Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The Legislature in this most recent session dealt with some very weighty and substantial issues. Interestingly, now that I am home, the one I hear about most is the Legislature's passage of SB296 which added legal protections to housing and employment law for the LGBT community.
When Amendment 3 to Utah's Constitution was overturned by a Federal Judge to allow for same-sex marriages to begin in the state, I wrote an editorial in the Standard Examiner explaining why I believed such a change in policy portended confusion for our legal system. The response I received from a vocal minority was swift and vitriolic. I was blasted as a bigot, as ignorant, or as the deceived believer in some imaginary divine being. The pointed attacks highlighted the consequences of a polarizing culture war that has been waged in our country since the sexual revolution of the 1960's.
In this culture war, we have seen the traditional values that have dictated family governance and creation redefined. We have witnessed the inversion of traditional gender roles, the view of children as liabilities instead of assets, and the devaluation of marriage as a meaningful institution. In the most recent cultural battles, we have seen the push to equate same-sex relationships with those of heterosexual ones.
A significant proportion of Utah's population, like myself, belongs to the LDS faith which has historically been very conservative in its views toward traditional marriage and same-sex issues. It seems perplexing to many that a faith which champions traditional family values would suddenly join arms with those in the LGBT camp to support a broad and seismic policy shift which on the surface seems to fly in the face of the traditional values it has supported. So with these concerns in mind, let me share with you my experience and understanding dealing with church lobbyists, my own faith, and with the policy found in SB296 itself.
There were rumors on the Hill that a "deal" had been struck between the LDS Church and the LGBT community around the first few days of March. On March 4th, a hasty press conference was called and L. Tom Perry along with D. Todd Christofferson, Apostles in the LDS Church, explicitly announced the Church's support of SB296. Troy Williams, President of Equality Utah, was also present and announced his organization's support. Meanwhile, House and Senate leadership and bill sponsors lined the wall behind the podium in support.
Interestingly, it wasn't until after the press conference that the words of the bill were released to the Legislature to read. What I read I found quite dismaying. The new definitions for "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" actually seemed to undefine them. My immediate concern was that this would lead to litigation and more hand-wringing in the courts over tortured definitions. Yet, also included in the bill were sweeping exemptions for religious institutions and their affiliates. It was clear which parties were at the negotiating table when the bill was crafted. I wondered what this meant for everyone else and questioned the necessity of such measures.
I polled the House Floor the day following the news conference to get a feel for where the bill sat in the minds of my colleagues. At that time, 44 supported the bill, 14 were opposed (which included myself) and 16 were undecided. The House had not been involved in any major discussions on this issue and none seemed to be on the horizon at that time. So, I rounded up a half dozen of my colleagues who had questions and scheduled a meeting with the pair of church lobbyists that visit the Hill periodically.
Our meeting was very frank. We each took turns asking questions about the substance of the bill and its implications. The official answer was "The Church doctrine on moral conduct has not changed. But, the Church supports this bill and supports the principle of civic non-discrimination in housing and employment." Near the end of our meeting, there was also an allusion to the fact that they believed this was the right bill at the right time and that they thought the culture wars would only get worse with time. Yet, after an hour of serious discussion and questioning, I didn't come away from the meeting feeling much better. That weekend I wrote my floor speech in opposition to the bill.
The bill then passed the Senate and a House standing committee early the following week. On March 11 the bill was ready to be debated on the House Floor. Early that morning, several of us met at an open Conservative Caucus meeting with a Senate sponsor of the bill. After listening to praises of the bill, I asked the sponsor very directly: "Why this bill? Why now?" These questions received a very intriguing response.
The Senator felt that the bill is just a piece on a bigger legal chessboard. At the U.S. Supreme Court right now is a case on same-sex marriage that will determine whether it becomes legal across the United States. According to the Senate sponsor, he believes there is a high likelihood that same-sex marriage will be made the law of the land. The Court's ruling is to be announced in June. If same-sex marriage is made the law of the land for all states, it is believed that the next legal move for LGBT activists will be to push for non-discrimination legislation in all 50 states. The effort would likely be advanced through litigation in the courts just as the marriage agenda was advanced through the courts. The Senate sponsor also indicated that he believes that the activist's efforts would likely succeed. If they did, then non-discrimination laws would be forced upon the states through judicial decree without the input of the Legislature and room for negotiation.
