The 58th Utah Legislature opened its 45-day annual general session Monday morning with speeches, prayers and work.
Gone were the usual long tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., although the Senate will have a ceremony this afternoon. That's because for the first time in two decades lawmakers met a week after the slain civil rights leader's federal and state holiday. Voters approved a constitutional amendment last November shifting the annual session back one week, in part to avoid the criticism of meeting on that holiday.
In the House, newly-installed speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, challenged the 75 House members — and chided a few, also — in his remarks.
He passed out a book with each lawmakers' name on it and 100 blank pages. He wants them back in 100 days (July 24) with 100 "relevant" ideas about how to make Utah better.
Clark asked non-legislators to e-mail their ideas to a new address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much of Clark's address dealt with conduct of legislators, both among themselves before the public. He chided those who threw words last summer during controversial House ethics charges — comparing that event to the "disaster" of 1876 when then-Arsenal Hill (now Capitol Hill) exploded when 40 tons of gunpowder exploded, killing four people and injuring dozens.
"What we do here matters," Clark said.
In opening ceremonies in the House, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, prayed that members feel the gratitude of those who founded Utah, grateful of those who followed to add diversity to the state. He prayed that visitors should leave Utah in peace and recollections of righteousness, and asked that lawmakers may merit the reward of public trust. "Put principle above politics and morality above expediency," he prayed.
Meanwhile, legislators got to work Monday, hearing bills and caucusing to discuss critical funding proposals for the current budget year.
House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said that GOP leaders were still talking to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., also a Republican, trying to reach a compromise for the budget cuts that must come before the end of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Huntsman "wants more spending, especially in some Human Service programs," Garn said Monday morning before the opening ceremonies and speeches.
House Republicans were scheduled to caucus in the late afternoon to take votes on current-year budget cuts.
"We want to get the 2009 budget set very soon," said Garn. "Then we'll start on the 2010 budget, where real cuts will have to be made."
Garn said the state can limp through the rest of this year with a $35 million bond to construct some buildings and 4 percent budget cuts from current programs — using some one-time monies to "backfill" in important areas.
"We won't use any of the ($414 million) Rainy Day fund to balance this year," he said — leaving that cash pot for 2010 and future years.