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Dan Liljenquist: Legislative gems: Much to admire from this legislative session

Published: Thursday, March 13 2014 10:24 a.m. MDT

Lost in the political drama of the legislative session, legislators were hard at work passing bills and building budgets that will help improve our lives. Here are a few that went largely unnoticed.

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Today marks the end of Utah’s 2014 legislative session, and our citizen legislators will be working right up until midnight putting the finishing touches on the 2015 budget, passing a few final bills and celebrating the end of their annual 45-day imprisonment in the Utah State Capitol.

Knowing from firsthand experience that there is very little that is glamorous or glorious about what they do, I am grateful for our legislators’ efforts on our behalf. Being a legislator is mostly hard work, with interminable meetings, 16-hour days, hundreds of constituent emails and phone calls, and news stories focused more on the controversial and the dysfunctional than on the rational and the purposeful. It is public service indeed.

Lost in the political drama of the legislative session, overshadowed by the fierce exchanges between Speaker Becky Lockhart and Gov. Gary Herbert over Medicaid expansion and education funding, legislators were hard at work passing bills and building budgets that aim to improve our lives. Here are just a few that went largely unnoticed.

HB 127 Consumer Lending Amendments, championed by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, helps rein in abusive payday lending practices by allowing borrowers whose loans have reached maturity 60 days to repay their loans before lenders can sue for loan default.

Payday lenders are notorious for encouraging borrowers to roll over their loans for the statutorily established 10-week period, charging exorbitant interest the whole time, then immediately suing borrowers for loan default the moment they pass the 10-week mark. This often forces borrowers to take out additional payday loans to stave off litigation, leading to a debt spiral they often can’t escape.

By granting a 60-day repayment window, HB 127 gives payday borrowers a chance to break the cycle of destructive payday lending debt before litigation pulls them down even further.

SB 61 Revisions to Property Tax, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, fixes a major process problem with proposed property tax increases for political subdivisions that operate on a calendar year budget. Currently, these political subdivisions can propose and implement property tax increases before the law requires them to hold public hearings. Now under SB 61, political subdivisions operating on a calendar year budget will be required to hold public hearings before new taxes are implemented.

SB 46 Second Substitute Administrative Subpoena Modifications, championed by Sen. Mark Madsen, officially prohibits the use of controversial “administrative subpoenas,” requiring all law-enforcement agencies to get a judge to issue a court order before they issue demands for information.

While current Attorney General Sean Reyes has ended the use of administrative subpoenas, former attorneys general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow used such subpoenas extensively to bypass judicial review of their information-gathering activities. This bill reasserts Utah’s dedication to constitutional principles.

SB 72 Uninsured Motorist Provisions, sponsored by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, requires police to impound the cars of uninsured motorists on Utah’s roads. According to the Utah Highway Patrol, 70 percent of drivers who are pulled over for no insurance are also found to have outstanding warrants or invalid drivers licenses; simply issuing tickets is not sufficient to change behavior. SB 72 sends a strong message that Utah does not tolerate uninsured motorists on our roads.

Finally, Sen. Steve Urquhart, in his role as chairman of the Higher Education Sub-Appropriations Committee, championed a new budgeting framework that will, over time, equalize per-student funding across all of Utah’s public institutions of higher education. This is a critically important reform that will positively impact higher education for decades to come (more on this at a later date).

Despite the headlines, there is much to admire from this legislative session.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.

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