Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Battle of Wills

One of the great characteristics of our form of government is the power that is instilled in the people.  No matter how powerful one elected individual is, it can be counterbalanced with a sufficient support of public will.  This public will is typically translated into the will of their representatives who then act accordingly to carry out their constituent's best interests while interacting with other representatives.

Within the House of Representatives, I see this will carried out on major issues.  However, it also is carried out in a smaller degree on seemingly mundane issues.  The key though, regardless of the size of the issue, is to garner support.  The work of a Representative is the work of playing on a team.  When I lifted my bill the other day, I lobbied nearly half the House and the Speaker to make sure what I wanted to do would be supported by the group at large.

Yesterday, we had a wild demonstration of what happens when that sort or team effort is not made.  Let me set this up for you.  A Representative from Utah County had an immigration bill he wanted to have debated.  The Rules Committee had decided not to hear any contentious immigration bills this year while we waited for HB116 from last year to come back from the litigation mill.  The Rep's bill was stuck in Rules Committee and was going to stay there since it lacked the votes to be passed forward and heard in a Standing Committee.  However, a "Motion to Lift" can be used to overrule the Rules Committee and this Representative felt that this move was his best bet to get the bill going forward.

The only problem is that it requires the majority will of the House or Representatives to do so.  Here is video of the emotional showdown that ends in a motion killing recess action:

Because he lacked the will of the body, the result was not what the Representative desired. 


Friday, February 24, 2012

Bill Surprises 2012

This week I had a couple surprises and some learning experiences.

The first surprise came from an effort of one of my colleagues to pull my bill from the express lane and slow down its hearing.  This, despite a great effort was made by myself and, more importantly, the committee members who hear the bill.  I won't detail the drama of the situation here, but I was able to use a rare parliamentary procedure to expedite the hearing and overcome the challenges to the bill.

In other drama, a bill was heard today regarding the Good Landlord Program as it has been implemented in various cities across the state.  The problem is that several cities have abused landlords through licensing fees and gouged them in regards to the program.  A bill was proposed today that would essentially gut the good landlord program.  Unfortunately, that would bode poorly for Ogden's neighborhoods and take Ogden backwards.  I put the bill on hold in committee so we can have an opportunity to find a workable solution over the weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Utah Education: Low Marks and Sacred Tradition

I have recently been reading Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers.  If you haven't read the book yet, I highly recommend it.  There are some fascinating lessons on life and success in the book.

One of the chapters deals with the American school system and some of the dynamics that are at play in helping students perform well.  He describes circumstances that have laid the groundwork for education in Western culture versus the education of students in countries like Japan and China.  Attention is drawn to the remarkable difference in test scores between American students and their Asian counterparts.

One of his conclusions is that the rice cultivation culture that has dominated Asian nations for centuries has created a fertile environment to students to perform well in school.  But why?

To answer this, lets look at some data.  Karl Alexander from John Hopkins University conducted a study of students in the Baltimore Maryland area from high, low, and middle income backgrounds.  Using standardized tests, they tracked the students for 5 years with them taking tests at the beginning and end of each school year.  Here is a table of the results:

Lets discuss his findings one section at a time.

This chart is derived from the table at the top.  The blue line is children from high income households.  The red line is low income.  Notice that the test scores are not terribly different in the 1st grade.  However, as time goes on, the difference grows greater and greater.  What is causing this difference?  Are poor children unable to learn as much a their affluent counterparts?  Queue the next chart please:

To find out if the kids were learning or not during the school year, Mr. Alexander tested the children at the beginning of the school year and at the end.  Do you see a broad divergence between the three groups here?  I don't.  In fact, in the 4th and 5th grade, affluent children were tracking just below their middle income and poor counterparts.  If that is the case, how could affluent children be out performing their peers as we saw in the first chart?  Our third chart holds the answer:

Because Mr. Alexander tested the children at the beginning and end of the school year, he was able to compare their scores before summer break and after summer break.  Take a look at the above findings.  With negative scores, the poor kids actually lost information over the long summer break after 1st and 2nd grades.  Both the middle and low income kids both show low gains the rest of the time.  However, the affluent kids show tremendous increases over this same period.

The study revealed a compelling and unsurprising reason for the difference.  The answer?  Affluent parents can afford to keep their children busy with learning opportunities during the summer months.  The leisurely summer days spent by the low and middle income kids just aren't filled with the same learning opportunities.  Their parents often plop them in front of the TV or mind numbing distractions.  Meanwhile, the affluent kids are getting training in music, language, and other extra-curricular activities during the summer.

Regardless of income, the kids demonstrate equal intelligence.  The difference is the opportunity for learning.  Kids that come from well off homes in America tend to have more opportunity, via parental intervention, than those that don't.  This brings us back to the difference between American students and those from Japan and China. 

