Saturday, February 27, 2016

General Session 2016: Week 5

The week started out in a lazy fog and ended in a tumultuous cloud of dust.  Here are some highlights.

The Solar Tax Credit Discussion

After meeting with stakeholders in the solar industry, we decided to discuss the issue over interim.  Here is the opening silo to that discussion that I presented in committee.

The Internet Sales Tax

Our Revenue and Taxation committee heard Mike McKell's bill proposing a sales tax reduction and enforcement of sales tax collection on internet transactions.  Before the tomato-throwing started, I took a moment to capture the crowd that packed our hearing.

This issue was hotly debated and ultimately passed our committee.  I supported the bill since I believe increasing the tax base and lowering the tax rate is sound and equitable policy.

Funding the Lake Powell Pipeline?

Our Rev&Tax committee also hear Senator Adams proposal to fund water infrastructure improvements.  His bill would put seed money into a fund to help finance future water projects.  This bill was derided by critics as merely a funding of the Lake Powell Pipeline.  But, in order to use any of the funds in the account for any project, it would require an act of the Legislature and a vote to do so.  So, while a future legislature may decide to use the funds for that purpose or any other, that was not our decision to make with this bill.  I voted to support the bill since the Federal government is no longer funding water infrastructure projects like they did back in the 1950's and 1960's.  We are on our own to maintain our existing water infrastructure; and if we need more, we are going to have to figure out how pay for it ourselves.  This bill was a step toward self sufficiency.  It passed our committee.

Liability for Gun Manufacturers

We heard a bill in our Law Enforcement Committee that would limit liability of gun manufactureres for crimes committed with those guns.  Our committee did some good work in parsing the language and making sure it didn't go too far in eliminating liability for defects in their manufacture.

One interesting thing about this bill was that it had a ton of editorial-like comments in the first half of the language.  I found this to be very unusual and so I contacted the sponsor the evening before the bill was heard.  He was committed to keeping this awkward language in the bill and so I proposed a substitute bill to be presented at committee.  We kept the meat of the bill intact but removed the editorial language.  The problem with the editorial language is that our law books are meant to be instructive.  This was an interesting issue and you can listen to motion to substitute and the ensuing debate here:


Protecting Children or Dividing Families?

Our Law Enforcement Committee also heard a bill that was highly contentious regarding the ability to remove children from potentially abusive situations.  Under current law, abuse has to be alleged in order to remove children from the custody of their guardians.  The bill proposed to change that to "the threat" of abuse.

The original presentation of this bill was also animated due to the fact that the bill sponsor brought an advocate who stood and debated with committee members.  Some of that debate got very pointed and contentious.  At that time we held the bill for refinement.  When the bill came back, however, it was presented in such a way that our committee continued to be unconvinced that the proper changes has been made.  Much of the committee's concerns were that the bill could overreach and cause children to be put into state custody who did not belong there.  It was a question of balance.

In the end, I voted for the bill but the bill still failed on a split tie vote.

Bad Ideas Clothed In Good Intentions

We also heard a resolution in our committee that spoke to the solidarity the Governor and Legislature have with our law enforcement community.  Unfortunately, the bill also asked law to turn on the lights on their vehicles at 11am the first day of every month for one minute in order to honor fallen officers.

When I inquired about this section, it became apparent that state law enforcement officials were caught flat footed and had not seen the bill prior to its presentation.  They didn't want to oppose the bill but recognized that the lights provision was unusual.  Our committee felt that it might prove a public safety hazard.

One of my fellow committee members attempted to amend the bill to say that the lights could only be turned on if it was a safe thing to do.  I wasn't convinced that the lights were the right thing to do since nobody in law enforcement had ever heard of the idea.  I moved to strike that section of the resolution which failed on a split vote.  The milder amendment passes.  The bill passed committee on a split vote.  I voted no. This bill may pose a particularly awkward one on the Floor to debate.  I am writing another amendment to propose on the House Floor to fix this bill.  


