Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you all had an enjoyable Thanksgiving!
I am very grateful that you have given me the privilege to continue serving as a State Senator and I appreciate your support.
This month we came together once again at the Capitol for our final Interim meetings before the next General Session. Here are a few of the highlights:
HB 4001 Solid Waste Amendments
In the last General Session, the Legislature passed a Solid Waste Amendments bill that clarified a couple definitions of terms. However, the EPA opposed the bill after it passed and so the governor vetoed the bill, but promised to bring it back in a Special Session, if a compromise could be reached. The bill that was brought back to the Senate for consideration excludes facilities that process scrap metal from the definition of “Solid Waste Management Facility”. The bill passed both chambers and will now return to the Governor for his signature.
HB 4002 Class B and C Roads Fund
In Utah, “Class A” roads are maintained by the State, “Class B” roads are maintained by counties and “Class C” roads are maintained by cities. This bill changes the apportion formula of funds from the gas tax you pay to ensure adequate and equitable funding for both Class B and Class C roads for the next two years. If this issue rings a bell to you, it is because it is an issue the legislature has attempted to work out a couple of times in the recent past as different bodies have approached the Legislature with their needs. This time, however, the Legislature required the League of Cities and Towns and the Utah Association of Counties to work together to find a compromise to their funding issues. The Legislature decided to wait to disperse the remaining funds of the year, until a compromise between the two groups could be reached. Both groups were able to reach a compromise, and so the legislature passed the bill (23-0 in the Senate and 66-1 in the House). Listen to the floor debate here.
This month proved to not only be a big month for the legislative branch with elections, but for Utah’s judicial branch as well since Governor Herbert appointed four new judges. Even though the Governor may appoint a person as a judge, it does not guarantee them the position. The Senate must consider and confirm each appointment. This time all four appointees were confirmed to their respective judgeships. We confirmed Robert Neill as a Judge of the Second District Juvenile Court, Anthony Howell as a Judge of the Fourth District Court, Robert Lunnen as a Judge of the Fourth District Court, and Kraig Powell as a Judge of the Fourth District Court.
Medicaid Consensus Forecasting
Medicaid is an “optional” program, but if a state elects to offer the program, it must abide by strict federal regulations. Utah has opted to offer Medicaid to qualified individuals, which means there are certain minimum standards, particularly in funding, that must be met. The Executive Appropriations Committee received a Medicaid Forecasting as they begin to consider the budget for the following year. According to the forecast, due in part to a reduction of caseloads, the upcoming year the funding to Medicaid can/will reduce by $8.3 million as a one-time cost, but increase $10.8 million in the ongoing costs starting in FY 2018. To listen to the report or read the Issue briefclick here.
Competency-based learning means that a student passes a subject if they can prove they understand it, and not simply that they sat through a class for the full year or semester with an acceptable grade. In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill allowing schools to adopt competency-based education programs that would allow students to potentially graduate early. If a student shows mastery in a subject, they would not be required to wait for the end of the academic year or semester to advance. The opportunity has not been implemented very widely because schools fear they will lose funding by having students graduate early. One of the bills that the Legislature will consider this year would “reimburse” schools for students who graduate early through competency-based learning. This would eliminate any disincentive for implementing the program, but would not require schools to adopt the program. You can learn more about the issue by listening to the committee report here or you can read this article on the Deseret News.
An integral part of combating the opioid overdose epidemic is expanding access to opiate antagonists, which can be used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. Last year, HB 192 appropriated $250,000 for an Opioid Overdose Pilot program. One of the purposes of this program was to “Increase public awareness of, access to, and use of opiate antagonist”. This past month, the Utah Department of Health reported on the progress of the Beta Program. So far, the beta program has had two rounds. In round one, 1,033 kits were distributed. In round two, 2,150 Naloxone kits have been distributed. A key focus of the beta program is expanding access to Naloxone for police officers in rural areas since they often arrive on scene before Emergency Medical Personnel. You can listen to the audio here.
Energy Efficient Vehicle Tax Credit
For the last couple decades, Utah has offered modest tax credits to alternative fuel vehicles. The Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee, heard a presentation on a bill that would extend the current tax credits through 2021. This incentivizes using cleaner vehicles which helps keep our air clean. This was a controversial bill that narrowly passed the committee vote to adopt it as a committee bill. The legislators in opposition to this bill felt that the money lost via the tax credit could be better spent elsewhere. Those in support of this bill viewed it as a simple way to make a difference in our air and environment. You can learn more about this issue here.
What do you think?
Thanks for tuning in and getting involved! I’d love to hear your insights and opinions. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re also welcome to join me at the capitol any time.
I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation!
Until next time,
David Hinkins, Senate District 27