The average American school year is 180 days.  South Korea has a school year of 220 days and Japan tops out at 242 days.  With so much opportunity for learning, is it any wonder that these countries excel at educating their children?

This education ethos from the Orient stems from work ethos forged by centuries of cultivating rice patties.  Unlike America's ancestors from the European feudal order of agriculture, where peasants spent only a third of their time in useful work during the planting and harvesting seasons, Oriental peasants harvested and planted year round and were self-employed in doing so.  The incentive structures and work ethics for these historical cultures couldn't be more different from one another.  Strikingly, as is detailed on Outliers, this cultural heritage telegraphs to societies today...for better or worse. 

The trick to competing and improving in America is to recognize the inherent weaknesses in our system and adapt to them.  Many schools have extended school days or more teaching days per year to increase the opportunities for learning and student improvement.  Perhaps it is time for us in Utah to review some of our time honored traditions, such as summer break, and seek other ways to provide excellence in education.            

GET INVOLVED: Understanding Utah's Caucus System

I found this graphic online courtesy of the Sutherland Institute and I thought I would share.  Get involved this year and be sure to participate in your neighborhood caucus meeting in March.

Look for a list of Caucus times and locations soon...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alcohol Issues Update: Privatization and DABC Rebuild

Many of you in District 9 have expressed concern about the alcohol issue and what the Legislature is doing on the subject.  For your benefit, here is video of two Legislators who are authorities on the matter:

Honoring the Brave and the Fallen

Today we had the opportunity to honor the officers involved in January's Ogden shooting tragedy and their kin.

House Concurrent Resolution 4:
Concurrent Resolution Honoring
Weber County Law Enforcement Officers

Be it resolved by the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein:
                       WHEREAS, on January 4, 2012, Agent Jared Daniel Francom of the Ogden Police Department, serving on the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, was fatally wounded serving a search warrant on a residence in Ogden, Utah;
                      WHEREAS, Officer Michael Rounkles, Agent Kasey Burrell, and Agent Shawn Grogan of the Ogden Police Department were also wounded in the shooting;
                       WHEREAS, Agent Nate Hutchinson, a sergeant in the Weber County Sheriff's Office was also wounded in the shooting;
                       WHEREAS, Agent Jason Vanderwarf of the Roy Police Department was also injured in the shooting;
                       WHEREAS, the officers on the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Task Force acted quickly and bravely to subdue the suspect, preventing further injury and loss of life;
                       WHEREAS, Officer Michael Rounkles, responding to the scene in the course of his patrol duties, displayed incredible courage above and beyond the call of duty in his efforts to rescue and defend the agents of the Task Force who had come under fire;
                       WHEREAS, Agent Jared Daniel Francom served with the Ogden Police Department for eight years;
                       WHEREAS, Agent Jared Daniel Francom served his community with honor and distinction;
                       WHEREAS, Utah has come together to mourn and honor Agent Jared Daniel Francom, with an estimated 4,000 people attending his funeral on January 11, 2012 in Ogden, Utah; and
                       WHEREAS, the injury or loss of any police officer is a reminder of the risks taken by all the men and women of law enforcement on behalf of their communities:
                       NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, recognizes and honors the sacrifice of Agent Jared Daniel Francom.
                       BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor extend their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Agent Jared Daniel Francom.
                       BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor express their wishes that Ogden Police Officers Michael Rounkles, Kasey Burrell, and Shawn Grogan will have a full and speedy recovery.
                       BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor express their wishes that Agent Nate Hutchinson, sergeant in the Weber County Sheriff's Office, and Roy Police Officer Agent Jason Vanderwarf will have a full and speedy recovery.
                       BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor recognize the remarkable courage and honor displayed by the men and women in law enforcement and the risks they take to keep their communities safe.
                       BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the family of Agent Daniel Francom; to Ogden Police Officers Michael Rounkles, Kasey Burrell, and Shawn Grogan; to Agent Nate Hutchinson, sergeant in the Weber County Sheriff's Office; to Roy Police Officer Agent Jason Vanderwarf; to the Ogden City Police Department; to the Weber County Sheriff's Office; to the Roy Police Department; and to the members of Utah's congressional delegation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tid Bits of Widsom: Lessons From The House Floor

It has been an interesting week and I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do at the Capitol:


Public praise and private censure are the best policy.  I have watched some Legislators publicly criticize the body or their colleagues. There is no faster way to lose favor (and support for your ideas) than to make this a regular practice.  Admonishment is best handled privately.  This advice applies to Legislators as well as most other leadership position including bosses, parents, managers ect.  In contrast, public praise is always an excellent way to build moral, garner support, and move forward in a positive manner.

