Well, it’s over. A wrap. Done. The end of the 2012 Utah State Legislature.
The last 45 days have been called boring, or lackluster, or less-than-memorable.
And while the first two may be true, I don’t see the last as applying.
Actually, some very memorable items were debated and passed.
It may not be overstating that in the history of the State of Utah, 2012 was a turning point.
If the U.S. Supreme Court, in two or 10 years, upholds several of the public land laws passed in this general session, Utah will never be the same again, it’s state operations and funding changed forever.
Maybe, because of what Utah lawmakers did over the last two months, the western public land states will never be the same again, as well.
Time will tell whether the half dozen bills and resolutions adopted -- aimed at clawing back millions of acres of federal land into state and local government control -- will accomplish what intended.
If not, a couple of million dollars will have been wasted in attorney fees and court costs.
But, if the bills work. . . . well, I’m guessing that the 104, mostly conservative, legislators, who normally wouldn’t want to place a bet on anything, will be glad they threw dice on this, showing themselves as willing to take unusual paths.
In fact – outside of public lands – the 2012 Legislature took a number of libertarian stands that might have surprised politicos just several years ago.
Lawmakers rejected some pro-law enforcement or pro-prosecutorial bills – measures that would have flown through general sessions of the 1990s.
Lawmakers killed a bill that would have allowed cops to arrest people carrying graffiti materials, they passed a resolution (SJR11) condemning Congress for passing a law that could allow a U.S. president to arrest and hold Americans accused of terrorism.
Outside of politics, the 2012 Legislature made progress on restoring some programs drastically cut during the Great Recession.
More than $400 million in tax collection growth was spent in the fiscal 2013 budget, which begins July 1.
Public education got money to pay for the anticipated growth in students attending local schools.
Medicaid got more than $100 million in new funding.
There were no general tax cuts.
No tax hikes.
State workers, public education teachers and college employees got around 1 percent pay raises – the first in four years.
Thursday night, Legislators themselves changed how they will be reimbursed for actual expenses (no longer will Wasatch Front lawmakers come out ahead for being paid for a hotel they don’t actually stay in.)
Unfortunately, legislators didn’t take the next step and give themselves an annual salary. They will continue to be paid for each day they are on official state business – the 45 general session days, interim days, special session days, task force assignments and so on.
For several years now the Senate has balked at an annual pay plan, senators saying because there are only 29 of them, compared to 75 House members, senators have to sit on more committees and go to more meetings – so they got more money on average than did representatives.
And so adopting an annual pay plan would cost senators money, sources told UtahPolicy.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said that on average a legislator won’t be making more money through the changes in HJR22.
But by doing away with the current per diem and hotel reimbursements for legislators who don’t actually stay in a hotel “brings much more transparency” in how Utah’s part-time lawmakers are compensated, Dee said.
While more money was spent in the 2013 budget than in the current spending plan, conservatives point out that there were extra savings as well.
For example, more money was put into the state’s Rainy Day Fund than required by law. GOP bosses say it’s important that over the next few years that surplus account needs to be recharged.
The road bill was set for $30 million in new transportation projects in fiscal 2013, with another $150 million coming the next year.
The I-15 reconstruction in Utah County, already a good buy because of lower-than-expected bids on work underway, will be completed from Spanish Fork and just past Payson.
Showing some real courage and political finesse, Republican legislators refused to allow immigration issues rise to heated public debate.
Even though delegates to the 2011 State Republican Convention voted to have legislators repeal last year’s HB116, the guest worker program, even though several GOP county convention delegates voted to do the same thing, Republican legislators just stood up and said no.
A bill to repeal HB116 died in a Senate committee with President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, making the tabling motion.
The House Rules Committee wouldn’t even send Rep. Chris Herrod’s bill reworking HB116 out for a hearing. House members even voted on the floor not to allow Rep. Stephen Sandstrom to introduce an e-Verify bill. (And when he found a way to get a bill file opened, it never came out of Rules, either.)
Following a scandal in the state’s liquor agency, lawmakers reorganized the Division of Alcohol Control, but declined to consider privatizing liquor sales.
Late Thursday night, lawmakers amended a liquor bill that “puts $6.5 million” that the DABC was spending without specific legislative authority “back on the books,” as one sponsor said, so the money can be properly accounted for.
Also Thursday night the Senate finally agreed to fund a pilot program to provide health insurance and programs for youngsters (age 2-to-6) with autism. The debate became emotional and heated before HB272 won approval.
It’s not unusual for the national media to grab some odd action in the Utah Legislature to portray the body as just plain strange.
This year it was a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, that orders the only sex education instruction in public schools be abstinence from sex.
While HB363 is now on Herbert’s desk, some of the objectionable material that had been posted on the State Board of Education web site by Planned Parenthood (describing what can be taught in some school districts) has been pulled down.
Democratic legislators are saying that Herbert should veto the measure, since the problem may well have been addressed.
But many GOP lawmakers say HB363 best reflects most Utahns views: That sex education belongs in the homes, not in the classroom.
Finally, the work of the Legislature is never really done. As one general session ends, work for the interim begins.
GOP leaders started the 2012 session saying there should be two formal task forces for the rest of the year. But as midnight approached, four task forces were actually approved and funded.
Legislators will study water, its needs and sources; health care reform; economic development; and the plight of veterans.
Herbert and legislative Democrats specifically asked that air quality along the Wasatch Front be studied in a task force. GOP leaders said air quality can be included in the work of the economic development task force.
Lawmakers will take the month of April off, but in May interim meetings start again.
This year all of the House will be up for re-election (the candidate filing deadline is 5 p.m. March 15) as is half of the Senate – so campaigning will start in earnest.