Well, the first week of the Utah Legislature is about over and no one has been thrown or jumped from the Capitol’s fourth floor balcony.
Thus, by my definition, it’s been a successful start to the 2012 general session.
What do we know after four days of legislative work, debate and rumors?
-- Democrats have a plan to freeze dependent income tax deductions that, over 10 years, would end with $500 million more coming annually into public education.
The Republicans likely won’t do it.
-- Republicans promise to fully fund growth in the number of students next year. Democrats say that’s a minimal effort, which ensures Utah will remain at the bottom of the pack in school funding and achievement.
-- GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, facing re-election like all of the House and half of the Senate this year, in his State of the State address says Utah is strong and getting stronger.
Republican legislators agree and gave the governor several standing ovations during his prime-time speech. Democrats mostly sat on their hands, a silent protest that the state’s majority party isn’t investing in the state as it should.
-- Illegal immigration will be further addressed in this session. Some lawmakers want to repeal HB116 – the guest worker bill passed in the 2011 Legislature. Others want to amend it.
I’ve heard that there may be an effort to repeal all of the 2011 immigration laws under the argument it isn’t a state responsibility.
-- At least one top Republican, House budget vice chairman John Dougall, R-American Fork, is suggesting the state income tax rate drop from 5 percent to 4 percent; the state portion of the sales tax go from 4.7 percent to 3.5 percent.
That would be a tax cut of around $600 million, dropping state income tax by a fifth, dropping the sales tax by a fourth.
Democrats say that's nuts, the state and public schools can’t afford that.
Dougall says they can, and at least a debate on limiting state government growth should be conducted.
-- An ancillary vote was taken in the House showing the majority Republicans aren’t interested at all in changing or bypassing the state’s unique caucus/convention system.
Advocates of an alternative route for a candidate to get on a political party’s primary ballot (by gathering 2 percent of the voter signatures on a petition), will clearly have to go the initiative road.
The Legislature won’t take this issue on.
-- A record number of bills have been filed or are in the works. GOP leaders are telling their caucus members they need to approve bills that have been drafted.
As of Thursday noon there were 88 bills that had been drafted by legislative attorneys, but which had not been cleared to be introduced and numbered by their sponsors.
“There’s only so much time” early in the session for standing committees to hear and vote on bills, warns House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
Time wasted now could mean a sponsor’s bill won’t make it through the 2012 session.
“Bills aren’t going to just flow downstream naturally. You have to bird-dog them,” says Hughes.
-- After some grousing, legislators are approving around 100 changes to the newly-drawn boundaries in their own legislative districts. Most of the redrawing was done in an October special session.
But county clerks have found places where House and Senate boundary lines didn’t match. By Friday it’s hoped the final changes will pass and legislators and clerks can know for sure where the voters are.
-- One legislator wants to name snowboarding and skiing Utah’s official winter sports. So begins some of the less important bills of the 2012 session.