Activity has been picking up since the last update. Committee meeting agendas have been filled to the brim for the most part and Legislators are doing their work of vetting legislation and making edits where and when necessary.
Hot Topic - Primary Seat Belt Law
Our Law Enforcement Standing Committee heard emotional testimony about the need for primary seat belt laws. Not buckling up is already a secondary offense and you can receive a citation for not wearing your seat belt if an officer pulls you over for another violation. Rep. Perry's HB79 would make it possible for officers to pull you over simply for a seat belt violation.
The bill passed our committee but I voted against the bill. Utah already has an 83% seat belt usage rate which is higher than many other states that have primary seat belt laws on the books. I have doubts about the effectiveness of the law in increasing usage while it also raises the prospect of our citizens receiving more traffic tickets. The sponsor is working on some changes to the bill so we will watch to see how those tweaks manifest themselves before its time for floor debate.
Hot Topic - Utah's Employee Pension
In 2010, the Legislature made significant reforms to bail out the existing pension system for state employees. Utah's Retirement System is one of the healthiest in the nation, and even with that distinction, it is only 85% funded. One of the unintended consequences of the 2010 reforms was that it has negatively affected the State's ability to hire employees. Many state job positions are going unfilled right now due to stagnant wages. A bill proposed by Rep. Cunningham would change retirement policy to allow rehiring of some retired employees to fill these positions. This proposal lit a powder keg of opposition which led to a very fruitful discussion on the topic. A task force is being formed now to discuss this topic at length over the interim. It is important to maintain sound principles in funding the state pension system while also meeting the needs of state and local governments to hire and retain quality employees.
Hot Topic - The Gas Tax
Our Gas Tax is currently a fixed dollar amount and has not been increased since 1997. In that time, inflation has eroded the real value of that fixed amount by over 30%. As time has moved forward, the funds from the gas tax has also become insufficient to pay for the roads it was intended to fund. So, a reset is proposed this year to bring the gas tax in line with road maintenance costs. There are a couple proposals. One is to simply increase the tax by 10-cents to make up for the lost real value since 1997. The other is to convert the gas tax into a percentage sales tax based on today's gasoline prices. The sales tax method would treat gasoline very similarly to other retail goods and services that are purchased everyday. Both ideas are currently being vetted. I would prefer to significantly reduce the gas tax and instead base road taxes on vehicle miles driven. Gas consumption is a rough approximation of usage but doesn't account for hybrid and other alternate fuel vehicles that use the roads. A VMD model would tie taxes to road usage directly.
Mr. Peterson's Bills
HB88 - Veterinary Practice Amendments
This bill passed the house unanimously. You can watch the pun-laced floor presentation here:
The bill also passed a Senate standing committee and will soon be heard on the Senate Floor.
HB 127 - Local Land Use Amendments
My bill to exempt owners of old homes from onerous city requirements regarding basement egress windows has passed a committee unanimously. It is scheduled to be heard on the House Floor soon.
This bill was brought to me by a constituent and will include vintage motorcycles in the list of vehicles given special treatment due to their age.
We spent some time recently passing our base budget bills. These bills will maintain government operations in the unlikely event that complete chaos erupts and prevents the House and Senate from agreeing on final terms for the remaining budget items that need to be negotiated.
Our appropriations subcommittee made its final recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Committee. Here were our committee priorities for one-time and ongoing funding:
I am happy to report that both of my requests made it to the top half of the one-time list. Our committee had been allotted $18.4M to prioritize. After reducing many of the requested amounts, we were able to fund nearly all the entities who made requests. My request to fund a grant writer for the Utah Historic Railroad Museums was recommended with full funds intact at $200,000. My request for $2.5M for Ogden City Historic Preservation and Unit Reduction was reduced to $1.25M. While I wish we could increase that, I am fully aware of the realities of the many competing interests needing attention. I prefer to view this as the glass half-full.
A proposed Constitutional Amendment recently made it out of our Revenue and Taxation committee with awkward changes and edits. The bill as proposed would insert our State's name into the Oath of Office. But, the edits in committee swapped the Utah and U.S. Constitutions so that Utah was first in the Oath. That edit is decidedly non-traditional and half of our committee squirmed when the amendment passed. To fix this, I proposed a substitute on the House Floor. You can watch that video here: