Utah Legislature gets underway; Hughes says state will sue big pharma because of the opioid crisis

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, in his open remarks as the 2018 Legislature started Monday, said that GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes will, in some way, sue Big Pharma seeking damages for the opioid epidemic now harming the Beehive State and the nation.

The AG’s office did not immediately respond to a comment Monday morning.

Hughes, R-Draper, indicated that Reyes did not want to join other states’/counties’ prosecutors in suing large drug firms that have flooded the nation with various kinds of painkillers that have – perhaps not on purchase – gotten so many Americans addicted to the opioids.

Hughes said that Utah would join the fight, but perhaps in an individual, specialized lawsuit.

But whatever is coming legally, Utah will be in the fight, said Hughes, who got a long standing ovation when he finished what will be his last “first-day” speech. He is not running for re-election this year and will retire from the House.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said lawmakers have a historic opportunity to tackle tax reform.

“Last year we attempted to do this, but it got caught up in who would get the benefit. It becomes political for us to do what is economically good,” he said.

Hughes listed many “achievements” the House has gained over the last three sessions over which Hughes has stood as speaker:

— Public education, more than $800 million new dollars for public schools. More funding will come this session.

— Separation of powers. Some (GOP Gov. Gary Herbert?) may be seeing the part-time lawmakers as a part-time branch of government.

This opinion can’t stand, says Hughes. 

There will be bills (not named by him) that could allow the Legislature to call itself into special sessions and make clear that lawmakers, not the governor, make critical budget decisions.

(Hughes is considering running for governor in 2020.)

— Homelessness. Hughes has spearheaded Operation Rio Grande, which has put tens of millions of dollars into fighting the terrible problem on the west side of downtown Salt Lake City.

Coming this session will be bills that tax outlying communities to pay for the effort and limit the number of homeless services in local communities that may be swamped with the state and Salt Lake County and City efforts to help the homeless.

— Reworking the governance of the Utah Transit Authority.

— Adult and juvenile justice reform. The number of adult inmates is falling in the Utah State Prison, as a new, huge prison is built out by the airport. Recidivism is working, and more work must be done.

Hughes said he’s glad Reyes will act in some manner to get Utah into the legal fight against Big Pharma – which, like tobacco settlements did years ago, bring new monies into the state to fight opioid addiction.

He encouraged the 29 county attorneys to file suit, even if Reyes’ actions don’t bring them individually into the legal fight.

Hughes said while after this year he won’t be in the Legislature to continue the “culture” of doing the hard things, he knows those heavy lifts will take place.

For Democrats and GOP lawmakers together will continue doing the hard political stuff that keeps Utah on the leading edge of well managed and function states in the Union.