied in nearby barracks and marched toward the Imperial Palace. With the conspiracy of old domestic servants and the palace guards, the gates were thrown open to them. Gibbon gives us an account of the encounter:
"On the news of their approach, Pertinax, disdaining either flight or concealment, advanced to meet his assassins; and recalled to their minds his own innocence, and the sanctity of their recent oath. For a few moments they stood in silent suspense, ashamed of their atrocious design, and awed by the venerable aspect and majestic firmness of their sovereign, till at length, the despair of pardon reviving their fury, a barbarian of the country of Tongress leveled the first blow against Pertinax, who was instantly dispatched with a multitude of wounds. His head, separated from his body, and placed on a lance, was carried in triumph to the Praetorian camp, in the sight of a mournful and indignant people."Thus, just 86 days into his reign, Pertinax's life came to an abrupt end. Gibbon gives us some insight into the discontent his reforms conjured in the body of government:
"A hasty zeal to reform the corrupted state, accompanied with less prudence than might have been expected from the years and experience of Pertinax, proved fatal to himself and to his country. His honest indiscretion united against him the servile crowd, who found their private benefit in the public disorders, and who preferred the favor of a tyrant to the inexorable equality of the laws."So, we see the challenge that any reformer faces when a class of people are enriched by the 'disorders' of the public. The root of the problem lies in man's honest desire to promote his own self interest. And thus, when man is placed in a station that his self-interest is gratified by the abuse or subversion of the self-interest of the public, a dangerous and difficult situation arises. Such circumstances are difficult to correct:
"But if we attentively reflect how much swifter is the progress of corruption than its cure, and if we remember that the years abandoned to public disorders exceeded the months allotted to the martial reign of Aurilian, we must confess that a few short intervals of peace were insufficient for the arduous work of reformation."
Any government that has deviated from its founding principles requires an infusion of vigor and discipline to be restored to former greatness. These reforms must be applied methodically, consistently, and for an extended period of time if they are to be successful. Importantly, in a democratic society, the people must also sustain their support of such efforts.
The danger that America finds itself in today is that, like the Praetorian Guard who ratified the selected Emperor, the electorate is increasingly benefited by 'donatives' (e.g. transfer payments) from the government they elect. As that number grows, and as each voter casts their ballot with honest self-interest in mind, at some point the political choice will be dictated by which candidate promises the largest 'donatives' or the least interference with them.
As if a perverse caricature of this phenomena, when we follow the story after Pertinax's death, we discover that the Praetorian Guard brazenly seized the Imperial Throne and auctioned it off to the highest bidder.
This is a poignant and important lesson for us to learn. So, as the clouds grow and the lights threaten to dim on the era of American Greatness, may we rediscover our former selves and find the vigor, the courage, and the tenacity to endure the reforms that are so desperately needed in our day.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
For the past several years, Weber State University has been petitioning the State for funds to build a new science building. I had an opportunity to tour the facility back and I felt the urgency that they did in the matter. The current science building I feel was used as the inspiration for the popular video game Half Life.
The current building is in a very sad state of repair. Its windowless corridors are also depressing. You can read more about that here.
Fortunately, this past Legislative Session, the new Tracy Hall was funded and we had an opportunity to participate in the ground breaking.
|Rendering of New WSU Science Building Under Construction|
|Governor Herbert and Weber State University President Charles Wight celebrate Tracy Hall Groundbreaking|
WSU President Charles Wight has to be one of the most interesting persons in his line of work. Here he is demonstrating the high explosive reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to the audience of dignitaries:
WSU's science and engineering programs are growing. We look forward to the benefits our community will receive from educating even more students in important sciences.
Recently, the Legislature received a report regarding intergenerational poverty in Utah. The report had a statewide scope but also drilled down into specific neighborhoods. The majority of my Legislative district resides on the 84401 Zip Code. This code includes downtown Ogden and also the affluent rural/suburban community of West Haven.
Here are some interesting facts regarding poverty in our 84401 zip code:
- 3,309 individuals (all ages) are the second or more consecutive generation in their family to receive state welfare benefits (intergenerational poverty).
- 9% of the TOTAL population of 84401 are people in intergenerational poverty.
- 15% of all children in 84401 are living in intergenerational poverty.
- 26% of all households in 84401 are single mothers with children.
