Legislative report by Kay McIff
The legislature got underway Jan. 25. It will not be an easy session. Fortunately, I feel comfortable that the citizens of Utah have chosen good people to represent them. My colleagues in the House are decent, honorable and hard working citizens from many walks of life. I feel the same way about the Senate.
Legislators come with a variety of backgrounds and views that sometimes make it difficult to reach a consensus, but in the long run this is one of the strengths of a citizen legislature. The system does not lend itself to "professional politicians".
So what's coming up in this session? In my legislative reports a year ago, I frequently cautioned that our reliance on "one-time" money, as opposed to "on-going" revenue, would make our task even more difficult in the future. We are now in the future, and it is more difficult. We are looking for more "one-time money." Sooner rather than later we need to come to grips with the existing imbalance in our tax structure. I will treat this more fully in the future.
A major challenge we face is to match the shrinking revenue with a burgeoning student population, both in higher education and public education. Together they added 25,000 new students this year. Someone recently suggested eliminating the 12th grade as a way to save money. That doesn't work for me nor will it work for our children and grandchildren. If we are to remain competitive with the rest of the world, we need to increase rather than decrease our level of education.
Occasionally, we need to remind ourselves that those who settled these valleys built school houses before they built chapels. They recognized that the future belongs to the educated. Our ability to respond to any improvement in the job market will likely depend upon the skill levels of our workforce. I am unaware of any society that has prospered from narrowing educational opportunities.
There are several other important issues facing rural Utah that I will discuss and keep you posted on in my weekly reports. I welcome questions and input. All of the bills have been filed. Some only have a title with content to be added later. The bills number in the hundreds. It is a formidable challenge to get through them. Coincidently, the first bill passed by the House was HB 14, which I sponsored, at the request of Justice Court Judge Kent Nielsen and Juvenile Court Judge Paul Lyman, both of Richfield. It solves a simple problem that occasionally arises when a minor is charged in the justice court and fails to respond. I cite it as an example of how our law-making process responds to issues that arise at the grass-roots level.
A year ago I encouraged my colleagues to reject a constitutional amendment that would have upset the balance of power between the executive and the judicial branches. I promised an effort over the summer to get both branches on the same page. I am pleased to report that the effort was successful. As a result, the Supreme Court has amended its rules and the House unanimously endorsed my bill - HB 19.
Together, these measures are designed to reduce the time and expense in post-conviction proceeding principally in death-penalty cases. We all came out winners by avoiding a constitutional showdown. It should be helpful to victims who sometimes wait a long time for these matters to conclude.
We spent considerable time this week on bills dealing with ethics. These efforts usually boil down to a bunch of new rules. I'm not a big fan of this approach. It becomes all too easy to "gag at the gnat and swallow a camel" as someone once observed. My own experience teaches that ethical people rarely need rules and those prone to be unethical are not much benefited thereby. We are proposing to create an Ethics Commission through a constitutional change. The members will include retired judges and persons outside the legislature. This has some promise of providing a neutral voice and avoiding arguments of self-protection. Finally, I warn of efforts to shift funding away from rural schools. Other rural legislators will join in strenuously resisting this movement.