Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Legislature review: Air, alcohol and the Affordable Care Act

Published: Sunday, Feb. 9 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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The Legislature is reviewing a record number of bills this session, the bulk of them boring to most citizens. But a few issues pique the interest of all: air, alcohol and Affordable Care Act/Medicaid expansion (an abysmal attempt at alliteration).

Air quality tops public interest. Can the Legislature accomplish anything substantive?

Pignanelli: “You can’t move so fast that you try to change the mores faster than people can accept it” — Eleanor Roosevelt. After several shouting matches with family members and others, I can declare discussion of this topic is extremely efficient in cloaking hypocrisy with smug self-righteousness. Any Utahn has the credibility to attack the Herbert administration and the Legislature for “not doing enough” to enhance air quality only if he/she is willing to endure substantial sacrifices and massive changes to his/her lifestyle.

These include a permanent pledge to expend additional hours every day traveling on mass transit, using alternative fuel vehicles, agreeing to tax increases to subsidize public transportation, allowing losses of government services from a smaller tax base, higher unemployment resulting from closure of polluting industries, reducing all non-business travel (no more driving to Jazz games, ski resorts, concerts, etc.), surcharges on students not attending neighborhood schools, and so on. The truly dedicated will attend the March Republican caucuses and elect delegates who share this commitment — ensuring real change will occur.

Until a majority of citizens demand that government impose draconian measures that impact their personal lives, officials will continue attempting softer remedies. So I will be sure to honk and wave when I drive by next year’s clean air rally.

Webb: As I’ve written previously, millions of little daily individual actions (like switching on a light or starting a car) cause our air pollution. Millions of little daily individual actions will be required to clean up the air.

The Salt Lake Chamber Transportation Coalition, in which I participate, is encouraging lawmakers to lift the cap on transit funding, giving county governments authority to ask voters if they want to invest more in public transit. Reps. Johnny Anderson and Joel Briscoe are considering sponsoring such legislation.

To double transit ridership and have a real impact on air quality, transit service must become substantially more convenient and frequent — more stops in more neighborhoods more often, requiring more investment. Lifting the cap on transit funding wouldn’t be a tax increase, or even authorize a vote to increase taxes. But it would be a very simple and effective step the Legislature could take right now toward cleaner air.

Will lawmakers tear down the Zion Curtain (the 7-foot wall required in restaurants to prevent customers from observing the preparation of alcoholic beverages)?

Pignanelli: My life is a living testimony that one can get a drink in Utah. With this important expertise, I understand the need for most regulations (food intake to accompany booze consumption is imperative). Every session, I enjoy the fervent discussions by so many who have never imbibed. Usually, once representatives of the predominant faith make a statement on alcohol, the issue is resolved for the year. But for the first time in decades, many lawmakers are openly bucking this traditional process, and expressing concerns that this wall is burdensome to business and ineffective in its role. A coalition of conservatives and Democrats may push legislation to “dismantle the curtain” through the House — but it will die in the Senate.

Webb: The value (if any) of the wall in discouraging drink is more than offset by the “weirdness” (Speaker Rebecca Lockhart’s term) factor that hurts convention/tourism business and Utah’s image. Tear down this wall.

What happens with Medicaid expansion?

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