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Governor: 2012 had a spirit of cooperation and collaboration

Utah Legislature's quiet session punctuated with shouts of states' rights

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 8:23 a.m. MST

Democrats say the ongoing effort to push back against the federal government could harm the state. Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said he understands his GOP colleagues' passion, "but we have a responsibility to be smart with the limited resources we have."

Overall, though, Democrats deemed the session a success, particularly in education. Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, also noted restrictions on teens going to tanning salons, tax breaks for military families and a proposed statewide nondiscrimination law getting a committee hearing for the first time in five years as accomplishments.

"We think we have fared very well this session," he said.

Budget

The Legislature passed a $13 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013. About $5 billion comes from Utah tax collections; $3.5 billion from federal sources and $4.5 billion from dedicated credits, restricted accounts and transfers. It did not include a tax increase or additional bonding. Legislators did lower the unemployment insurance tax rate 2 percent as Herbert requested, saving money for about 85,000 Utah businesses.

Though lawmakers won't describe the state as flush, they had an additional $440 million in tax revenue to spend this session, including $22 million from the national mortgage fraud settlement. A portion of that is earmarked for mortgage fraud investigators, homeless shelters and low-income housing. Lawmakers also socked away $11 million in the Rainy Day Fund.

The extra money funded a 1.15 percent increase for public education, which will cover an anticipated 12,500 new students this fall and a teacher salary increase if local districts choose to do that. Higher education also received a 1 percent increase. State employees received a 1 percent cost-of-living increase in addition to having increases in their retirement fund covered.

"The fact of the matter is we spent a lot of money this year," Jenkins said. "When it's all said and done, we're one fortunate state."

Immigration

The session might also be remembered for what lawmakers didn't do. Despite a hue and cry from tea partyers to repeal 2011's HB116, which sets up a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants, the Legislature had no appetite for immigration bills. That won't be the case in 2013, the year HB116 is set to take effect.

"I think you will some activity around immigration definitely in the next session," Lockhart said.

This year, though, legislative leaders said most of the bills passed during the 2011 legislative session wouldn't take effect until 2013, so there was no hurry to make changes. Meanwhile, a federal court challenge of Utah's immigration enforcement law, HB497, is on hold until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Arizona's enforcement law.

The Utah Legislature passed one immigration bill this session, legislation that will regulate nonattorney immigration consultants who assist people in filling out immigration documents, offer translation and other services.

A bill to repeal the state law that authorizes the issuance of driver privilege cards was approved by a Senate committee but died in the Senate Rules Committee.

Herbert expressed disappointment about the Legislature not addressing a bill to put some teeth into the state's E-Verify law. "We need to address it in the next session," he said.

Lawmakers did not hear a measure that would have suspended business licenses for companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers.

Family

Preserving the family was another central theme of business handled by state lawmakers during the 2012 session.

Legislators passed bills intended to make it tougher to remove children from kinship placements and to give unmarried expectant mothers a voluntary means to notify the fathers before children are placed for adoption.

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