• Spending time with my daughter on Capitol Hill

    With my daughter on the Senate floor

  • Bryan Schott Interview

    The Role of Women in Politics

  • Open Utah

    We’ve Launched a New Transparency Data Site!

  • timthumb

  • Tax Payer Score Card

    Utah Taxpayer’s Association 2015 Legislative Scorecards

  • Libertas Scorecards

    The Libertas Institute’s 2015 Legislative Scorecard

2015 Legislative Wrap-Up

First of all, I offer my sincere gratitude for allowing me the opportunity to represent you in the Utah State Senate. Serving in the legislature is one of the greatest honors of my life. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

Out of the thousands of votes I take, I will inevitably cast some with which you may disagree. But that’s not a bad thing. As the saying goes: if we agree with each other 100 percent of the time, one of us is not thinking. I appreciate those of you who have heard me out and even called me out. Learning your perspective not only makes me a better legislator, it makes me a better person. So thank you to each of you who care enough to make your voice heard.

The session ended at the stroke of midnight last Thursday. We grappled with some weighty issues, especially during the last two weeks. We also passed a balanced budget—the single most important thing we do each year.

A Few Highlights

Highlights of Bills I Sponsored

  • SB247: Recognizes and begins to pay down the $86 million unfunded liability for vacation time accrued by state employees.
  • SB193: Adds transparency to property tax notices, and prevents local governments from levying abusive, punitive or unfair fees and fines on taxpayers.
  • SB227: Establishes a transparent process for a charter school to transfer its assets and charter to a high-performing charter or district school.
  • SB169: Allows free markets to determine retail prices of contact lenses by prohibiting manufacturers from engaging in the anti-competitive practice of mandating price floors for contact lenses.
  • HB361: (Rep. Roberts) Establishes a statewide protocol for investigating police officer use of force
  • HB154: (Rep. McKell) Allows exemption from jury duty for breastfeeding mothers.

Legislation

  • 832 bills were introduced (332 Senate Bills, 500 House bills) (See them here)
  • 528 bills were passed (232 Senate Bills, 296 House bills) (See them here)
  • I introduced and passed 9 bills (See them here)
  • I floor sponsored and passed 13 House bills (See them here)

Spanish Fork Jr High

Medical Marijuana

I received lots of communication from constituents who were both for and against SB259, the bill to legalize medical marijuana. Last year I voted for a measure legalizing cannabis (marijuana) oil for a small number of children who suffer from debilitating seizures. That particular bill underwent months of significant input, scrutiny and change—being substituted nine times before passing unanimously in the Senate. I have a great deal of compassion for people who may benefit from medical marijuana. I don’t oppose taking responsible steps to expand what we did last year so more people can benefit.

Unfortunately, SB259 would have repealed last year’s law in order to implement an entirely new system to legalize the growing, processing, distributing, dispensing, and prescribing of not just cannabis oil, but also marijuana leaves and various edible products. The bill was a massive policy shift for the state of Utah, full conceptual and procedural flaws that ultimately prevented me from supporting it.

The bill was unveiled at the very end of the legislative session with little to no input from fellow legislators, law enforcement, doctors, and state agencies charged with prescribing the drug and implementing the program. It required cities to allow “dispensaries” to set up shop anywhere they wanted within commercial zoning. We don’t even allow such loose regulations for restaurants hoping to obtain a liquor license. For example: even an Olive Garden restaurant has to be a certain distance away from a school, playground, or library. Not so, according to this bill, for marijuana retailers. The bill prohibited people with violent or drug-related felony convictions from engaging in marijuana commerce, while oddly allowing people convicted of crimes like theft, fraud, embezzlement, burglary, counterfeiting, and DUI to grow and sell the drug. Furthermore, the list of “qualified illnesses” was so long and broad that almost anyone could be eligible under the definitions.

Of course, the overshadowing complication with legalizing medical marijuana in Utah is the fact that no matter what we say, it is still against federal law. That reality is tricky to navigate. In addition to installing a massive new regulatory bureaucracy, we would also have to implement an entire money-laundering scheme, because banks won’t touch “drug” money. There were simply too many complications and problems, and not enough time to fix them. It’s almost always a mistake to quickly shove huge policy changes like this through at the tail end of a legislative session. I expect the bill sponsor and supporters will work hard during the interim to bring new legislation to the table next session that will be more likely to merit wide support.

Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination

For many years, activists in the LGBT community have been fighting for a statewide non-discrimination law in Utah. Year after year, such measures have stalled in the legislature over concerns that such a mandate would infringe upon individual religious freedom. However, many communities in our state have adopted their own versions of anti-discrimination ordinances.This year, top leaders from the LDS church joined with legislators to write key legislation that takes a “fairness for all” approach. Elders L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson joined several lawmakers in a press conference (See it here) to unveil SB296, which is a careful balance between LGBT rights and religious liberty rights. With the passage of this bill, along with SB297, which brings religious liberty protections to gay marriage issues, and HB447, which gives parents ultimate say regarding sex education in schools, Utah has by far the most robust religious liberty protections in the nation. Read the LDS Church’s statement about these bills here 

Balanced Budget Amendment

Our Utah State Constitution requires the state legislature to balance the budget each year. And we do. We have a constitutional debt limit as well, preventing us from borrowing too much money. We take pride in being the best-managed state in the nation. It’s not always easy. There are lots of things we do without, sacrifices and priorities we have to make. But in the end, it is worth it to bring stability and certainty to our economy, and most importantly our citizens.Contrastingly, each year our national debt grows because of deficit spending. Right now it tops over $18 trillion. This debt threatens our prosperity, our national security, and our children. We’ve called on Congress to control its spending for years, with no success. The status quo is simply unacceptable. We cannot maintain the current trajectory forever. HJR7 is a resolution that calls for a convention of the states for the purpose of considering a balanced budget amendment, which would then require ratification by 38 states.

Legislative Wrap-up Week 5

The Utah Senate debated several weighty issues last week, from Medicaid expansion (“Healthy Utah”) to an increase in the gas tax. As you may have heard, the Senate voted 17 to 11 to pass the Governor’s Medicaid Expansion two-year pilot program. Although I appreciate the Governor for negotiating with the federal government and doing his […]

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Legislative Wrap-up Week 3

Week 3 of the Legislative Session The session is now halfway over, but we still have a lot of work to do. Appropriations subcommittees have finished compiling their budget recommendations. Now the Executive Appropriations Committee will review and refine the final spending bills. Passing a balanced budget is not only mandated by our state constitution—it’s […]

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Town Hall Meeting

Please Join Me for a Senate District 7 Town Hall Meeting Date:           Friday, January 23, 2015 Time:         7:00 pm Location:  Nebo School District Office — 350 South Main, Spanish Fork, UT Topic:       2015 Legislative Session  

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Town Hall Meeting

Please Join Me for a Senate District 7 Town Hall Meeting Date:           Saturday, March 15, 2014 Time:         9:00 am Location:  Nebo School District Office — 350 South Main, Spanish Fork, UT Topic:         2014 Utah State Legislative Session Wrap Up

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Legislative Wrap Up Week 5

Week 5 Legislative Wrap-up Another busy week has come and gone. All but two of my bills are out of committee now. The remaining two bills will either be heard this coming week or be left for another year. Update on my Bills Bills that have passed the Senate and House: SB 125 – Retired Volunteer […]

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Legislative Wrap Up Week 4

Last week was short, due to Washington and Lincoln Day, but busy. We had the honor of hearing from Sen. Mike Lee on Wednesday, Rep. Jim Matheson on Thursday and Rep. Rob Bishop on Friday. The hot topic last week was SB54—a response to Count My Vote, whose organizers assert that increased voter participation is […]

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Ghost Students

Last week, the Utah State Office of Education released an internal audit of distance-learning programs in several charter schools and one district school. The results are alarming. In a nutshell, a handful of Local Education Agencies (a charter school or school districts) have contracted with two particular private companies for “distance-learning” services. These contractors use […]

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Legislative Wrap-Up Week Two

Legislative Wrap-up Week 2 February 3-7, 2014 Last week wrapped up our committee work on the base budgets.  Each one passed out of both the House and Senate. If you’re interested in a little light reading, you can view all of the base budget bills here. Now that those are complete we’ve begun working on […]

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Legislative Wrap-Up: Week One

January 27-31, 2014 My deepest respect, gratitude and sympathy go to Sgt. Cory Wride of Benjamin, and his family, for his ultimate sacrifice in service to our community. Funeral services are set for Wednesday, February 5 at 11 a.m. at the Utah Valley University Events Center. My thoughts and prayers are also with Deputy Greg […]

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