Monday, February 23, 2015

General Session 2015 - Update 3

The House has now increased its floor debate time to four hours per day and meatier issues are working their way through the process.

The Dead Body Bill

A representative brought a bill to us that deals with how unclaimed bodies at the county morgue can be treated. The bill permits bodies to be used in forensic training.  It was a creepy conversation to say the least.  The bottom line is make sure you treat your friends and family well, lest you go "unclaimed".

Hot Topic - Medicaid Expansion

The House continues to mull over the options of Medicaid expansion.  In a recent closed caucus meeting we discussed three options that are on the table:

1.  Not Now - Wait to see how a pending Supreme Court case rules in June regarding the legality of subsides for insurance premiums in Obamacare.  The case will have a significant impact on how any program is structured.  The political landscape may change in 2016 and also contribute to significant changes in how the program may need to be organized.

2.  Utah Cares - This option is designed to help the most medically frail and vulnerable people in the state.  It costs less than the Healthy Utah plan, makes fewer people dependent on government programming, and has the least amount of fiscal risk.  This option would provide the least amount of volatility in relation to Federal budget demands and the national political debate regarding heath care policy.  This is the option that I support.

3.  Healthy Utah - This is the option that would increase the number of people dependent on government subsidies and programming the most.  It costs more than Utah Cares and relies more heavily on Federal funding.  I do not support this option.

Hot Topic - Utah Seal Belt Laws

HB79 which would make leaving your seat belt unbuckled a primary offense passed our House and is now on to the Senate.  You can watch the debate here with my opposing remarks around the 15:00 mark.

Hot Topic - Constitutional Convention

With the Federal Government carrying extraordinary and historic debt, there has been a movement among the states to call a Constitutional Convention of the States as prescribed in Article V of our founding document.  We heard two "Article V Convention" bills to a packed room in our Revenue and Taxation committee.

You can listen to the captivating audio presentations for HJR 14 and HJR 7.  I support and voted for both bills.  

Newspaper Nonsense

A mismatched photo and headline on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune are always amusing.

Mr.  Peterson's Bills

HB88 - Veterinary Practice Amendments - This bill has passed the House and Senate and sits on the Governor's desk awaiting a signature.

HB 127 - Window Egress Fairness - This bill passed committee and a vigorous inquiry on the House Floor.  You can watch the debate here:

HB310 - Vintage Motorcycle Amendments

This bill passed committee unanimously, passed the House unanimously, and now moves on to the Senate.  Here is video of the Floor presentation:

Look for more updates in the near future.  If you have any legislative concern or issue, please CONTACT ME, and let me know your thoughts.

Friday, February 13, 2015

General Session 2015 - Update 2

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.

Tag Teamwork

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:

If you have any legislative issues or concerns, don't hesitate to CONTACT ME.  More updates to come...


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

General Session 2015 - Update 1

The 2014 General Session has begun in earnest.  Our first day was full of ceremony and memorials as Greg Hughes took the gavel to serve as our new Speaker of the House.  Of course, due respect was given to Becky Lockhart and her family.  Traditionally, the former Speaker will swear in the new Speaker.  We were grateful to have an elder statesman in Rob Bishop (a former Speaker of the House himself) to do the honors in lieu of Speaker Lockhart's absence.

Since I am serving as the Vice Chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee this year, leadership asked me and all the Chairs and Vice Chairs to do some follow up training on conducting committee  meetings.

Of course,  it wouldn't have been proper to retire from the Third House without a formal sendoff of my replacement.  Here is video of me embarrassing my good friend Steve Handy after business was concluded for the day:


I leave the Third House with mixed feelings.  It was a tremendous amount of work and required large amounts of energy.  Yet, the relief it brought to the House, I felt, was an important element that healed wounds after days of difficult debate and contention.  I will miss the job, but look forward to new experiences.  For memory's sake, here is a "Best Of" video from 2014.

The week's meetings then began in earnest.  Our appropriations subcommittees began hearing from Department Directors on how they planned to reduce their budgets by 2%.  This budget reduction review exercise forces each department to take a hard look at their programs and cut waste.   Many Directors we heard from were prepared and demonstrated an ability to meet the challenge.  Others were less agreeable to the proposition and presented some creative accounting gymnastics in order to accomplish the task.  We have been taking notes and will be budgeting based on the reports we are receiving. 

Mr. Peterson's Bills Update

HB88 - Veterinary Practice Amendments - This bill was heard at committee and passed out unanimously.  You can listen to the presentation HERE.

HB127 - Municipal Land Use Amendments - This bill is being clarified after the League of Cities and Towns asked to change some language to better align with its intent.  We are working on some refinements which should be ready in the next few days.

HB204 - Tax Increment Amendments - This bill is also being clarified after the League of Cities and Towns asked for some time to review the impact it had on RDAs and bonding.  We should have these issues resolved in the next few days as well.  

Mr. Peterson's Appropriations Update

Ogden Historic Preservation and Unit Reduction - I have been speaking to members of my committee which will hear our formal presentation in a couple weeks.  The proposal appears to be received warmly and the members I have spoken to understand the impact the request has for preserving state history while also moving Ogden forward as an flagship community in Northern Utah.  I look forward to making our formal presentation in the coming weeks.

Utah Railroad Museum Authority Grant Writer Funding - I have requested that the Legislature fund a grant writer for our state railroad museums.  The purpose is to use the skills of the grant writer to solicit grant funds outside of the state. These funds will allow the museums to enhance their offerings to the public and also become self-funding through the grant writing process.      

Hot Topics

Wood Burning Ban - I predicted the outright ban proposal would be DOA after we seeing the first public hearing on the subject.  If the ban were to be implemented, the Legislature would certainly react to undo it.  The executive branch can't risk that kind of political repudiation.  So, the ban will morph into a much softer form if it survives at all.

Income Tax Increase - The proposal to tax your income an additional 2% failed in committee.  Your wallets are safe for now.  

Clean Air - We recently held a press conference outlining bills affecting cleaner air the state.  One initiative includes converting state owned buses to natural gas.  There is a laundry list of other bills so we will keep our eyes on how they progress.

This concludes the first update.  If you have any legislative issues or concerns, don't hesitate to CONTACT ME.  

NOTE:  We get a lot of emails from folks outside of Utah.  Please be sure to include your full name and property address in any correspondence so we can weed out the not-so-real constituents from any correspondence you send.  Thanks!