So, with this unsavory legal scenario in mind, the bill sponsors felt that SB296 created enough religious exemptions that it was worth enacting non-discrimination policy now rather than having to roll the dice later on a court decree that likely wouldn't allow religious exemptions. In essence, this bill attempts to back burn the front lines of a forest fire before the fire overruns and consumes all the forest.
While the explanation was illuminating, I was still unpersuaded by this argument. I spoke against the bill on the House Floor that evening because the process wasn't given proper time to work, I didn't like the vague definitions, and I am opposed to needlessly carving out new protected classes in our laws. Nevertheless, the bill passed 65-10 and the Governor signed it the following day.
Ultimately, we will find out if this legal maneuvering will pay off. The Court will rule in June on nationwide same-sex marriage. Then watch to see how the issue of anti-discrimination is pursued in the various states. Interestingly, even if we do have SB296 for now, there is nothing that would stop a Federal Judge from overturning it if he felt compelled to do so. If a Federal Judge can overturn a Constitutional Amendment that was voted into law by the direct will of the people, then overturning a nuisance bill with religious exemptions shouldn't be that difficult either.
In summary, it appears the bills sponsors felt SB296 was better for religious freedoms than risking a tsunami of unfriendly court decrees coming in the future. If they are correct, I pray for our future.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
The sprint to the finish of this year's Session was full of drama and high stakes negotiations.
Vaping, Prostitutes, and Cock Fighting
|Sen. Gene Davis presents his bill enhancing penalties for cock fighting.|
Medicaid Expansion Drama
The debate over whether to enact Healthy Utah as the Governor and Senate wanted, or to enact a more sustainable model like Utah Cares as the House proposed, could not be resolved in the time we had in the session.
|Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan spars with Minority Leader Brian King and Rep. Rebecca Chaves-Houck on Medicaid Expansion policy.|
But that doesn't mean it was a milktoast debate. On the evening of March 5th, the minority party attempted to lift the failed Healthy Utah bill from the committee which voted it down and place it on the Floor for debate. Such a motion could only be successful with majority approval of the body. The motion failed but the minority party was able to put pressure on majority party colleagues by placing them on the record with their vote. Many of these folks are in swing districts. Obviously, the majority didn't appreciate this political flanking.
|The votes on the motion to lift the dead Healthy Utah bill from committee to the Floor for debate.|
The budget this year was a bumper crop of sorts. We were able to fund education with a 4% increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU), which is the highest increase that has been made to education funding since 2008. The Education Appropriations Chairman said,"This news comes with a congratulations...and a warning", alluding to the seasonal cycle of the economy and tax revenues and what happened after 2008.
However, the brisk funding increase didn't stop a massive protest at the Capitol demanding more funding.
|Utah Teacher's Union fills the Capitol to demand even more money after Legislature funds biggest increase in education spending in 7 years.|
The biggest social issue bill to hit the Legislature in years worked its way quickly through the Senate and the House Judiciary Committee. The bill makes sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class in regards to housing and employment. I felt the bill was unnecessary from a housing perspective. I also protested the way in which this weighty of an issue was worked so quickly through the process. You can watch my floor speech regarding this subject below:
The Senate bill sponsors, Stuart Adams and Steve Urqhardt, are standing behind me during this debate. The bill passed 65-10 (I voted against), was signed by the Governor the following evening, and is now the law of the land.
Mr. Peterson's Results
This year was a successful legislative season. All four bills that I ran passed scrutiny and are on their way to the Governor's desk for a signature. I also was also able to persuade our committee to fund Unit Reduction in Ogden's historic neighborhoods. This will go a long way toward helping Ogden catch up to the rest of the state in the way of economic development. The state will be funding the program with $750,000 of grant money this year.
