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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The last four days of legislative session a final frenzy

Published: Sunday, March 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Senators and representatives meet during the closing session of the Utah State Legislature  in Salt Lake City  Thursday, March 8, 2012.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Senators and representatives meet during the closing session of the Utah State Legislature in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 8, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Hang onto your wallet for four more days, and you'll be OK — Utah's 104 citizen lawmakers will return home to their farms, businesses and law firms. Here are some items to watch in the final frenzy:

Will lawmakers succumb to the temptation of big federal dollars and expand Medicaid?

Pignanelli: "One must bear in mind that the expansion of federal activity is a form of eating for politicians." — William F. Buckley, Jr.

This matter has two dynamics: no deadline or consensus. Therefore, this decision will not be made for months.

Webb: This is an excruciating decision and most states are finding it impossible to pass up the cash. I suspect Gov. Gary Herbert will try to wrangle some sort of deal with the feds.

Will an executive branch ethics commission be established?

Pignanelli: Legislators imposed a commission on themselves and I am shocked that the bill has not passed yet.

Webb: Lawmakers are wisely contemplating all the ramifications and are not jumping to conclusions or overreacting.

Will Speaker Becky Lockhart and Gov. Gary Herbert patch up their differences?

Pignanelli: The Speaker is popular with the House Caucus for an open style and demonstrating a spine of steel in defending legislative interests. Exerting such leadership causes waves on Capitol Hill, but there are rumors of a detente between them.

Webb: I'm not sure irritating a popular incumbent governor is the smartest way to prepare for a gubernatorial race. 2016 is a long way away.

Will there be an increase in education funding?

Pignanelli: In December, Gov. Herbert staked a strong position for increased funding and the Legislature will try to out do him — a great position for teachers.

Webb: No one will be happy with actual dollar amounts. The good news is that a consensus is slowly forming around a long-term plan to improve public education and align post-high school training with real workforce needs.

Will the Democrats get anything passed this session?

Pignanelli: Sen. Pat Jones passed Financial Literacy in public education curricula and Rep. Patrice Arent's prohibition of smoking in cars with younger passengers are two measures that will impact Utahns.

Webb: Dominant Republicans are magnanimous — as long as the tiny minority party stays in line. Republicans are so nice that if a Democrat has a good idea, they usually don't even steal it.

Will air-quality problems be solved?

Pignanelli: What pollution? Spring is here and the air is clear.

Webb: A million little acts of everyday living diminish air quality during dreaded inversions, and it will take a million little lifestyle changes to improve it.

Will the state prison be moved?

Pignanelli: They may not hammer out all the details this week, but the big house will be relocated.

Webb: This could be a $1 trillion benefit to Utah's economy and it will happen reasonably soon. Prisoners will enjoy a more bucolic lifestyle.

Will a fuel tax increase be approved?

Pignanelli: Tax is a four letter word for local politicians.

Webb: Pre-session, lots of politicians said this is the year (no election) to do it. But the bravado soon waned.

Will the restaurant Zion Curtain hiding liquor preparation be torn down?

Pignanelli: Passage in the Senate will be tough, but that will not stop me from imbibing.

Webb: I'm not sure if it helped or hurt when Frank climbed up on the Senate dais and shouted into the microphone, "Mr. President and Madam Speaker, tear down that wall!"

Will Utahns be able to carry concealed guns without a permit?

Pignanelli: The state's top gun-rights activists do not want the change, so there will not be a change.

Webb: Packing surreptitious heat should require a permit.

Will the state get into the convention hotel business?

Pignanelli: Opposition from Little and Grand America owners may resonate with House conservatives and stall the proposed subsidy for the Salt Palace development.

Webb: This is another big idea whose time has come. We're losing lots of conventions. The hotel will eventually be built, but these things take time.

Any chance for the state-wide, anti-discrimination statute to protect gay and lesbian citizens?

Pignanelli: Sen. Steve Urquhart is a brave and articulate sponsor of this noble effort, but without the public endorsement of the LDS Church, passage this session is doubtful.

Webb: A few sticking points may prevent passage this session, but the sides are very close.

Will Utah build its own health insurance exchange or lay it on the federal government?

Pignanelli: The federal government will keep postponing the deadline, and as a result, the state will keep pushing the decision down the road.

Webb: I smell a compromise with the state continuing its Avenue H insurance marketplace.

Will legislators continue to bash the federal government, Obamacare and the United Nations?

Pignanelli: There is always time to hammer these boogeymen.

Webb: Will the sun come up in the morning? Actually, this session has been refreshingly "message bill"-free.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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