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Legislative forecast: Smoggy with gathering storms over guns, money, ethics

Published: Monday, Feb. 18 2013 10:40 p.m. MST

The FBI is investigating Swallow's role in an alleged effort to bribe a U.S. senator to derail a possible federal lawsuit against a St. George Internet marketing company in 2010.  It also is looking into his dealings with political campaign contributors.

Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed bills to dealing with campaign ethics as a result of the Swallow scandal, though they've tried to avoid using his name when talking about them.

Democrats want to see campaign contributions by PACs, companies and labor unions capped at $10,000 for state offices and $5,000 for legislative office. One Republican bill calls for establishment of independent ethics commission to hear complaints in the executive branch.

Education

Herbert is counting on lawmakers to buy off on his goal of 66 percent of Utah adults obtaining a college degree or certificate by 2020. A resolution supporting the effort has undergone some changes and hasn't yet been heard on the floor of the Senate or House.

"This is a no brainer," the governor said. "It's my number one issue. I really do care about this passionately."

So far most of the education bills have been noncontroversial or housekeeping measures. A bill that would provide sex education for parents has changed a lot since its inception but is still designed to empower parents to teach their kids rather than relying solely on schools. Another bill would offer seminars to help parents beware of suicide warning signs.

Lawmakers did pass a bill elevating Dixie State College to university status, a bill signed Saturday by Herbert.

Health care

Decisions on health care reform and their impact on Utah families, of which plenty are looming for the state, have yet to cross the desks of Utah lawmakers.

A Utah Department of Health study estimating the perceived costs and benefits of expanding Medicaid has yet to be completed. It is due in the next week or so and is expected to provide insight on the issue. Bills working their way through the session are attempting to mandate certain procedures, including insurance coverage of autism treatment and virus detection in newborns, among others. But expansion of programs to provide health care access to a portion of Utah's more than 400,000 uninsured, has yet to be addressed.

Utah is one of about seven states that remains undecided on the issue of expansion, which would be funded by the federal government for the first three years of implementation and then require 10 percent from the state thereafter, according to the Affordable Care Act.

Prior to the session starting, several lawmakers said the state's position on Medicaid expansion would not be decided until the federal government finalized its budget, giving leaders an idea of what reimbursements to expect. Medicaid remains the second-leading expenditure for the state, falling closely behind education.

Contributing: Wendy Leonard, Mary Mellor, Ben Wood

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy, dnewspolitics

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