  I have to admit the message sounded interesting, if not a little odd.  I wasn't sure why retailers would be selling panties remotely.  I also started to feel bad for the Representative who got stuck running this bill.  Fortunately, I discovered later that the correct reading of the word was "parity".

Coming Soon....

Our floor time is increasing significantly and our speeches should be getting shorter...hopefully.  I have two bills that still need to be heard at committee this week.  More on those as events happen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

General Session 2016: Week 4

...and so we entered the 4th week of the General Session.

Pension Reformishness

This week we heard Representative Cunningham's Retirement System reform proposals.  We packed an entire meeting agenda with 5 of his bills.  Yet, in a remarkable twist, the presentations went so long (90 minutes!) that we weren't able to take action on any of them. We adjourned and put one of the bills on the agenda for Wednesday so we could at least vote up or down on the subject.    

The bill we discussed at the later meeting proposed to change the time frame allowed for teachers and public safety employees to return to the job.  Currently, once they 'retire', they are allowed to come back to work in a year's time.  The bill would allow them to do so in 60 days.  Police and teachers are in scarce supply right now and agencies felt that this change would help alleviate some of the pain they are feeling.  I voted for the bill and it barely passed our committee on a 7-6 count.  

utah pension system

Unfortunately, the bill has the potential to add over $200 Million to the unfunded liability that exists in our URS.  Yet, the current unfunded liabilities are over $3.5 BILLION (!).  The reforms enacted in 2010 to the system have kept the ship from sinking...for now.  The system is listing and has been since the stock market collapse in 2009 put the system into distress.  We are told by the experts that if the stock market crashes again, Utah's system could sink entirely and taxpayers would be on the hook for the billions of dollars in retirement payments to state and local government employees.    

While my local law enforcement and city officials pushed for this bill to pass, I have warned them it may very well be a Pyrrhic victory.  In my view, we could be sounding the alarms to abandon ship within the next three years.

Upending SB54

Earlier in the session Rep. Fred Cox opened a bill file that made some very minor adjustments to election law. His bill also happened to open up the code section dealing with SB54.  One of the rules we have in the House is that any amendments or substitutions of a bill must be germane to the code section being affected.  Since SB54 and the petition process is the source of so much consternation among folks in the political parties (mainly GOP), it isn't to surprising to discover that a substitute appeared related to this subject.  In this case, Rep. Fawson proposed to repeal SB54 via his substitute.

There is a lot of backstory and ongoing litigation on this subject, but the vote basically came down to whether we thought the new system was a fair balance or whether we felt it was a giant mess.  I find myself in the latter camp.  The petition process in its current form actually violates the spirit of grassroots participation that inspired its creation.

I voted to support the substitute.  However, the vote to substitute failed 30-42.  Close, but not quite.

Income Tax Exemption For Veterans

We heard a bill in our Revenue and Taxation committee that proposed to exempt retired veterans  from income tax.  Currently, every dime of our income taxes pays for education which is cash strapped already.  The bill would cost the schools $17M in funding...or enough to pay over 280 teachers.  I pointed out to the bill sponsor (and all the retired veterans in the room) that he was asking us to choose between our veterans or our school kids.  That statement put the room in a mild uproar.  While our veterans certainly deserve to be rewarded for their courage and valor, in my view, this was the wrong tool to do it.  Our committee did not move the bill forward but recommended the bill be held with the possibility of further study over the summer months.

The Solar Circus

I released by bill this week to taper income tax credits available to the solar industry.  My premise for running the bill was that the industry is maturing to the point that taxpayer support may no longer be needed.  I reached out to Vivint and other industry stakeholders to begin discussions.  In our meeting we agreed the industry is blossoming that at some point in the future, yet undetermined, taxpayer subsidies will not longer be needed.  Ironically, in majority caucus the next day, we discovered that the industry is asking for MORE taxpayer subsidies in the form of sales tax exemptions to help spur their business.  So, clearly, there is a dissonance in how we each view the industry's current health.  I will be taking this issue to the interim for further study so we can get to the bottom line of when the industry will be ready to be weened from taxpayer subsidies.  