- 10% of Middle School students are chronically absent
- 15% of Elementary School students are chronically absent
- 31% of High School Students drop out
- 68.5% of children living in intergenerational poverty receive food stamps.
- There were 38.6 teen births for every 1000 teen girls age 15-17
These are just a few of the disturbing facts in this year's report.
The legislature is working to make existing programs more efficient by reducing duplication in services and expanding communication between departments servicing the disadvantage in our communities. It is our hope that applying a laser focus to these children in intergenerational poverty will help break the poverty cycle and, in addition to blessing the lives of those who work their way up the economic ladder, end the requisite dependence on taxpayer funded state resources.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
|Ogden Police Department's Real-Time Crime Center|
A couple weeks ago, the Ogden Police Department contacted me to let me know about a new program they were moving forward. Today I had an opportunity to speak at an OPD press conference detailing the specifics. Dubbed the Cyberwatch Program, it is a means of conveying information to community minded individuals who want to be involved in reducing crime in their neighborhoods.
One of the challenges of policing is trying to provide enough resources in enough places to be effective. Obviously, too much police presence can rub public sentiments the wrong way by conveying a sense of heavy handedness. So, there has to be a balance between presence and patrols in the community and the community policing itself.
The Cyberwatch Program tries to strike that balance. As a beta tester for the program, I have been receiving daily emails that show what kind of criminal activity has been occurring in my neighborhood over a two week period. Here is a copy of the email I received today:
As you can see, within a 1 blog radius of my home, there is a bit of mischief going on. My neighborhood is relatively quiet. However, while I am sleeping, it appears some of the neighbors are making trouble for themselves and others. This isn't really a surprise. But it is sobering to read a report which puts all this activity in context. Fortunately, our neighborhood has improved tremendously from years ago when it was a war zone.
With this information available to those who opt-in to the program, they can have timely information about trouble in their area. This should offer neighbors an opportunity to communicate with landlords and other stakeholders in the community to work toward solving the problems. These reports should help us as a neighborhood unite to observe and repel the disturbing forces in our community. Ultimately, this should help promote behavior modification in those individuals who are inclined to attract the police to themselves. I look forward to the collaboration this will foster.
The program has been very effective and successful in Memphis, TN and I thank John Harvey for bringing it forward for an inaugural run here in Ogden. If you are interested in participating in the Cyberwatch program in Ogden City, you can sign up here to begin receiving reports for your neighborhood. Let's all make Ogden an even better place to live, work, and play!
I have been busy toiling away with my work in the real estate business since the legislature ended in March. Coming home and getting to work is always a healthy reminder why our state has a citizen legislature. It brings value and perspective to state government. Rather than being cloistered away in a marble palace somewhere, the Utah Legislature comes home to live with the laws it passes.
Unfortunately, Utah does not have much influence over the bailout culture that is seeping into the public psyche. A recent example brings this trend to life. In a real estate transaction where I represented the sellers, a buyer had submitted an offer that was acceptable to my clients. We pressed forward with contract. However, two weeks before the transaction was to close, we received a letter indicating the buyer could no longer obtain a loan.
So what happened? In this case, the buyer was a college graduate. They had student loans they were paying on. Some time during our contract (we were working on a 90 day time frame), the buyer received a letter from an entity claiming she did not need to pay her student loans. She called the entity and they indeed confirmed that was the case. She stopped making her student loan payments and her credit scores plummeted. She instantly became disqualified to purchase the property, or any property for that matter, until her credit scores could improve over the next year or two. Obviously, that was disappointing to everyone involved.
So, who was this entity that informed the buyer she could stop paying on her loan obligation? It turns out that it was a third-party negotiator who specializes in resolving distressed student loans for borrowers who can't afford to make their payments. Yet, this borrow could afford to make her payments and was doing so. Somehow the buyer became convinced that she could simply stop making payments without consequence.
This brings us to the bailout culture problem. Since 2008, our economy has been on a trajectory that is completely dependent on central bank and government intervention. We saw the bank bailout in 2008 called TARP; we have seen homeowners bailed out with HARP and HAMP; borrowers everywhere have been bailed out with ZIRP. There are many more. The alphabet soup of programs aimed at deferring the consequences of our actions cannot go on without affecting the expectations and attitudes of consumers.
