Monday is the halfway point in the 45-day 1991 Legislature, and leaders are well-pleased with the progress.
Rarely has a session seen such controversy and tough decisions in the first three weeks of work. National attention was given the tough anti-abortion bill, and House members struggled over the ethics investigation and expulsion vote of a well-liked colleague, Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden.The first three weeks were so difficult, some freshman lawmakers wondered at the hectic pace. Not to worry, most sessions start slowly. 1991 is an exception.
Deal with several issues quickly
"We had several major items we in the House wanted to deal with, and deal with quickly," said House Majority Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo, whose responsibility it is to manage floor progress.
Those include abortion, a complex property-tax case stemming from an AMAX court decision, the ethics investigation of Halverson and unrelated legislative ethics and campaign reform. "We're right on track on all of them," Harward said.
"We wanted to deal openly with the abortion question early in the session so it wouldn't haunt us or dominate our work. We did that. It's behind us," he said.
Lawmakers held special hearings on the new tough abortion law and worked out a compromise with Gov. Norm Bangerter, who threatened to veto any bill he felt wouldn't have a reasonable chance to be upheld before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ten days ago, Bangerter signed the new law - which prohibits abortion except in cases of rape or incest duly reported to authorities before the abortion; or where the life of the mother is threatened; or where grave damage would result to her health; or where the fetus suffers from grave defects. The law takes effect in 50 days.
Well before then, however, the law will be challenged in federal court and no doubt enjoined until the high court ultimately rules on its constitutionality - which could take three years and $500,000 in attorneys' fees.
The complex AMAX property tax problem has been discussed in half a dozen party caucuses over the last three weeks and was heard in the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee for a week.
"I'll bring out my AMAX bill early next week," said Rep. John Valentine, R-Orem, a tax attorney who has been asked by GOP leaders to prepare the major tax legislation.
"We're getting our (House) members up to speed on AMAX. We're well along and I think we'll have a solution within two weeks," said Harward. That might be optimistic. The session ends Feb. 27, and lawmakers traditionally wait until the last several days to pass tax changes.
Ethics and campaign financing
Ethics legislation is scheduled for next week in the House. A joint committee formed by the state Republican and Democratic parties is due to report Tuesday on a variety of campaign and election reform.
A recent poll conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV by Dan Jones & Associates shows overwhelming support by Utahns, with 90 percent in favor of ethics reforms.
State revenue estimates
"We really can't make many of our important budget decisions until AMAX is basically solved," said Harward, "because it affects our property tax and thus our education funding." But appropriation subcommittees are reviewing Bangerter's recommended $3.2 billion budget for 1991-92.
New revenue estimates for next fiscal year are due Feb. 15. After those come in, lawmakers will have a better idea on how much they can give state employees and teachers in pay raises next year.
With Halverson resigning from the House last Friday, gone, too, is the difficult ethics investigation. "That weighed personally on many members. It was a major distraction now behind us," said Harward.
Ethics bills to be discussed
-Legislative reporting of campaign expenses before the election. (Candidates now report only after the election).
-Year-round campaign reporting by lawmakers. They now report only from April to November during election years, giving House members 18 months of no reporting and senators 3 1/2 years of no campaign reporting.
-Financial disclosure by lobbyists of how much they spend on lawmakers. There is no such reporting currently.
-Conflict-of-interest reporting by lawmakers. Very little such reporting occurs now, with House members filling out forms listing conflicts and senators being required to announce a conflict before they vote.
-A possible constitutional amendment that would limit elected state officials and legislators to eight consecutive years in any office.