Legislative report: Legislature enters last week
Rep. Kay McIff
With only four more days to go, you may think the legislature would be in a "wind-down" mode-not so. We are still winding up. Many of the major public issues impacting our state and refining the budget will occur during this time. The days will be longer than ever-seven to 11 will be the standard-and on the last day, March 8, we will recess at midnight. The next day, Renee and I will pull ourselves together and move back home.
We finally got to the land bills, four in number. The first two encourage the federal government to transfer much of the federal public domain to Utah to be managed by a Utah Public Lands Commission. It would allow Utah to more fully realize benefits from these lands and bring greater parity with the states in the eastern half of the country. Other western states are considering similar action. While, I consider it an extremely long-shot under well-established law, I support the effort which contemplates a response from the feds by the end of 2014. After that, we can reassess the options.
I did not support the other two bills which I consider contrary to the first two, and seek what we should strenuously avoid. The one includes a request that the federal government "keep its promise" to "sell" all the federal public domain in our state. The other appropriates more than a $1 million to immediately institute a lawsuit if the federal government fails to signal its compliance with our request.
It's difficult to imagine anything that would so compromise life in Utah as having all public lands pass into private ownership and become inaccessible to the rank-and-file citizens. Our decision to move to central Utah some 40 years ago was driven in large measure by its proximity to these beautiful and panoramic lands that greatly enrich our lives. I hope the senate will kill the second set of bills. We have adequately made our point with the first two, and to spend a million dollars to achieve an undesirable result would be the worst of folly.
Early this week, the house adopted a measure limiting unauthorized photographing of agricultural activities-largely farm animal management-while trespassing on another's land. It is not designed to protect those who are abusive to animals but rather to protect against those who are bent on destroying the agricultural industry by a slanted and exaggerated treatment of a minor incident involving livestock. An overall unbiased exposure is fair, but not one that assembles bits and pieces to cast the whole in a negative light.
We debated at length the issue of when and how often a motor vehicle should be inspected. There were multiple options advanced and earnestly argued on multiple occasions. In the end we settled on 4,8,10, and 12 years after manufacture and every year thereafter; not necessarily my preference, but it took on a life of its own. We were all glad to get it behind us. We adopted an "abstinence-only policy to guide sex education in the public schools. It became a highly emotional issue. The result may be problematic for teachers and students when parents neglect any instruction in this delicate subject matter at home.
Because of my background in the law and the courts, I have sponsored several measures at the request of judicial officials. One such measure clarifies Utah law in dealing with defendants such as Brian David Mitchell (Elizabeth Smart Case) who exhibit exaggerated traits of incompetence in order to avoid trial. The change in our law should help us to better deal with these issues in the future. I have also sponsored a bill that provides a "roadmap" for juvenile courts and the Department of Human Services to deal with competency issues that arise at the juvenile level. I sponsored this bill at the request of a taskforce that has worked over the last two years to arrive at an agreed-upon approach.
Much remains to be resolved in both houses. I will update you next week. I have had many contacts and several visitors from each of the counties I serve. You are always welcome to come to the Capitol.
Rep. Christine Watkins
We are in the final week of the 2012 Session. If history has taught us anything, it's that we cannot predict what is going to happen in the final week of the Utah State Legislature. There are still plenty of bills that do not have public language yet, but might be worked-lifted from the Rules Committee and passed within a matter of a single day (remember HB 477 last year?)
Our standing committees have wrapped up their work, and our bills have been prioritized for the remainder of the Session. It is looking good for all of my bills to be passed. I worked hard to have bills completed early on in the session, and I believe that my endeavors will pay off. I will continue to work to strengthen families for the sake of children.
I would ask that you watch House Bill 407, which deals with car safety inspections. The bill has passed the House and now the Senate will make any changes it desires. As of now a car would be inspected the fourth, eighth, 10th, 12th years and every year after the 12th year. There were many amendments made to this bill and it's anyone's guess as to what the Senate will do. I was very concerned about House Bill 156; it would have eliminated some important funding for rural schools. The sponsor made some great changes and now the bill will just eliminate some unnecessary wording and programs that are obsolete. House Bill 155 would require those who receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Recipients) to submit a written questionnaire to determine the likeliness of potential substance abuse. If they are found to be using certain drugs, they would still receive benefits, but be required to go through a program to help them stop using drugs. I was leery of this bill until I understood the recipient would receive benefits and drug use help.
House Bill 319, a bill I sponsored, will require DCFS (Division of Child and Family Services) to create and give to families a pamphlet or flyer describing their rights, responsibilities, and resources available to them to improve their parenting skills. This bill will be heard on the Consent
Calendar Monday and I am sure it will pass. This legislative session has been very intense, even though the usual "highly controversial" bills were not heard; we have had plenty of discussion, debate, and behind the scenes arm twisting. I am so honored to have represented my constituents in rural southeastern Utah. I work hard and try to represent the majority of the voices. I am always listening and reaching out to leaders and experts. I also listen to those who are often pushed aside and have no one to champion their causes. Again, thank you and I look forward to another two years. firstname.lastname@example.org, Face book: Rep Watkins, Twitter:@repwatkins.