Tax Credit Review

My bill to create a systematic review of income tax credits flew through committee unanimously this week.  It will be presented on the House Floor in coming weeks.


Look for more unexpected twists and turns as the Legislature churns through the issues an an ever increasing rate.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

General Session 2016: Week 3

The 3rd week of the Session definitely clicked up a notch on the stress scale.  Here are some sparkling highlights from the week's events.

Torturous Tampon Tax Talk

The big front page headlines this week came as our Revenue and Taxation committee discussed a proposal to eliminate sales taxes on tampons.  Our committee voted the proposal down 8-3 on grounds that exempting more retail items from the tax base was bad tax policy in general.  I chaired the committee during this presentation and was a 'No' vote.  In retribution, my wife and four daughters now send me to the store to purchase these things.

I also received this delightful yet misinformed email from a member of the public:

I have a concern that your new "tampon tax" is going to create a lot of disturbance. Wether you like it or not, President Obama is fully against it, and I have to remind you that he is still sitting in the white house at this very second. so unless you want to disobey Mr Obama, who has literally given you FREE HEALTHCARE. Why do you think that it is necessary that women who are bleeding out of their vaginas would have to pay a tax for a piece of cotton to help them? Are you really that stuck behind in the 1800's mentality where white, straight, men ruled the planet?
I respectfully reminded Ava that taxes and healthcare premiums have increased significantly to pay for Mr. Obama's so-called 'free' healthcare program.

Palace Intrigue

Meanwhile, I was reminded this week how beautiful our democratic process has been designed.

I was made aware of a situation where a controversial bill (Bill X) was being held up in a committee.  The bill sponsor (Rep. Bulldog) was pushing desperately to get the bill heard.  However, the Chairman of the committee (Rep. Valiant) was locked in unsuccessful negotiations with stakeholders on another bill he was sponsoring.  Unfortunately for Rep. Bulldog, his bill involved the same stakeholders as Rep. Valiant's.  Thus, it seemed appropriate to Rep. Valiant to use Bill X as leverage to entice stakeholders to negotiation on his bill.  Bill X was delayed and not put on the agenda as anticipated.

During this process Rep. Bulldog's friends on the committee became upset at the unnecessary delay.  Agitation grew and Rep Valiant's committee members threatened to take action on the House Floor to place the bill on the agenda of another committee.  Such a move would have proved damaging to Rep. Valiant's efforts at swaying stakeholders in his favor.  The situation threatened to blow up in a bitter conflagration on the House Floor.  Leadership got word of the planned coup and called a meeting to see if cooler heads could prevail. Ultimately, an understanding was reached.  Bill X was placed on a future agenda.

While this story is interesting, it more importantly demonstrates the pressure release valves that exist in our parliamentary processes to avoid giving any one person too much power.  The will of any one member of the body can be overcome with collective will of others.  Meanwhile, the will of any Representative is checked every two years by the will of their voters.  While Committee Chairs have more power and authority over the parliamentary process, it is not absolute power.  These checks provide the foundations of our consensus building process and prevents a drift toward a tyranny of the minority.

Marijuana Memes and Making Friends

The entire Legislature received an email this week with this meme being the sole part of the message:

Given that a majority of our Legislature is of the LDS faith, including me, I swiftly responded with this:

Mr. Peterson's Bills

The Majority Caucus gave me an opportunity to present on the issue of Tax Credits and how they affect our state budget.  I have a couple bills coming up related to this topic and how we can improve governance on the issue.  Since Powerpoint and Tax Policy are two of the most boring things ever, I spruced up the presentation with a game and candy.  Here is a .pdf of that presentation:

In what can only be called Perfect Timing, after making my presentation in Caucus, we went to the House Floor where my pending bills were immediately heard.   Here is video of the Floor presentations:

I do have a couple other bills that have been released this week.  I will be doing the leg work and blog posts on those early next week.  They should be heard late next week in committee.  One bill will phase out the tax credit for solar projects and another will create a tax credit review process as alluded to in the power point presentation above. 