Anger Management

I learned long ago that email can be a real detriment to relationships when written in anger.  This week several lobbyists burned their bridge when sending untruthful information about legislators whom voted against their wishes.  Also, I watched a colleague react poorly to a conversation that did not end the way he wanted. He overreacted and those actions later negatively affected bills he wanted to pass.  Proper restraint is necessary to maintain the relationships which are the key to our own success.

Social Calendar

This year's Session has been much more enjoyable in many ways.  One thing I have chosen to do differently this year is to minimize my attendance at after-hours social gatherings.  Instead, I have headed home to spend time with wife and kids.  That has been good for both me and the family.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Photo of the Day: Feisty Electorate

I sent out a voter questionnaire recently. It appears that many voters are agitated at the state of our current affairs and looking for some relief. While reading through the responses I came across this lively response:

It's not everyday that you see demand for a return to public executions.  Hopefully, I will be able to find some common ground with this voter.  I do know though I likely won't be sponsoring a Public Gallows Act anytime soon.   

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Economic Development Committee Budget Priorities

The Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee that I sit on concluded its work today and prioritized funds of about $23M to be distributed to various projects and programs.  We had about 50 proposals.  We prioritized over half of those and chose to not recommend funding the rest.

Here is the list of our priorities placed in order of importance in each category of One-Time funds and On-Going funds:

    Committee Adopted Appropriation Priorities

Fortunately, St. Anne's shelter was placed on the list. Look for another $500,000 to go toward future construction which should start sometime in the next 18 months or so.

One of the great ironies of our committee is that we are charged with overseeing business driven programs that provide a direct return on investment...and homelessness. It is an interesting dichotomy. Anyhow, our work is done and the Executive Appropriations committee will take our recommendations and begin the hard work of finalizing the budget for the State.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Utah's Sex Education: Abstinence, Advocacy, and Abomination

The House Education Standing Committee heard a recent bill proposed by one of my colleagues that would change Utah's sex education curriculum by presenting an abstinence only message without the discussion of contraceptives.

This bill provides the opportunity for an interesting discussion about the role schools play in the sexual awareness and attitudes of our rising generation.  Certainly, schools play an important part in the dissemination of this information which is central to the perpetuation of our society.  Without reproduction, our civilization would collapse in 40 years.  Thus, this issue is of paramount importance for the future existence and prosperity of Utah and our nation.

So, with that in mind, why are children taught about sex in our schools?  Who ultimately bears responsibility for this kind of education? One thing is certain, children only know what they are told.  Yet, there are many competing voices for children to listen to on this subject.  Parents provide the best and most influential instruction, schools provide another voice in providing information, and the media provides a third very sensationalized and misinformed voice.

Indeed, today with many parents unable or unwilling to engage their children on the topic, children are often left to the schools and the media to learn about sexual behavior.  Unfortunately, the media provides a powerful and transfixing medium to learn from.  Just like freshly cut potatoes that are dipped in hot grease and changed into french fries, our children today are immersed in a media awash in the corrosive and transformative influences of pornography.  This extra-curricular menace provides nothing of meaningful value to children but instead lays the insidious foundation of serious anti-social behavior, inhibits the formation of long lasting relationships, and deteriorates the bonds of trust in future existing relationships.  This is the great foe that schools and parents have to face in our day.  

The concern that seems to be raised at the Legislature regards balancing the roles of parents and the schools in providing good information.  Many parents are missing-in-action when it comes to educating their children on the powerful consequences that come from engaging in sexual activity. So, is there a policy position that can be taken regarding sex education at schools that will act as the surest and best safe guard of information for our children?

I believe there is and that answer is advocating abstinence while teaching awareness of contraception.  Advocacy of any behavior other than abstinence simply opens the door to heart ache, public health problems, and societal ills.

Abstinence is a concept that environmental conservationists should understand very well.  The concept of preserving and maintaining pristine virgin wilderness without despoiling it is something of great value.  If a landscape is worthy of such a noble effort, then certainly the the virtue of our children commands even greater treatment.  The teaching of Abstinence is an Innocence Conservancy Initiative.   

The negative consequences of early sexual activity are broad and poignant.  Single mothers are thrust into poverty; unwanted children grow up on welfare roles; the fragmentation of the nuclear family places ever heavier burdens on schools, police, and corrections facilities.

The individual liberty we each enjoy becomes a burden to all when it is abused to licentiousness.  The consequences are heaped on all our shoulders in the form of larger government, greater taxes, and pervading human sorrow.