End of the Session
I was able to have my wife join me for the last hours of the Session. Our work was completed at midnight. The Governor came to speak to us and then we were able to unwind for a half hour with some comedy schtick.
Rep. Ed Redd and I sang a parody version of the Beatles tune Life Goes On. Here are the lyrics that got the crowd laughing:
Dixon’s bill gives bodies to cadaver dogs.But only if they're someone no one missed.But before the Governor will sign the billHe wants to add Greg Hughes name to the list.Chorus:O Brad Dee O Brad Daw Life Goes On, Daw!O Brad Dee Daw Life Goes OnO Brad Dee O Brad Daw Life Goes On, Daw!O Brad Dee Daw Life Goes OnThurston ain't afraid to mess with Edward's billsTo make a change or even substituteShe don't know what she did to deserve all thisShe's tried so hard to make us not pollute.Arent demands action and the answers toWhy voters do not show up when they shouldLet’s face it, we know voters simply do not careUnless you tell them that they cannot burn their woodMcKay is learning to win over hearts and mindsSo he can get the votes to pass his billsBut then he spars with our ParliamentarianAnd we cast in all our 'NO' votes for the kill.Miller likes to taunt the House MajorityHe thinks that Healthy Utah is so coolWe all hope that next year he will understandWhen all of his great bills are held in Rules.Coleman wants to fill the streets with Tesla carsJohnny pouts because they don't use gasThe Senate does not like our rowdy attitudeVan Tassel'd love to come and kick us in the _(awkward silence)_.
It was a great session. I look forward to working on more issues facing our State over the summer.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
We are in the final stretch of the session with only five working days left. Tensions are high and events are happening quickly.
Hot Topic - Corrections Reform
|Rep. Eric Hutchings presents his reform proposal to Majority Caucus|
Hot Topic - Gas Tax
The House's version of a gas tax bill passed our Revenue and Taxation Committee. I voted no. The proposal takes our 24.5 cent fixed tax and replaces it with a 24.5 cent tax that is calibrated as a percentage of $1.75 per gallon. If the wholesale price of a gallon of gas rises above that amount the tax would rise accordingly as a fixed percentage of that higher price. It is effectively a sales tax with some ceilings and floors on the tax amount. The Senate passed a version of the gas tax that calls for a flat 10 cent increase in the current tax.
We expect that the House Gas Tax and the Senate Gas Tax will be morphed together to produce some hybrid bill before it is finally consideration for a vote on the floor. We will see what comes to us for final review.
Hot Topic - Religious Protection/LGBT Non-Discrimination
|L. Tom Perry speaks at LGBT non-discrimination press conference.|
Hot Topic - Healthy Utah vs. Utah Cares
|Healthy Utah is presented to committee. Bill failed 4-9|
Fortunately, the House has another plan ready, known as Utah Cares, that will cover individuals up to 100% of the Federal Poverty Level and will use the Primary Care Network to help meet basic medical needs. Utahns will have a bigger financial stake in the program and thus Utah will have greater flexibility with how the program is administered. The program utilizes more local funding and more local control. It is truly a Utah solution to providing access to healthcare for our disadvantaged population.
Mr. Peterson's Bills
HB127 - Tax Increments Amendments
I presented my tax increment bill to the House Floor. Here is video. The bill gets off to an awkward start:
SB203 - Immigrant Consultants Amendments
Senator Escamilla asked me to sponsor this bill on the House Floor since we worked together on this subject back in 2012. I was even able to plug Weber State University in the intro:
Lincoln Day Dinner
Governor Herbert and Lt. Governor Spencer Cox showed up to our Weber County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. Glad to see them make the trip up to our neck of the woods.
The Bow Tie Caucus
Of course, it wouldn't be right to go without participating in our annual bow tie day at the Hill.
In final thoughts, it is important for Utahns to be informed on the issues and be in communication with their representatives. Due to time constraints, this will likely be the last update before the session is finished next week. If you have any issue or concern on your mind, please CONTACT ME, and let me know your thoughts. The events at the Capitol do cast a shadow over the rest of the State. Lets keep government accountable and responsive.