Special Guests

Donald Trump Jr. came to Utah with his wife and 5 kids to check out the political landscape and introduce Utahns to the Trump family.  Our Caucus gave him an earful of policy concerns.  He came to act as a character reference for his father's campaign.  

My daughter Esther came to the Capitol and sat with me on the House Floor.  Like daughter like father.

Former State Senator Dan Liljenquist came to discuss Retirement System reform.  Representative Rich Cunningham made his proposal to adjust the way retirees use the system.  It was a lively and passionate 7am debate!

Swish, Rebound, Swish

Our appropriations committee received at the last minute a request for funds to help get started on the Ogden Archery Complex which is proposed to be built at the old landfill site in West Ogden.  Our committee was caught a little flat footed by the request but our Weber County delegation of the committee understood the importance of the project.  The committee prioritized the project as item 30 on a list of 40 items.  So, that wasn't exciting.  I decided to tempt fate and make a motion to move the item further up on the list.  The committee rebuked that attempt so much so that nobody else attempted to lift their items further up the priority list.  You can listen to my attempted move below:

Tweets of the Week


Look for more info on my bills.  Look for more drama.  And watch for more important bills to come to the House Floor for a vote.  If you have any legislative concerns, feel free to CONTACT ME.  However, given increasing constraints on time, my responses may become a little slower or a little shorter as we progress. Nevertheless, I appreciate your feedback.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Serf's Up! Catching the Waves of Friedrich A. Hayek

I recently finished listening to an audio version of Friedrich A Hayek's great work The Road to Serfdom published in 1944.  In the book, Hayek describes the political, intellectual, and societal foundations and attributes of socialist governments.  Even more haunting is the preface updated in the 1970's where Hayek expresses his views on the 'slow socialism' of the Welfare State in which we find ourselves.  It is hard hitting. The book was so addictive and I found the information so illuminating that I couldn't take my headphones off.  The entire work can be heard in about 9 hours.  You can download it here:

As part of my personal study, I keep notebooks full of quotes and insights.  As I listened, I transcribed many passages that I found poignant.  For your benefit, here are some nuggets of wisdom to more than moisten your taste buds:

Why People Complain About Capitalism

"That people should wish to be relieved of the bitter choice which hard facts often impose upon them is not surprising.  But few want to be relieved through having the choice made for them by others.  People just wish that the choice should not be necessary at all; and, they are only too ready to believe that the choice is not really necessary, that it is imposed upon them merely by the particular economic system under which we live.  What they resent, in truth, is that there is an economic problem."

Capitalism is for Grown Ups

"The economic freedom, which is the prerequisite of any other freedom, cannot be the freedom from economic care which the socialists promise us and can only obtained only by relieving the individual at the same time of the necessity and of the power of choice.  It must be the freedom of our economic activity; which, with the right of choice, inevitably carries the risk and the responsibility of that right." 

"The choice and the risk reside with the individual. Or, he is relieved of both."

"The younger generation of today has grown up in a world, which in the school and press, the spirit of commercial enterprise has been represented as immoral.  Where to employ a 100 people is represented as exploitation, but to command the same number as honorable."  

All in all, you're just another brick in the wall...

"While people will submit to the suffering which may hit anyone, they will not so easily submit to the suffering which is the result of the decision of authority.  It may be bad to be just a cog in an impersonal machine.  But, it is infinitely worse if we can no longer leave it."

If You Like Your Doctor, You Can Keep Your Doctor

"Once government has embarked upon planning for the sake of justice, it cannot refuse responsibility for anybody's fate or position.  In a planned society, we shall all know we are better or worse off than others, not because of circumstances which nobody controls, but because some authority wills it."

 "Wherever liberty, that we understand it, has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people."  

"The collective freedom he offers us is not the freedom of the members of society, but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases."

You Are Free To Think The Way We Tell You To

"It is because successful planning requires the creation of a common view on the essential values, that the restriction of our freedom with regards to material things touches so directly on our spiritual freedom.  Socialists, the cultivated rulers of the barbarous offspring they have produced, traditionally hope to solve this problem by education."

Comply or Die

"In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation."

