Legislative update by Rep. McIff from the hill
Over the course of the first two weeks, the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, has received a number of informative reports from each of the universities and colleges throughout the state. They are great places of advanced learning and serve our populous well. A new challenge has arisen of late. It stems from the LDS Church's lowering the age at which missionaries are called to serve. Almost overnight every institution has, and will continue for some two years, to experience a drop in enrollment. It will have the least impact at the University of Utah where the age of students spans a decade and includes not only the traditional four years but a wide variety of graduate programs. By far the largest impact falls on Snow College, which has the youngest studentbody, the fewest number of grade levels (freshman and sophomore) and near the highest percentage of LDS students. For Snow, that spells the largest percentage drop in state funding and in tuition collected. It will be a formidable challenge for President Wyatt and his staff and faculty. I hope we can give Snow at least a modest bump-up in funding so it can avoid any permanent injury during the transition period.
I was reminded this week of how truly open our society is to all voices, even those that are not respectful of any cause but their own. On Thursday, a sizable assemblage of protesters filled the capitol rotunda and were allowed admission to the Governor's reception area. They were extraordinarily loud and out of harmony with the nature of the setting. A group advocating for persons with disabilities had rented the rotunda area for a reception and an opportunity to interact with the lawmakers. Their reception wasn't a good mix with the protesters, but they handled it well. The rights of free speech and assembly are of great value in this land of the free, but they lend themselves to abuse if we are insensitive to the impact on others.
On the education front, I advanced through committee a bill to give school districts the flexibility for the next two years to use a portion of the capitol levy to fund basic costs in the classroom. The option was intended to be renewed two years ago but my bill died on the Senate calendar when time ran out. It is widely endorsed by school officials and is of primary benefit to the small rural school districts. It will go to the house floor this next week.
After considering similar bills over the last couple of years, the Judiciary Committee finally approved a bill authorizing the issuance of protective orders in a dating context. Passage of the measure was aided by the stunning and tragic statistic that during 2012 there were 15 homicides in Utah that arose out of dating relationships. One occurred in Sevier County. It is a sad commentary about the preoccupation with violence that has become an increasing part of today's culture. It threatens the safety and security which we have taken for granted. The protective orders will not solve the problem, but we hope they will help. Column: Third week of 2013 Utah Legislature.
Utah is at the top of almost every list of the most desirable places in America to locate or relocate a major business. We have a sound economy, a favorable tax structure, a reasonably young and well-educated workforce, exceptional medical care and facilities, a fair judicial system, well managed government on both the local and state level, and a high quality of life. In short, about our only "black eye" is the polluted air along the Wasatch front. Taking steps to improve air quality is on everyone's short list, but the task is not easy. Air inversion is a given in these bathtub shaped valleys. We can't turn on the exhaust fans and rearrange the terrain even if we wanted to - and we don't. For starters, I think we will continue to support and give tax breaks for automobiles and manufacturing methods that are less polluting. There are other proposals which will be carefully considered. On a personal note, it is nice to come home for a day or two on the weekend and catch up on some clean air.
The so-called "Bill of the Week" is House Bill 61 which granted university status to Dixie State College. I was privileged to serve as chair of the Board of Trustees when the same thing happened at Southern Utah University in the early 90s. It is a significant thing for the folks in "Dixie" and forces everyone to try a little harder to be worthy of the advancement.
The House also approved a bill disallowing smoking in a motor vehicle when children are present. The justification is simple. Children don't have a vote and second-hand smoke is not good for any of us. This is as least the third year in a row that we have considered the bill. It finally had enough support. We will see how it fares in the Senate.
I don't recall mentioning passage of a bill requiring insurers to include coverage for autism. It has also been unsuccessfully advanced during previous years. The studies show increasing numbers of young people suffering from this condition and a high incidence rate in Utah. This expanded coverage will reduce the burden on a lot of families though it may impact insurance rates to a modest degree.
During my first year in the legislature, I worked on a measure to compensate wrongly convicted persons whose innocence is not established until after they have spent time in prison. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it seems right and fair to compensate the wrongfully imprisoned person. My judiciary committee has now unanimously endorsed expanding the statute to include payment to the surviving wife who has stuck with her deceased husband through this almost unimaginable injustice.
Wednesday was Tourism Day on the hill. Garfield and Wayne counties were well represented as was the Moab area. All of these understand the great value of living near the many wonders of Utah's outdoor world. Little more than a decade ago, we were a somewhat disjointed in our outreach. No more. We now approach tourism like a well-run machine. We are organized, thoughtful and imaginative. "Life Elevated" is attractively packaged not only to our western neighbors, but to a national and, in some instances, international audience.
I have had several visits from folks from around District 70. Please make sure you contact me if you happen to be on capitol hill.