Utah Legislature opens with prayers, music and speeches
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Prayers, choirs and speeches opened the Utah Legislature's 2011 general session Monday at the state Capitol.
But the congenial tones of the morning pomp and circumstance gave way to political maneuvering as the state's 104 part-time legislators got down to business. Setting a budget and hashing out a passel of illegal immigration bills figure to occupy much of the debate during the 45-day session.
"I hope we're ready," said Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.
Illegal immigration and a Utah County boundary dispute that cost a lawmaker his seat were among the issues addressed outside of chambers by groups holding news conferences and demonstrations on Capitol hill.
Before lawmakers got down to business, Elder L. Tom Perry, of Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offered the invocation in the Senate. Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of the Presidency of the Seventy of the LDS Church, gave the prayer in the House, expressing gratitude for the past leadership and prayed for those assuming the roles.
Elder Rasband also acknowledged "there are many gray issues before this House." He prayed for wisdom and good judgment, and "that there will be compassion and peace in those things which are done here."
New House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, the state's first woman speaker, told lawmakers they will debate immigration and health care reform, education, and "address an economy that needs less government, not more, while it recovers."
In his opening speech, Senate President Michael Waddoups told his colleagues to leave a mark on history during the session.
"Let's make a good mark. Be remembered as one who made a difference," he said. "Be a David to a Goliath of bad government."
Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, asked senators to give Democratic ideas a fair hearing and allow them to be part of the conversation in the public square. He also asked for debates to be civil.
"It's important as we disagree to not be disagreeable," he said.
The Republican majority in the Legislature and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert are already at odds over whether further budget cuts are needed this session to deal with the so-called structural imbalance left as a result of the end of federal stimulus funds and other one-time sources of revenues.
Lockhart referred to the $313 million imbalance as a "dangerous" problem in the state budget.
She also raised a popular issue with her party: state sovereignty.
"Is Utah willing to tell the federal government to go away when it oversteps its authority?" the speaker asked, invoking a warning by Thomas Jefferson about government becoming "big enough to take away everything that you have."
Lockhart was sworn in by the man she defeated for the position after last November's elections, now-Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara.
Also Monday, the House clerk read in the name of now-former Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, as part of the official roster, then noted he had resigned and announced the District 57 seat is now vacant.
Frank found out earlier this month he lived outside his district when he entered his address into a new House website and another lawmaker's name came up as his representative.
He had hoped to keep his seat, arguing that his election had been certified by the lieutenant governor's office, but gave up that fight Friday.
There's a chance Frank could return to his seat if two-thirds of both the House and the Senate agree to change the district boundaries before Utah County Republicans meet on Saturday to choose a new representative.
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