2017 Utah Legislature Opens with Call to Address Homelessness and Federal Overreach

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser takes the oath of officeAs the Utah Legislature got underway Monday, House Speaker Greg Hughes said if Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County leaders don’t have the political will to deal with the state homeless issue effectively, then the Legislature will step in and do it.

“We will not be writing a blank check,” Hughes told the newly-elected 75 representatives.

But, added Hughes, he expects communities – including the city and county – to fulfill their responsibilities.

Hughes introduced from the gallery a man who had served 21 years in federal prison but found a new life in Utah in part because of the help of the Road Home homeless shelter and programs. Now he and his wife have twins, a promising job and a life of hope.

All that can, and will, be achieved, promised Hughes, for other homeless, suffering people who Utah state government – with the aid of local officials — will help.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, began his third term as the head of that body by praising President Donald Trump’s call for returning power to the people.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about making America great again. What does that phrase mean? In my view, making America great again is rebalancing the power of the states and the federal government,” he said during his opening remarks. “Most of the issues should be dealt with in State Houses and City Halls, not Washington, D.C. A centralized government was the very thing the founders were trying to eliminate.”

Niederhauser said he was challenged over the summer by members of Utah’s Congressional delegation to come up with a list of grievances that demonstrate federal overreach for them to address during the Trump administration. Niederhauser says he and Speaker Hughes are embracing that call by authorizing the Commission on Federalism to meet during the 2017 session to come up with a list.

“I want to suggest to everybody, no matter your party affiliation, that we join to bring power back to the states. I also call on my legislative colleagues around the country to build a barrier around their state’s rights and guard it jealously. We know Washington will not give up their power willingly, so we’ll have held their feet to the fire.”

Niederhauser also slammed the decision by former President Barack Obama to declare the new Bears Ears National Monument, saying no single person should have that much power.

“This is an example of unchecked power. No one person should be allowed to make decisions of that magnitude unilaterally.”

Hughes basically declared war on the “wolves” who are preying on the homeless folks now congregated in the Rio Grande area of west Salt Lake City.

He said organized crime – some with men walking our streets in business suits – have taken over the area.

That will stop, said Hughes. He added that he is working with other Utah leaders, state and local, and with the federal DEA, to drive these criminals out of the state.

Hughes also challenged Democrats to join with that effort, and find the political will to take partisanship out of education funding.

Hughes said that the 2007 “reform” of the state income tax did what was intended – not take money away from public schools but drive a thriving economy, now seen as one of the best in the nation.

To just raise the personal income tax – like the Our Schools Now movement wishes – will drive away that good economy.

And in the end, just harm schools rather than help them.

Hughes, with a smile and light touch, blamed the media and others for driving the tax-hike movement.

Finally, Hughes said he and others are working with the new Donald Trump administration to “completely rescind” the Obama-created Bears Ears National Monument.

When Hughes talked about Bears Ears and some other land issues, the GOP lawmakers cheered him, while the 13-member Democratic caucus sat on their hands.

Since this is a new Legislature, the 2017-2018, 62nd two-year term Legislature, both the Senate president and House speaker must be sworn in.

But who to do it? Typically a former president and speaker.

Al Mansell swore in Niederhauser, and Mel Brown did the honors in the House. Brown barely lost his GOP primary last June, went to the Utah Supreme Court to dispute it, lost on technical grounds and decided not to refile his appeal. So his long public service – first elected in 1986 — seems at an end.

The House got an early laugh as the audio from the Senate came in over the House speakers – and it took some time to get it turned off – with Brown speaking over the Senate’s rude interference.

No doubt it will not be the last time over the next 45 days that the Senate steps on the House’s toes.