Sunday, March 13, 2016

General Session 2016: Weeks 6 and 7

The session has come to its ultimate conclusion.  He is a post-mortem of things that happened during the final two weeks.


As always, the volume and magnitude of bills we heard increased tremendously at toward the end of the Session.  Some bills were released late in cycle and had significant policy implications.  This put tremendous pressure on the House and required that we be nimble.  Quick judgement was necessary in many cases.

HJR 18 - Congressional Term Limits

This bill called for a constitutional convention of states to amend the constitution in order to limit terms in office of our U.S. Congressmen and Senators.  This resolution passed with Speaker Hughes breaking the tie.  I supported this bill.  

SB115 - Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan Act

This bill came to us originally with provisions affecting consumers who had installed solar panels on their homes and their net metering agreements with Rocky Mountain Power (RMP).  That caused an uproar and the solar net metering provisions were removed from the bill.  To understand the purpose ofthis bill, we have to understand that RMP is a state regulated utility monopoly.  They were granted monopoly status almost a century ago to help foster the proliferation of cheap electricity to consumers.  However, in exchange for that monopoly, investors in RMP are guaranteed effectively a 10% return on their investment, no more and no less.  The cost of providing electricity plus this 10% margin are charged to consumers.  In exchange for this guarantee, RMP prices are regulated by government.

However, recently, laws have been passed requiring RMP to produce 30% of its electricity via renewable sources.  These sources are unpredictable in their output and when capacity is low due to cloud cover or unwindy days, RMP must purchase electricity elsewhere in the open energy market which is more expensive.  But, due to pre-existing  laws, RMP has not been allowed to pass through this purchased electrical costs to consumers.  The difference was eating into the 10% guarantee promised to RMP shareholders.

This issue touches on the technological revolution that is unfolding in our energy markets.  Solar costs are declining and moving toward mass adoption by consumers.  Battery technology is also advancing quickly which makes renewable sources of electricity much more viable for the mass market.  As this occurs, the old business model of the monopoly utility company is under assault. These technologies continue to mature and be adopted, and the laws governing our power network will need to adjust. Yet, we are not yet to the point of needing to throw away the old utility company in lieu of mass decentralized consumer electricity independence. RMP still provides, and will continue to provide, a crucial service to Utah electricity consumers.  For the time being, we need to honor our agreement to the investors that provided the capital to make this inexpensive source of power possible.  I voted yes on this bill which will expire in three years.

SB246 - Funding for Infrastructure Revisions

This bill came to the House the last week of the Session which made for some difficult decision making.  The bill would effectively use $53 million of taxpayer dollars to fund construction of a port in California to export Utah commodities.  The biggest commodity would likely be Utah coal but others would be included.  This bill was highly controversial.  Environmentalists swarmed the Capitol to resist the bill citing their distaste for coal in general.

Many factors weighed on this vote.  Risk of litigation in California, free-market arguments, legal technicalities, and others were a concern.  Yet, the upside meant a conduit for rural Utah to export its commodities.  This project would be an economic lifeline to areas of the State that have been hammered by unfair Federal regulations.

In the end, I voted for this bill.  The deciding factor for me was that Utah would have rights of use and ownership in the port once it is constructed.  In a worst case scenario, the rights and real estate could be liquidated and Utah's investment recouped.  In a best case scenario, Utah's commodities will be made available to larger world markets.  Since commodities fund a significant portion of our school budget, this seems like a potential win-win for both our education system and rural Utah communities.

HB251 - Post Employment Restrictions Amendments

This bill was the 'non-compete' initiative that aimed to eliminate non-competition restrictions by employers on their employees.  I supported this bill as a free-market inspired policy and voted for it on the House Floor.  However, the Senate got a hold of it and turned it into a wet and soggy piece of toast.  The end product was not much different than current law.  Look for this issue to come back next year.

SB234 - Protecting Unborn Children Amendments

Our Law Enforcement Committee heard this bill which was accompanied by passionate and horrifying testimony.  The bill would require doctors providing abortions to inform the mothers of the potential of their baby to experience pain during the abortion procedure.  Abortion advocates showed up in force to deride the Legislature for asserting itself on this issue.  They also didn't waste time trashing Senator Curt Bramble for bring this bill forward.

