Legislative update from Rep. Kay McIff
The 2014 General Legislative Session is progressing. Lawmakers from around the state are gathered at the State Capitol to address the issues facing Utah this year. Some of the hot topics of discussion for us in the House have been air pollution, same-sex marriage, medical coverage, and public education. As in years past, education is a top priority for me. That includes both public education and higher education. I serve on the Higher Education Appropriations committee and have spent every afternoon this week discussing the progress of our public universities. We have extremely fine institutions of higher learning in this state. The tuition in Utah remains among the lowest in the nation.
Medical care was prominently featured in the Governor's State of the State address. We heard from Senator Orrin Hatch who visited the House to answer questions and speak to members. One of the issues discussed was the expansion of Medicaid. Right now the state is facing the decision of whether to expand the program. The federal government has offered to pick up the full cost of the expansion through 2016 and cover 90 percent after that. We are apprehensive about the capacity of the federal government to keep that promise. It's a formidable challenge to help the uninsured who face the almost impossible task of paying their medical bills. Senator Hatch stated, "I hope there will come a day when our people in this country can afford medical care." Assisting those who need help is a moral obligation which people in Utah have assumed since our ancestors came into these valleys. We will make several important decisions about medical care during this legislative session.
Since Judge Shelby's decision to throw out Utah's constitutional definition of marriage, as between a man and woman, the topic has been a discussion among lawmakers, throughout the media, and among our citizenery. The Speaker asked me along with three other lawyers in the House to work with a legal team which we have hired to proceed with an appeal to the 10th Circuit and onto the United States Supreme Court. The head lawyer has practiced in Washington D.C. for many years and argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court. As the appeal moves forward, I look for the legislature to avoid becoming embroiled in additional debate. Our stance is reflected in the constitutional amendment adopted by a two-thirds majority of our people. We will defend that provision, while at the same time making clear that there is no place in our society for "hatred and bigotry" as the Governor stated in his address to us.
More than at any time in my life the compromised quality of our air along the Wasatch Front has become a focus of great public concern. We need to address this issue to the full extent possible, though our geography and burgeoning population make it extremely difficult to find solutions. The mere fact that we can't do everything is not justification for doing nothing, so we are going to make every effort to have cleaner air in our state. To our good fortune in rural Utah, air quality remains one of our great attractions. I breathe more freely the closer I get to home. As the session moves forward, I will keep you posted on important developments.
I appreciate the emails and other contacts including your concerns or suggestions. I urge you to continue to be involved. Thank you for your support this session. Early in the legislative session, we spend little time on the House Floor and a lot of time in committees where the pick-and-shovel work is accomplished. Proposed bills are vetting and a determination is made as to whether they should go to the full House for further debate and potential passage. Many of the bills are "clean up" of old legislation and move rapidly through the process.
Some are much more difficult because they design to make significant changes in public policy. Such is true of a bill heard this week by the Judiciary Committee which I chair. It would allow greater access to adoption records. I understand the increased interest in the information, but am sensitive to the promised confidentiality which many have relied upon. Disclosure decisions need to be made by the persons involved in these life changing decisions.
Each year we adopt a "base budget" at the beginning of the session. It is based upon last year's numbers. We then revisit virtually all the items adjusting to accommodate changing requirements and new income projections. The process was adopted a few years back when the legislature came to an end without agreement on a budget. It was no small mess. If this were to happen now our default position is the "base budget" now in place.
I have spent considerable time this week working with our legal team on a legislative effort to support Utah's appeal of the decision undermining the state's constitutional amendment in support of marriage. By the time you read this, all of the briefs will have been filed with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. There is considerable angst about being compelled to abandon a concept so deeply rooted in our history.
During recent years our state has had an increasing number of high-speed chases and other efforts to flee or elude law enforcement officers. All too often this ends in tragic confrontations. Such recently occurred with fallen officer Derek Johnson, Draper City, who died in the line of duty. On Thursday, his family joined us on the House floor where a citation was read honoring Sgt. Johnson and his family. Our hearts go out to any who have suffered such a loss, and our appreciation for those who serve in these roles is enhanced.
Many local officials and students have made their way to the State Capitol during the last two weeks and have toured this grand old building, one of the nicest in America, and observed the legislative process in motion. I encourage all interested to make the trip as well. I will be pleased for your visit, and my intern, Olyvia Lindgren from Antimony in Garfield County, will be glad to assist. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Olyvia can be reached at (435) 893-5232 or email@example.com.