Hence, we observe our unsuspecting buyer lured into the belief that yet another program exists to defer the consequence of taking out student loans. Can she be blamed? Perhaps, but American culture is culpable as well. As long as these programs continue to erode away at the firm connection between cause and effect that exists in the minds of our people, we can expect more of the same. The implications of weakening prudence, propriety, and prosperity should not be overlooked.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Yes folks, it's that time again where accountability and transparency converge to produce my voting record from this past session for your perusal. May you enjoy. And to my political opposition this election year who may be grasping for any information they can get their hands on, you are welcome too.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Governor Herbert recently vetoed HB414 which would have strengthened Legislative Subpoenas. This strengthening effort occured in light of the Legislature's frustrating experience dealing with former Attorney General John Swallow's legal council and their disregard for such subpoenas. That disregard delayed the investigation and cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Here is the Governors released statement regarding his veto:
The governor does not question the Legislature’s authority to seek information through subpoenas and to conduct investigations. The governor recognizes the bill was passed in response to the investigation of former Attorney General John Swallow, and was a result of the frustration the Legislature experienced in conducting that investigation. While sympathetic to that frustration, the governor believes history has repeatedly shown that government response to scandals is all too often excessive and overreaching.
“Regardless of the motives for passing HB 414, I cannot sign a bill that demands information of anyone, at any time, on any subject, for any purpose, and denies our citizens their fundamental constitutional rights of defense and due process,” said Gov. Herbert.
In response to this, the bill sponsor, Representative Jim Dunnigan, has released this statement:
After reading through the governor’s veto letter, and talking to legislative legal counsel, here a few thoughts from about .
This is not an accurate characterization of what the bill does. Under current law, the Legislature’s subpoena power is already broad in order to allow the Legislature to gather the information needed to enact good law. HB414 only deals with the process for enforcing a legislative subpoena. It does not expand the Legislature’s subpoena power.
That is incorrect. The bill simply states that if someone tries to challenge a legislative subpoena in a forum other than the legislative forum provided in HB414, the person is not excused from the obligation to comply with the subpoena and is subject to criminal penalties for failure to comply with the subpoena. HB414 does not criminalize anything other than failure to comply with a legislative subpoena.
While this is technically correct, the reason for this is that changes were made to the bill, after committee hearings, in response to concerns raised by interested parties, including the governor’s office. The process used in the passage of HB414 is common and resulted in changes being made to address concerns raised during the time that the bill was being considered.
We respectfully disagree. Due process essentially requires that a person be given notice (of government action and hearings relating to that action) and an opportunity to have the person’s position heard. The open courts provision of the Utah Constitution has been interpreted to prohibit the government from taking away the right of a person to pursue certain matters in court. This provision is not violated if an adequate alternative method for hearing a grievance is provided. HB414 provides an alternative method by allowing a subpoena to be challenged before a bi-partisan legislative review committee. This helps protect against a subpoena being issued for political reasons. Under HB414, the due process rights of a person who challenges a subpoena are preserved because the person has an absolute right to have their objections heard before a bi-partisan committee.Though, under HB414, a person who challenges a legislative subpoena does not have the right to appeal the decision of a legislative review committee to a court, a legislative subpoena can only be enforced in court. HB414 provides two avenues to enforce a subpoena. One is criminal in nature and one is civil.A person is guilty of a crime under HB414 only if the person refuses to comply with a legislative subpoena after the person has an opportunity to exercise the person’s due process rights before a legislative review committee. In that event, the matter would still need to be brought before a criminal court where the defendant would be able to raise any claim that the subpoena violated the defendant’s constitutional or legal rights.In order to enforce a legislative subpoena civilly, the Legislature would be required to file an action in court and the person who is subject to the subpoena could then challenge the subpoena as part of that court action.Thus, under HB414, it is impossible for a legislative subpoena to be enforced without the involvement of a court.
Representative Dunnigan is one of the most thorough and rigorous policy makers I know. His arguments are sound; and thus, I support an Override Session to make our Legislative Subpoenas effective and meaningful tools for investigating corruption within our government.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
This year we passed fewer bills than in recent years...though still above historic levels. Here is the chart showing the number of pieces of legislation passing both bodies since 1998:
For those of you curious about what passed, here are some highlights:
For those of you who want to dive into the minutia, here is the exhaustive list:
For those of you curious about what passed, here are some highlights:
For those of you who want to dive into the minutia, here is the exhaustive list: