Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Legislature Passes Record Number of Bills

Is more really better?   It was recently reported that 2013 saw a record number of bills passed. We will have to see the impact of this year's legislation moving forward to know if this was a good thing or not.  Nevertheless, we do appear to be on an interesting trend line.  Here is the chart:

There may be several explanations to the trends:

1.  Technology and processes have become ironed out to allow for more information and bills to be heard in the limited amount of time provided.
2.  The number of controversial bills has declined overall and the increase is represented by "technical" bills that simply adjust minor aspects of the code.  Not every bill is new law but rather the tweaking of a current one.
3.  Legislators are asleep at the wheel.

Having been there, I doubt the third option is really the answer.  Although, cynics everywhere are probably nodding and ribbing each other in agreement even at the suggestion.

Regardless, this is an very interesting trend. These high numbers could reflect the more regulated environment we are living in.  More regulation requires more frequent adjustments.  

I would like to see the number decrease.  I have limited my bill proposals to around 5 per session.  If everyone passed 5 bills per session it would put us at 505 a year.  However, we have some "high achievers" at the Hill who run 40 or so bills, and that throws the numbers off.      

I hope we keep our powder dry for the serious issues and spend some time repealing some laws as well next year.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

General Session 2013 - Final Week Update: Clash, Cash, and Comedy

The final week of our Legislative Session this year was quieter than usual but still contained some nuggets of drama.


Monday morning we debated HB391 which stated statutorily that Utah would not opt in to Medicaid expansion.  I fully endorsed this bill due to the debilitating budget constraints that Medicaid expansion will impose on Utah.  A promise that can't be paid for is no promise at all.  The bill passed our House and was sent to the Senate.  Ultimately, the Senate watered down the bill, the House agreed to the changes, and we approved it and sent it to the Governor.  Look for more on the Medicaid issue over the summer.  The debate is just getting warmed up.

We completed debating all of our House sponsored bills on Monday.


We began our work in earnest to debate Senate bills.  One of the major issues we faced this year was that a large portion of Senate bills, 44% to be exact, did not get a House committee hearing.  This placed us at a significant disadvantage when debating the bills on the House floor.  Since no Representatives had heard the bill presented and we relied on the House floor sponsor for information on the details, we took a skeptical view toward larger Senate bills.  Some of the bills were controversial...especially the ones regarding education.  We voted down many of these bills since they had not been vetted at House committees.  As the maxim goes: "When in doubt, don't do it."  Many of these bills simply didn't do.


Wednesday's work was tedious.  We stayed until 11pm to finish the day's debates.  The tempo was brisk until about 9pm when lethargy took over the room.  Then our debate became much less concise and more rambling in nature.  Tired legislators make for wordy legislators.


We did have some last minute drama involving alcohol policy and the Senate on Thursday.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox ran a bill that would eliminate the Zion Curtain.  We passed it out with huge margins.  However, the Senate was not excited to receive the bill.  They were even less excited to receive other bills relating to alcohol reform that we passed with equally high margins.  In fact, all the bills, except for Rep. Wilcox's, were held at the Senate Rules committee and not even discussed for a vote.  I found the process to by very disconcerting.  When Rep. Wilcox's bill came back to us gutted and with new Senate amendments, we resisted accepting them.  That put the bill in a Conference Committee for the House and Senate to hash out their differences.  I sat in the room as they negotiated (I use that term lightly) on the issue.  I will write more about what I saw in another post; but, the bottom line is the Senate, as it is currently constituted, has no genuine interest in loosing alcohol policy in the state.  Watch for an election year clash between the House and Senate on this very subject in 2014.  It will be fireworks.

The last half of the day saw us debate several big bills.  One of the biggest was the bill to give a tax credit to developers for building a new hotel near the Salt Palace Convention Center.  The army of lobbyists hired to push the issue did a disservice to the cause more than it helped.  The parties involved wanted it so badly that it smacked of desperation.  We voted the bill down.  Upon it's defeat, you could sense the shock from the gallery above. It was filled with the whooshing sound of scores of lobbyists leaving the room in disappointment.

The issue may come up again next year. Once a study of the Salt Lake hotel market is completed in May, we should know with more certainty whether the tax credit makes sense.  The data will tell.

Post Session Fun

At midnight we ended our Session.  As is custom, we present some gifts and entertainment.  I played in the Jackwagons again this year.  None of our performances were polished but the humor was definitely present.

First up was Derek Brown, Curt Webb, Spencer Cox, Ed, Redd, and Dan McKay singing a rewritten version of Piano Man by Billy Joel.  Very good work!

We were also presented with this hilarious video on the overhead monitors.  It is a rickroll of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing". Rep. Ryan Wilcox and my intern were the chief conspirators in putting this together.  VERY funny:

Finally, here is video of our Jackwagons performance featuring Mike Noel, Ed Redd, and Me:


Overall, this was a great year.  I look forward to the interim and finding solutions to constituent problems for the 2014 General Session.

If you have any issues or concerns you want to see addressed, please CONTACT ME.

Friday, March 8, 2013

General Session 2013: Week 6 Update - Palace Intrigue, Ambush, and Hip Hop

This past week has been quite interesting.


HB93 finally came back to the House for us to ratify the amendments we made a couple weeks ago in Senate committee.



Our Business and Labor Committee hears a variety of heavy hitting subjects.  On Tuesday, we heard a bill from a colleague in Salt Lake City who proposed making height and weight protected classes.  His bill would allow employees to sue if their employer failed to make accommodations to their perceived height and weight idiosyncrasies.  This is probably one of the most ill advised ideas I have heard all Session.  Fortunately, we let the bill die.



My good friend and colleague in the Senate, Senator Stuart Reid, ran and passed a great Sexual Education bill that encouraged parents to speak to their children on the subject.  The idea was to encourage training in the home rather than having the different perspectives on values and ethics of the subject be politicized.  The bill, SB39, passed the Senate unanimously.

I thought the bill would be a slam dunk.  You can imagine my surprise when my floor presentation instead turned into a bloody ambush.  Out of 75 colleagues, only 16 could stomach a 'yea' vote.  Immediately following the bill's inglorious defeat, the Speaker Pro Tem was kind enough to come back to me for a brief final follow up statement.    


After floor time, we adjourned and headed to our final Business and Labor Committee meeting.  We had 12 bills on the agenda for the evening.  Here were the highlights:

  • We heard HB140 from Stewart Barlow which is a fantastic bill.  It creates a competitive market among health service providers by allowing deductibles to be transferable across medical provider groups.  This places them in competition and sparks innovation and cost savings.  Amazingly, by eliminating the bureaucracy associated with insurance billing, medical costs can be reduced as much as 35% according to the Representative (who happens to be a physician).  This was one of the best ideas I have heard all Session.    
  • We also heard HB153 which would mandate Medicaid Expansion.  This bill came with an expensive  fiscal note.  If the State opted to increase its participation in Medicaid, it would step over dollars to save pennies.  The numbers don't look good.
  • Finally we heard HB391 which started out as an Obamacare Nullification bill.  Since the Supreme Court ruled this past summer, interest in the nullification movement has fizzled.  However, through some palace intrigue, one of my colleagues on the Committee hijacked the bill and converted it into a Medicaid Non-Expansion bill.  The bill sponsor acquiesced and our committee voted the bill out to the shock of all the Medicaid supporters in the room.  NOTE:  The Governor has explicit authority to expand or not expand Medicaid.  However, our bill will give the House an opportunity to air the issue and give the people of the State an venue to express their feelings through their Representatives.  The House will go on record on the issue and be part of the discussion.  I highly doubt the Governor would sign the bill and abscond from his existing authority.  Nevertheless, it brings this important issue to the forefront and begins to frame the debate on the subject before the Governor makes his decision this summer. LISTEN TO THE COMMITTEE COUP HERE.

Since floor time has started to heat up, comic relief is often required to cool things down.  I have taken my Third House responsibilities serious enough to know exactly when not to be serious at all.  

So, on Thursday during lunch I took Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" (released August 1990) and reworked it to jive with our Legislative work.  I am pretty sure this is a 'first' on the House Floor as well.  

Finally, after floor time ended for the day, leadership removed all the bills on our board and sent them back to the Rules Committee for prioritization.  This is where things really start to get interesting.  Our final day to debate and pass House bills is Monday.  We will be working on Senate bills thereafter to the end of Session at Midnight next Thursday.


Friday saw some important debate.  We debated HB114 for 90 minutes.  The bill declares that Utah gun laws are superior to Federal gun laws when the two are in conflict with one another.  It passed overwhelmingly after we were done debating.    

We also made fine tuned changes to our budget as we prepared to tie a bow on State finances next week. 


Watch for the debate to accelerate and reach 'Ludicrous Speed' (to use a Spaceballs term) as the House finishes up House bills on Monday and then dives full bore into Senate bills.  Watch for the House and Senate to lock horns over getting priority bills passed as well.  Alcohol bills should make for an interesting case study in bicameral negotiations.  The final drama is about to unfold.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

General Session 2013: Week 5 Update - Guns, Grog, and Giggles

It has been quite the interesting and eventful week.


We started out the week with a bluster.  Monday morning's committee meeting was held up due to my late arrival at the Capitol.  That is what happens when you forget to fill up your gas tank over the weekend.  To make matters even more flustering, the Chair who was supposed to conduct was in another committee presenting a bill of his own.  We hadn't coordinated on that issue.  So, we got off to a quick start as soon as they handed me the gavel.  You an listen to the meeting HERE and HERE.

The other exciting issue we discussed on Monday involved changes to Utah's Alcohol licensing.  I amended a bill by Gage Froerer that would bring our social club licenses into parity with demand.  Currently we have a backlog.  If this bill passes the Senate, we should bring supply and demand for social club licenses into equilibrium.  My amendment was a surprise to the Floor and solicited some very interesting questions and debate.



We were privileged to have a special guest of honor at the House today.  Anne Millner, former President of Weber State University, was cited for her achievements as the head of the university.

Here are our Weber County legislators with Anne.  Davis County Rep. Stuart Barlow is at the far right.

Today we also debated our first Gun Bill HB-76.  This is the constitutional carry bill that allows lawful gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training which is required under current statute.  After some significant deliberation, we pushed the pause button .  This pause will gave the stakeholders some time to create some amendments.


One of the bills that passed was the culmination of two years of effort.  The bill dealt with Cosmetology licenses and specifically the "Hair Braiding" issue.  The issue drew heated debate (no, seriously) at committee the past two sessions.  Finally, a compromise was reached and we passed the bill.   We took a moment after work was completed during lunch to celebrate with the stakeholders who worked patiently with the committee to come to a successful resolution.  They also brought wigs.

Finally, we finished Wednesday with our prioritization list for our Appropriations Subcommittee.

If you want to get a taste for the complexity of what we deal with, you can LISTEN TO OUR BUDGET MEETING HERE.  Here is our list.  The only change we made was to eliminate Four Corners from the list and add STEM to the mix:


On Thursday we debated HB268 which dealt with Open Carry of a firearm and what would be considered Disorderly Conduct in doing so.  The bill was amended and passed the house.  Under the new provision, the gentleman that showed up to committee last week with an AR-15 strapped to his back would be in violation of law.  I voted for this bill.


After our debate ends for the day, our reading clerk announces bill titles.  She is a professional reader.  However, sometimes things don't go smoothly.  Here is video of her and our House Speaker getting the giggles after she fumbles over a bill title...then you can watch my beautifully timed follow up.



Friday was extremely busy. We met at 7am with the Weber Chamber of Commerce and County stakeholders to discuss Legislative priorities.  At 8am, we held our Political Subdivisions Committee.  A Representative from Weber County proposed a bill that changes land use definitions and has far ranging impacts.  We decided to send the bill to interim study so we could get our head around the proposal and we will be discussing the issue over the summer.

We debated and voted on 36 bills during the day.  One of those was HB76 regarding "Constitutional Carry", which we mostly debated on Tuesday.  In the end, I was one of eighteen Representatives who voted against the bill.


After floortime, we held our Business and Labor Committee.  This meeting went for three hours as we chewed on heavy topics.  One bill coming from the Senate proposes to overhaul how LLC's and other business entities are governed.  We were presented with a daunting 371 pages of new code.  The bill sponsor didn't come to present his bill.  Instead he sent a "specialist" who pressed us to pass out the bill quickly.  I rebuffed that urgency especially since our committee had not had time to read the bill.  The "specialist" was very vague on facts and clearly did not want to get into detail with our committee.  We felt that was inappropriate and voted to move on to the next item on the agenda so we could read the bill before our next meeting Tuesday.  After that we had a very heated discussion on predatory towing practices and ultimately moved to send this bill to the Floor for a final vote.  The bill towing bill makes some common sense changes to the towing industry, such as requiring that they accept credit cards.



  • Expect more surprises as big bills come down the pipeline
  • Time constraints will start to wear on legislators...expect more drama
As always, I am just an email away.  Contact me if you have questions or concerns.

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Vote Against HB76 - Concealed Weapon Carry Amendments

Today we voted on the much anticipated "Constitutional Carry" gun bill.  We first debated the bill Wednesday when the debate was put on hold for the bill sponsor to speak with some stakeholders on the issue, including the Governor.

Today we resumed debate.

The bill as substituted today makes it legal for a gun owner to carry a concealed weapon without a concealed weapon permit as long as the gun is "unloaded".  When I polled the floor on Wednesday, I counted 40 FOR and 35 AGAINST the bill.  With today's compromise substitute, the bill passed with 50 FOR and 18 AGAINST.

During Wednesday's debate, I struggled with support for the bill because it eliminates the requirement that concealed weapons permit holders take a training class as they do under current law.  Interestingly, today's substitute makes no change on this issue either.  I feel that current law is adequate and that we should not attempt to change something that is working properly. When the debate paused Wednesday, I took some time to poll my constituents.  Here are the results:

I sent 420 emails and received 61 responses.  I asked folks how they felt on the issue and why?  The responses were surprisingly consistent.  Overwhelmingly, District 9 constituents prefer that concealed weapons permit holders take training to obtain their permit.

For instance, here is an excerpt from an email from David:

I am a life member of the NRA and I have a concealed carry permit for Utah.  I have been concerned that this bill opens the door too wide, and makes more opportunities for gun opponents to go after our laws.  I also feel that anyone wanting to carry a firearm can afford to take the simple course required to get a permit.  The permit system we have is great, and I can easily buy quickly without hassle by having it.  Utah is considered a model state for firearms laws, and let's keep it that way.

This sentiment was echoed across the the responses I received.  A significant portion of the emails were from concealed carry permit holders.

If you have questions or need to contact me for any reason, PLEASE SEND ME AN EMAIL.  I look forward to Representing our District in many more of the important issues we will be voting on over the next couple of weeks.