Thursday, March 30, 2017

GRINDING THE FACE OF THE POOR: Draper Citizens vs. The Homeless

"What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, 
and grind the faces of the poor?
saith the Lord of Hosts."
- Isaiah 3:15

An open house was  held after Mayor Troy Walker of Draper offered up two sites for Salt Lake County's new homeless shelter.  Accounts of behavior at the meeting are shocking and discouraging.

 Citizens of Draper showed up in force to express their disgust at such a proposal.  The Salt Lake Tribune reports that attendees booed a homeless man trying to make the case for helping the disadvantaged.

A Legislative staffer, who is accustomed to contentious political debate, lives in Draper and attended the meeting:

"I am absolutely ashamed of the behavior of my fellow community members tonight. Agree or not with the decision of the mayor, there is no excuse for the ugliness, the insults, the screaming and accusations based on a whole lot of nothing....I truly am mortified and oh so very disappointed. Not because of the decision that was made, but because of the uncivil behavior that led to the decision. Our country is in trouble, more than too many of us realize, I'm afraid."  - Carolyn Phippen

The videos speak for themselves:

With this unruly display coming on the heels of Rep. Jason Chaffetz rowdy town hall meeting, it appears we are entering a new era of politics.  The meeting should have been a sincere dialogue and discussion about the issues.  Instead, it turned into a vulgar name-calling shout-fest.  Worrisome indeed.

If we fail to rise above our feelings to enjoin in respectful discussion, even in disagreement, we consign ourselves to a worse fate.  May we forever surrender ourselves to decency in our discourse.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

SINE DIE SILLINESS: JP and The Cache County Boys

Every year after we adjourn Sine Die, several legislators get together to put on skits, awards, and other entertainment.  Since I play guitar, I have been involved in after hours entertainment quite often.  Last year we played a parody of Sweet Home Alabama and roasted our colleagues.  This year, we chose Credence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary to adapt to the grilling.

Here is our performance at 1AM on the House Floor:

A special thanks to my band mates Curt Webb, Ed Redd, and our new bassist Val Potter.  All three of these guys hail from Logan (where I also attended USU for a time).  Something musical must be happening in that valley.

For those of you interested in reading the lyrics and the accompanying photos, here they are:


2017 General Session Update: Week 7 - Grand Finale

Looking back on the final week of the Session, let me just say that it is a blur in my mind.  We passed a lot of bills and killed a few of them as well.  Here are some major highlights.

Sales Tax Head Fake

Previously, there was a lot of deliberation and consternation regarding our sales tax policy and the idea of making changes to even out the volatility of revenues.  As it turns out, the assumptions that lead to proposing the policy change in the first place were completely wrong.  Fortunately, the policy came to the House where 75 brains were then put to work dissecting and critically analyzing the idea.  In the end, the idea was abandoned because it was needless.

Clean Air

The House passed SB197 to help in the effort to improve air quality along the Wasatch Front.  The bill provides sales tax exemptions for refineries to purchase equipment needed to convert their operations to Tier 3 fuel standards.  Once converted, the improvement to air quality would be the equivalent of removing 4 out of 5 vehicles from the road.  So, the impact would be substantial.

The bill gives the refineries a couple of years to move in this direction and the exemption is only good for equipment used to convert to the higher standard.  Hopefully, this incentive will drive some positive changes in the coming years.

Protesters - Take Two

International Women's Day was during the last week of the Session.  In a sequel to the Women's March during the first week of the Session, this second event was much more subdued.  This time my own constituents came to the Capitol and sent in a green card to invite me out of the House Chamber to visit with them.  I gladly obliged.

We had a great discussion even if we had two very different philosophical view points.

Letter Grades for Schools

Our body deliberated extensively a bill to revamp how schools are graded for public judgement.  I am a big opponent of the letter grade system for schools because it glosses over so many aspects that make up a school community.  I feel that we should do away with letter grades for schools and simply allow the statistics and attributes speak for themselves.

Mr. Peterson's Bills

HB23 - Rooftop Solar Tax Credit Phase Out - Passed out of the Senate.  Ready for signature from the Governor.

HB24 - Student Prosperity Savings Account Tax Credit - Passed out of Senate.  Ready for signature from Governor.

HB64 - Property Tax Relief Amendments - Passed out of Senate. Ready for signature from Governor.

HB73 - Child Placement Amendments - This bill did not get funded.

HB158 - State House Boundary Amendments - Passed out of Senate. Ready for signature from Governor.

HB270 - Inmate Housing Amendments - This bill will be discussed over the Interim. 

HB448 - Community Reinvestment Amendments - Passed out of Senate. Ready for signature from Governor.

Tweet of the Week

Photo Gallery

VFFs - Vest Friends Forever - Rep. Adam Gardner and me.

Super Intern McKenzie Forbes and me in front of the Dias.

Rep. McKell, after adjourning, runs a faux resolution retiring SB54 from Legislative lexicon.

We play a parody of Credence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary and roast our colleages 
at 1AM on the House Floor after adjourning sine die. 


This session was another year of growth for me as a Legislator.  I took on some difficult bills and also learned a lot.  This was my first year as Chair of the Government Operations committee and I believe we did a good job vetting the bills that came before us.  We also had fun while we were doing it.  I tried to keep our committee conversations upbeat and sprinkled with appropriate humor.  I also discovered early in the Session that our political fabric is under great strain after my lighthearted comments were distorted to foment an eruption of bitterness and anger.  I learned a lot from that. With that glaring exception, the Session was the mildest that I have yet to experience here on the Hill.  Staff that I spoke to said that our Leadership teams ran the Session better than they can ever remember.  So, hats off to Greg Hughes, Brad Wilson, Francis Gibson, and John Knotwell for their hard work keeping the Legislative process moving smoothly.       

