Situational awareness – February 28, 2018

Good Wednesday morning from Salt Lake City. There are just 7 working days until the end of the 2018 Utah Legislature.

Legislators wade into a controversy surrounding a plan by the Utah GOP to kick candidates out of the party. Romney visits with Republican lawmakers. White House officials worry foreign governments are manipulating White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Tick Tock:

  • 8 days until the final day of the 2018 Utah Legislature (3/8/2018)
  • 9 days until the filing period for candidates in the 2018 election opens (3/9/2018)
  • 15 days until the filing deadline for the 2018 elections (3/15/2018)
  • 20 days until the statewide caucus meetings for Utah Republicans and Democrats (3/20/2018)
  • 52 days until the Utah GOP State Convention (4/21/2018)
  • 59 days until the Utah Democratic State Convention (4/28/2018)
  • 118 days until the 2018 Primary Election (6/26/2018)
  • 250 days until the 2018 midterm elections (11/6/2018)
  • 334 days until the first day of the 2019 Utah Legislature (1/28/2019)
  • 980 days until the 2020 presidential election (11/3/2020)

Do you like podcasts? Give us a download! Listen to our interviews with Utah political newsmakers and “Bernick and Schott on politics” while you’re on the go. Hosts Bryan Schott and Bob Bernick have more than 60 years combined experience covering Utah politics, so they bring you knowledge and insight that’s unprecedented. You can subscribe using iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

I’m always available for you to send story ideas, tips, suggestions or if you are looking for a racquetball partner. Hit me up at [email protected].

If you have friends or colleagues who would enjoy receiving this daily news rundown, tell them they can subscribe to our newsletter here.

Here’s what’s driving the day:

Lawmakers wade into Utah GOP controversy

State lawmakers say a controversial bylaw passed by the Utah GOP on Saturday is illegal and unconstitutional. They are mulling legislation to get the state party to back off their plan to kick out Republican candidates who gather signatures to get on the ballot [Utah Policy].

Utahns support giving UTA state transit money

A new survey finds that nearly 2/3 of Utahns support state transportation funds for the Utah Transit Authority as long as lawmakers implement reforms for the beleaguered agency [Utah Policy].

Romney visits Capitol Hill

GOP Senate candidate Mitt Romney huddles with Republican lawmakers about gun control, immigration and the controversy engulfing the Utah GOP. We’ve also got video of his conversation with reporters [Utah Policy].

USTAR on the ropes

Lawmakers are looking to wind down a controversial public/private technology development program. Funding for the agency will be cut this year and gradually eliminated [Utah Policy].

Budget coming into focus

Lawmakers are hoping to boost the weighted pupil unit (WPU) by 4% this year, which means about $132 million for Utah’s public schools. They also are looking at giving state employees a cost of living raise [Utah Policy].

Other Utah headlines

  • Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski says a bill to establish a governing body for the city’s northwest quadrant is “troubling” and sets a “dangerous precedent” [Deseret News, Tribune].
  • Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen jumps into the race for Sen. Jim Dabakis’ seat [Deseret News, Tribune].
  • A bill to allow counties to raise sales taxes to fund roads or transit projects was passed unanimously by a House committee on Tuesday [Deseret News].
  • Sen. Howard Stephenson says the performance of Utah’s charter schools has been a disappointment and wants a “fresh start.” Stephenson sponsored the original laws to create charter schools in the state [Tribune].
  • Rep. Val Peterson wants to prohibit state employees from lobbying lawmakers. His bill also blocks state agencies from taking an official position on legislation [Tribune].
  • The House passed a measure establishing a new oversight committee with the power to investigate state and local entities [Deseret News].
  • A House committee approved Rep. Kim Coleman’s bill setting free speech standards on campus [Deseret News].
  • House lawmakers back off proposed restrictions on the ability of reporters to access legislators before a floor session [Deseret News].
  • The Senate advanced a proposal to hike vehicle registration fees instead of a sales tax increase to boost transportation funding [Deseret News].
  • The Senate advances a bill to impose work requirements for some Medicaid recipients [Deseret News].
  • A Utah family is suing federal immigration officers claiming they broke into their apartment and violated their civil rights [Deseret News, Tribune].
  • Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow sues the state over $1.5 million in legal fees he incurred defending himself from public corruption charges [Deseret News, Tribune].

National headlines

  • U.S. intelligence agencies say officials from at least four foreign countries have sought to manipulate White House senior advisor Jared Kushner though his business arrangements, financial difficulties, and foreign policy inexperience. White House officials are worried Kushner is “naive and being tricked” by these same foreign officials [Washington Post].
  • Jared Kushner’s interim security clearance has been downgraded by White House officials from “interim Top Secret” to “interim Secret,” which cuts off his access to highly classified information. Kushner still has not been approved for a permanent security clearance [New York Times].
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly looking into President Donald Trump’s business dealings in Russia prior to his decision to run for president [CNN].
  • The head of the U.S. Cyber Command told members of Congress on Tuesday he has not been given authority by President Donald Trump to strike at Russian cyber-operations ahead of this year’s midterm elections [Washington Post]. 
  • U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian hackers were able to compromise voter registration systems in seven states prior to the 2016 election [NBC News].
  • White House communications director Hope Hicks told House investigators on Tuesday that she has occasionally been forced to tell “white lies” on behalf of President Trump, but says she has not lied during questioning about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election [New York Times].
  • Hope Hicks also refused to answer several questions during an appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, saying she was acting on orders from the White House to not talk about her work during the presidential transition following the election [Politico].
  • Republican leaders in Congress said they would not take steps to raise the minimum age for buying guns, rejecting one of President Trump’s proposals to curb gun violence following the school shooting in Florida [Reuters].
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent more than $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office suite and did not ask for congressional approval for the expenditure. The purchase came at the same time the department was preparing to cut funding for programs benefiting the homeless, elderly and poor [New York Times].
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the Trump administration is in discussions to possibly rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership after pulling out of the pact last year [New York Times].
  • Even though he’s only been in office for a little more than a year, President Donald Trump launched his 2020 re-election bid on Tuesday, naming a campaign manager for the effort [Associated Press].
  • Democrats flip two more GOP-held state legislative seats in New Hampshire and Connecticut [The Hill].

On this day in history

  • 1525 – Aztek king Cuauhtemoc is executed on the order of conquistador Herman Cortez.
  • 1885 – The American Telephone and Telegraph Company is incorporated in New York.
  • 1935 – Nylon was invented by DuPont researcher Wallace Carothers.
  • 1939 – The erroneous word “dord” is discovered in the Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, prompting an investigation.
  • 1940 – Basketball is televised for the first time (Fordham University vs. the University of Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden).
  • 1953 – James Watson and Francis Crick announce to friends they have determined the chemical structure of DNA.
  • 1983 – The final episode of M*A*S*H airs, with almost 106 million viewers. It still holds the record for the highest viewership of a season finale.
  • 1993 – Federal agents attempting to serve warrants on the Branch Davidian religious cult’s compound near Waco, Texas, were met with gunfire that left at least five people dead and 15 injured, and started a month-and-a-half long standoff.
  • 2013 – Pope Benedict XVI resigns as pope of the Catholic Church, becoming the first pope to do so since Pope Gregory XII, in 1415.