"Who does not obey, shall not eat." - Leon Trotsky 

Self Defeating Tinkering

"The more we try to provide full security by interfering with the market system, the greater the insecurity becomes."

No More Mr. Nice Guy

"Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator will soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure."

"Thus, it is the demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation.  Dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action's sake the goal.  It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough to get things done who exercises the greatest appeal." 

"And as there will be needs for actions which are bad in and of themselves, and which all those still influenced by traditional morals will be reluctant to perform, the readiness to do bad things becomes a path to promotion and power."   

Minority Rule

"In a planned society, the question can no longer be on what do a majority of the people agree, but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible."

Us and Them

"It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off, than on any positive task.  The contrast between the 'we' and the 'they', the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action.  It is consequently always employed by those who seek not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses."   

Principles? Say, What?

"It does not leave the individual conscience free to apply its own rules, and does not even know any general rules which the individual is required or allowed to observe in all circumstances.  This makes collectivist morals so different from what we have known as morals, that we find it difficult to find any principle in them."

"The principle that the end justifies the means is, in individualist ethics, regarded as the denial of all morals.  In collectivist ethics, it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.  There is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves the good of the whole.  Because, the good of the whole is, to him, the only criteria of what ought to be done."

"He will be able to obtain the support of the docile and gullible who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.  it will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party."

Stupor of Thought

"To plan or organize the growth of mind or for that matter, progress in general, is a contradiction in terms."  

"The tragedy of collectivist though is that, while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason because it misconceives the process on which the growth of reason depends."

Monopoly Mischief

"A state monopoly is always a state-protected monoopoly.  Protected from both potential competition and effective criticism."

"Where the power that ought to check and control monopoly becomes interested in sheltering and defending its appointees, where, for the government to remedy an abuse is to admit responsibility for it, and where criticism of the actions of monopoly means criticism of the government, there is little hope of monopoly becoming the servant of the community."

I hope you enjoyed these tasty quotes.  Grab yourself a copy of this book and feast on its insights.  It is both timely and timeless information.  

General Session 2016: Week 2

The second week of the General Session had some notable moments.

Straight Ticket Voting Ban

I had an opportunity to present our bi-partisan proposal to ban straight ticket voting.  The bill was heard in the Government Operations Standing Committee Tuesday afternoon.  Our presentation went well.  Unfortunate, the vote did not.  The bill was voted down 4-6.  Having lobbied the committee in advance, I was a bit surprised by several votes.  You can listen to our presentation (and GOP Chairman James Evans' prickly and confrontational response) here:

Drafting Drafting Drafting

I still have 5 bills that are in the drafting process.  A couple are bogged down in the queue to be written.  A couple are waiting for stakeholders to iron out their differences before we put things on paper.  The rest are being polished up and should be released soon.  A bill requiring a 3-year legislative review of all tax credits is nearly done.  Another bill will phase out (over a four year period) tax credits for solar panel purchases.

Suspended Animation

The House deliberated a few bills on the House Floor.  But, for the most part, our body was bogged down in minutia and couldn't seem to move some significant policy forward.  We kept pulling bills off the shelf, tinkering with them, then putting them back on the shelf to tinker with again later.  I have three bills patiently waiting on the board that will hopefully be debated next week...hopefully.

Tip of the Day

Never, never let go of your balloon while in the Capitol.

Special Guests

One of my favorite things to do is have my kids come down to the Capitol to see what their dad does during the day.  This week my daughter Wynnie brought some friends with her.  They were able to attend a Revenue and Taxation Committee meeting which I chaired.  Their eyes glazed over when they heard what meeting they were coming to but we kept things interesting and they learned something about tax policy while they were there.

Of course, my kids love to visit my office.  There are plenty of fun things there.


As of the writing of this update, it appears at least one of the two Medical Marijuana bills proposed this session is flagging after the LDS Church expressed its opposition.  I was skeptical of this particular bill initially due to its broad approach.  Look for more drama on this subject next week.

We also go to two-a-day Floor time next week so expect to see more significant topics come up for debate.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to CONTACT ME.