Now on to the interim and drafting new bills for 2018...  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

2017 General Session Update: Week 6

Week 6 was heavy with big votes on big issues.

Sales Tax on Food

The Legislature has been informed that our current tax structure is woefully prepared for the future.  Changes in the economy have meant decreasing tax revenue to pay for increasing demands for services.  Much of this is related to shifts in what people purchase and how they purchase it.  The shift has left the State unprepared for the future.

Many reforms are on the horizon.  We attempted to navigate a three pronged approach to tax reform involving income taxes, single sales factor taxation for manufacturers, and sales taxes.  That idea proved too unwieldy to comprehend and parse in the short time we have left on the Hill.  So, we decided to move in a more measured direction as we work through reforms a piece at a time into the future.

The proposal on the table is a restoration of the sales tax on food with a reduction in the sales tax on everything.  Why?  The sales tax funds everything in government outside of education.  Unfortunately, the current model which excludes food is highly volatile which makes funding government services unpredictable.  By lowering the tax rate for everyone and broadening the tax base by restoring taxes on food, this funding source for services becomes more stable over time.

Poverty advocates have been chiming in for a while about avoiding a restoration of taxes on food.  I agree that it would affect our lowest income families the most.  So, to mitigate this problem, the tax reform proposal includes a Grocery Tax Credit for retired folks and an Earned Income Tax Credit for working folks.  These two credits would offset the food tax for those living in poverty.  As proposed, this tax structure would not increase tax revenue to the state but merely even out its ebbs and flows over time. This change will help set the table for looking at other reforms down the road.      

I support this proposal in concept.  The bill should be released anytime and ready for a public hearing on Monday.  

Alcohol Reform

HB442 - Alcohol Amendments - This bill reforms Utah 's alcohol laws significantly.  Probably the most headline worthy part of the legislation is that it gives restaurants with bars the option to remove the "Zion Curtain" feature that was mandated in 2009 for new restaurants.  It also phases out dining club licenses and makes some other changes related to off-premise retailers.  You can listen to what the bill does HERE.    The buffer area, "Washington" wall, and curtain options give restaurants plenty of options to choose from.  I voted for the bill in committee and on the floor.

Electric Vehicle Tax Credits

HB29 - Electric Vehicle Tax Credits - This bill died on the house board 37-38.  The tax credit is set to expire this year and the bill as proposed would have phased out the tax credit over several years.  I supported the bill and voted for it on grounds that a tapered phase out was a much better policy. 

Gun Laws

HB 237 - Firearms and Domestic Violence Modifications - This bill would make Utah a "constitutional carry" state but would also forfeit the firearms of any person convicted of domestic violence.  I supported the bill and voted for it.  We need more good guys carrying guns.      

Motorcycle Helmets

SB159 - Helmet Requirement Amendments - This bill would have required motorcycle riders between the ages of 18-21 to wear helmets.  I was a big NO vote on this bill.  I am disappointed the committee felt the need to restrict the liberty of riders to choose for themselves.  

Mr. Peterson's Bills

HB23 - Rooftop Solar Tax Credit Phase Out - Passed out of the Senate.  Ready for signature from the Governor

HB24 - Student Prosperity Savings Account Tax Credit - On the Senate board waiting for funding approval.

HB64 - Property Tax Relief Amendments - This bill passed the Senate with a unanimous vote and now goes to the Governor for a signature.

HB73 - Child Placement Amendments - This bill passed the House and Senate committe unanimously.  It awaits funding prioritization early next week. 

HB158 - State House Boundary Amendments - This bill passed the Senate Floor unanimously and goes to the Governor's desk for a signature.

HB270 - Inmate Housing Amendments - This bill will be discussed over the Interim. 

HB448 - Community Reinvestment Amendments - This bill was heard in a House Committee and passed unanimously.  It awaits sifting and being placed on the House board for debate Monday.  

Napoleon Dynamite 

This week I was notified by House staff that Jon Heder (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) was coming to Capitol Hill to visit the Governor, Senate, and House.  Speaker Hughes asked me to host him in the House during his visit.  It was a fun experience.

I met Jon in the hallway before walking him onto the House Floor.  It just so happened my girls were waiting to ambush him as he arrived.  Someone must have tipped them off.

We hammed it up for the few moments he was with us in the House and had a few laughs.  I brought "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts for both of us to wear.  He wasn't expecting that but was a good sport nevertheless.  Midway through our time on the Floor he leans over to me and says: "Now wait, is this whole thing for a photo op, or for your amusement?"  I responded with a smile: "Both."  Shortly after that, his handlers arrived and whisked him away to the Governor's office.  

Nobody had informed me why Jon was visiting us on the Hill.  I thought it was a fun publicity stunt to promote his new movie.  However, I discovered later that Jon was visiting the Capitol to advocate for Motion Picture Tax Incentives.  Hilariously, I ran a bill (that failed) to end those same tax credits last year.  Haha! When worlds collide.

NOTE:  Jon, if you are reading this, I forgive you.  We can still be friends.

Grand Finale

The dramatic conclusion to this year's session is upon us.  Look for a post-mortem of the week's events after the smoke clears.