This General Session has been unusual in its pace and temperment. Ususally, the session starts out at a low simmer but quickly escalates into a rolling boil as ideas are vetted in standing committees and interest groups, citizen advocates, and legislators wrestle over bill proposals.
However, this year the scheduled was changed so that our entire first week was spent dealing with budgetary issues. A sense of sleepiness descended on the Capitol as we muddled through base budgets for the various departments of State Government. While one of the most important functions of the Legislature, it is also one of the least glamorous. Nevertheless, it was not without a few interesting moments.
There were two notable moment in my Appropriations Subcommittee that are worth sharing. It is worth mentioning that I sit on the Business, Economic and Development and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee. We oversee many entities that produce a "Return on Investment" for State Government. Such entities include the Dept. of Alcohol Beverage Control, State Tax Commission, etc.
Recently, an entity we oversee, the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, had an audit completed. The report was dreary. The program was initially designed to create 6000 high paying jobs over a period of 8 years. After analysis, the program has only created about 1,500 such jobs while the state spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the program. The director of USTAR resigned several weeks ago amid the controversy and the new interim director was present for the committee presentation. The committee was not in a good mood and let the new director and board know their displeasure. You can listen to the drama HERE.
Later, our committee deliberated on what to do with USTAR. Leadership changes at USTAR had occurred, the state was contractually obligated with commitments already made by USTAR, yet it still seems that the nature of the program will not likely to yield the original promised results. The committee did recognize the importance of Research and Development and the role that government has in encouraging and funding scientific inquiry. With these ideas in mind, it was suggested that USTAR be moved from the oversight of our Committee to a more appropriate committee like Higher Education. The results of this recommendation are forthcoming.
The second memorable budget event came at a following meeting. We had the Governor's Office of Economic Development scheduled first on the agenda. Due to the USTAR situation, there were tensions between the committee and GOED. The GOED team was first on our agenda but not present at the beginning of our meeting. Instead, they were downstairs in the lobby preparing their presentation. So, we moved on to the next agenda item. When that item concluded, GOED was still nowhere in sight. The Committee Chair moved to adjourn and we concluded our meeting. Two seconds later, GOED 's director burst into the room unaware of what had just happened and sat down at the microphone...just as we packed up and walked out the door. It was an awkward moment and an instance of the Legislature giving the Executive Branch a symbolic black eye.
Mr. Peterson's Bills
You can follow my bills HERE.
HB53 - Restitution Amendments - This bill passed committee and was presented on the house floor where it recieved a unanimous vote. It moves on to the Senate where Senator Valentine will be the sponsor.
HB336 Court System Task Force and HB 319 Court Modification Amendments - These bills are sister bills. The Task Force bill is the one I would prefer to move forward and I believe will yield the best results. In essence, the Task Force is designed to study and discuss the changes proposed in the Court Modification Amendments bill. There is political will in both the Senate and House to pass either of these bills. However, some of the stakeholders in the Courts have expressed some apprehension. I am hopeful that we can move forward with a Task Force to find ways to make Utah's Courts even better than they are today.
In a recent meeting with Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of the Utah Supreme Court and the Judicial Liaison Committee, we discussed the merits of the Task Force bill and I addressed some concerns the Judiciary had. Although we may not see perfectly eye to eye on the subject, I believe we understand each other's concerns and I will be modifying my bill to include additional members of the Judiciary to the Task Force and closing some open ended language in the bill to allay their worries.
Issues of Interest
Politics is a very fluid and ever changed subject. I solicited feedback from in my constituent survey of various issues, here is the status on those subjects:
- Amendment 3 and Gay Marriage - Don't expect any bills on this subject to be debated this year due to the ongoing appeal to the higher courts.
- Gas Tax Revamp - We are deliberating this issue but it appears it may not gain traction this year.
We have yet to debate air quality, retail/online taxes, and marijuana issues.
That is all for now. Look for more updates in the coming weeks as we immerse ourselves in debate and deliberation on the issues of our day.