Therefore, it is my hope that greater emphasis is placed on abstinence in our schools.  While children need to know of contraception, the details of how they are used should be left to the parents and guardians of the children. The existential basis of our society is the power to reproduce ourselves.  May we treat this power with the reverence it deserves.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Breaking the Poverty Cycle: SB37

Today I presented SB37 which was sponsored by Senator Reid.  The goal of this bill is to tackle the issue of intergenerational poverty and study the effect that state government has in perpetuating the problem.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.  I look forward the the report which will be issued to us in September. Hopefully, it will provide amble substance for us to craft better policy next session. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tax Relief: The Passage of SB129

A while ago I reported on HB30 and the effort by the Legislature to roll back Unemployment Insurance payments made by businesses. 

Shortly after the bill was written, Senator Bramble contacted me in an effort to amend the bill and make some minor improvements related to the way the state negotiates settlements with businesses to are defunct but owe money to the state at the time of their demise.  We agreed that the best way to do that would be to write an entirely new bill and run it through the Senate initially.  HB30 became SB129.

Today, I presented SB129 to the House floor for a vote. 

The bill now moves on to the Governor's office for a signature and implementation.  If you are a business owner, look forward to lower taxes this year.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Case For HB133: The 6-Month Car Registration Option

Last year I had a constituent contact me about car registration practices.  His concern was that vehicle registrations were tied to date of expiration, not the date of the new registration.  For example, if he registered his car in July of 2010 it would expire in July 2011.  However, if he waited and registered again in September, his new registration would expire in July 2012 not September.

His recommendation was to allow for real 12 month registrations regardless of the expiration date.  This issue afforded me the opportunity to learn a lot about why the state does things the way it does today.

One of the eye opening things I discovered was that registration fees are not just a "fee" like the one you pay when you go to a State Park or get a marriage license.  The fee we pay when registering a vehicle is actually a fee we pay in lieu of property tax on our vehicles.  This explains why the dates of expiration aren't changed despite lag time in renewal.  The fee is a means to collect property-type tax on vehicles.  Many years ago, the state used to assess property taxes on each vehicle.  However, this process was cumbersome and awkward to collect as most owners in the state delayed payment into the last days of December.  The workload for the State was difficult to manage logistically under this past scenario.

Then, the State adopted the current method of age-based assessments for cars and light trucks.  This current fee structure is called a fee-in-lieu.     

Despite this new information, it still seemed that the State could offer some flexibility to meet the needs of the public when dealing with registration of their cars.  So, I put my head together with the Tax Commission and began to look at some different registration options.

What we came up with was a 6-month registration option for owners in HB133.  The registration fee would be discounted to about 60% of the yearly amount. 

Why would owners want a 6-month registration?  Here are come compelling reasons:

1.  Cars to Be Sold - When a car is sold, the state does not refund the registration fee for the difference between when they sell the car and when their registration expires.  Hence, owners that may know they are going to sell their car may choose a shorter registration.  It makes economic sense to do so.

2.  Seasonal Vehicles - Some folks own multiple vehicles which are seasonal in nature.  Motorcycles, Rugged Utility Vehicles, Sports Cars, and other vehicles may prefer to use a shorter term registration since they receive less use during Winter months.

3.  Social Economic Considerations - Many folks who are in poverty or living month-to-month are often disadvantaged when needing to pay the full year registration.  This 6-month option provides a means for them to pay a less amount.  Although the repeated use of the shorter term registration will cost more to them in the long run, it does allow for short term relief if needed. 

In all, this bill should provide more options to the public while keeping tax revenue nearly neutral at the state and county level.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Syn Taxes, Bills, and Bananas - 2012 Session Update

The 2012 Legislative Session continues to move forward.

Mr. Peterson's Bills

HB22 and HB23 passed the House Floor and Senate Committees.  They will be heard on the Senate Floor and then move to the Governor's office for a signature.

SB129 and SB37 are on their way from the Senate to the House and I will be making presenations on the House Floor shortly.

My 6-Month Car Registration Bill (HB133) will be submitted to the House Rules Committee very soon.

Two more bills are still at Legislative Research waiting for numbering and will hopefully be ready very soon.  One deals with an Unemployment Insurance exception for Head Start programs, and the other deals with creating a cross reference in the code to provide for better application of zoning enforcement.


I had the opportunity to sponsor the yearly Revisor's Bill (SB104) in the House this year.  You can watch my presentation on the floor HERE.

Box Elder Gone Bananas

Finally, Box Elder County GOP held its yearly Lincoln Day Dinner.  A rogue candidate for U.S. Congress running against Rob Bishop had the opportunity speak to the audience.  You can watch his interesting presentation, made in a wacky tie-die skirt, below:

I think this is a case of someone taking too much of something, or not enough of something else. Whew!