An attention starved Kate Kelly, the former LDS activist now turned indignant anti-LDS curmudgeon, stood conspicuously in the back of the room waiting to pounce on the microphone and speak in behalf of Planned Parenthood.  She blasted Senator Bramble for being disrespectful to women and abusing the legislative process by having his bill sent to our committee instead of Health and Human Services.  We informed her that the good Senator had no influence on that process in the House and that the bill was sent to our committee due to the other committee's packed schedule.

We heard other testimony callously discussing the destruction of their offspring that was sobering and terrifying. The desire of people to have the unmitigated right to extinguish the gift of life which they have been graciously endowed to bestow upon others is impossible for me to countenance.  I was saddened by the meeting and voted for the bill.  It feels as if our society is becoming like the beasts of the wild which devour their young.  

SB189 - Death Penalty Amendments

This bill also came to our Law Enforcement Committee.  Its premise was to eliminate Utah's death penalty.  I voted against this bill.

However, we did hear from Randy Gardner, the brother of a convicted murderer who was executed.  After our committee, he showed up in the House Gallery on the final night and yelled at us while displaying autopsy photos of his brother after his execution.  He was swiftly escorted out of the gallery by security.

SJR2 - Resolution Calling for the Repeal of the 17th Amendment 

Part of the imbalance between State authority and Federal overreach stems from the fact that our U.S. Senators are not accountable to State Legislatures like they were prior to the 17th amendment.  I voted for this resolution.

HB333 - Electronic Cigarette Products, Nicotine Inhalers, and Related Revenue Amendments

Rep. Paul Ray brought a ton of kids to our committee encouraging us to treat vaping products the same as cigarettes and other tobacco products in regards to tax policy.  I voted for the bill but the majority of the committee did not agree with my sympathies and the bill failed.


HB104 - Property Tax Amendments - Passed both Chambers and waiting for Signature of the Governor

HB162 - Motion Picture Tax Credit Amendments -  Passed both Chambers and waiting for Signature of the Governor

HB170 - Medical Care Savings Account Tax Credit Repeal - Passed both Chambers and waiting for Signature of the Governor

HB310 - Tax Credit Review Amendments - Passed both Chambers and waiting for Signature of the Governor

HB327 - Energy Tax Credit Amendments - Heard in Revenue and Taxation Committee and returned to Rules for interim study.  This bill would have phased out tax credits for solar panels.  Here is the committee hearing where I presented the issue:

HB413 - Falconry Amendments - Heard in Natural Resources Committee and returned to Rules.
This bill would have restricted cities and counties from regulating the sport of falconry.  The bill was ready to soar but its wings were clipped by the committee. 

HB441 - Child Reunification Amendments - Passed House and failed to pass Senate prior to the end of the Session.  This bill would require parents of children in state custody to undergo a felony arrest warrant check prior to having their case for reunification heard by the court.  Here is the committee presentation which explains the origins of the bill and its merits.  

This bill experienced some drama in the final days of the Session. It originally did not have a Fiscal Note, meaning that it would not cost any money to implement.  After the committee made some alterations to the bill, a Fiscal Note was attached to the bill to the tune of $71,000.  Unfortunately, Representatives were instructed to prioritize their list of bills they wanted to fund with our limited resources.  HB441 did not appear on the list because it originally did not have a Fiscal Note.  It didn't help that the Fiscal Note was released several hours after the deadline to turn in priorities.  Fortunately, the Attorney General's office helped me find a way to reduce the note to $6,200 and I was able to convince our House Leadership to write an amendment in at the last minute to fund this small amount.  The bill passed the House Floor unanimously and went to the Senate where it died on the board at midnight.  I will bring this bill forward again next year.  


Polygamy Rally

This was a very unusual rally.  With same sex marriage legalized, the genie is out of the bottle.  I expect polygamy to be legalized by the courts within the next five years or so.   

The Halls of Government

Here is a view from the basement looking up the stairwell to the 4th floor of the buildling.

 The Capitol complex is rife with subterranean corridors.  It is easy to get lost while trying to find the parking garage.    


The view from the Majority Caucus room was jaw dropping one evening.


Over all  this has been a great Session.  I was able to move some substantive, albeit wonky, policy forward while laying the groundwork for some great policy discussions in the future.  It has been an honor to serve the people of District 9 this year.  As of the writing of this blog update, I have filed to run for office again this election cycle.  I hope to have your support.  County records indicate I will be running against my once vanquished and now perennial opponent Neil Hansen.  Let's make it a great campaign.

If you have any legislative issues or concerns or want to donate to our campaign, please CONTACT ME.

Best Regards!