Lawmakers tired of playing the wait-until-the-last-minute-to-pass-a-state-budget game want to start the annual legislative session two weeks later to allow them more time to review budget numbers before adjourning.
And in a 61-8 vote, the House approved HJR32, which would put a constitutional amendment to that effect before the voters.The later starting date is a point of contention among many rural lawmakers, who say it would interfere with spring planting.
- All state government budgets would get the fine-tooth-comb treatment periodically under a proposal advanced Wednesday by Sen. Dix McMullin, R-Salt Lake.
His SB173 would create a budget review task force consisting of eight legislators that would be charged with doing a detailed study of a specific department budget each year. The Executive Appropriations Committee would select which department would be reviewed.
The review task force would make recommendations for reducing or increasing the department budget, based on the study.
The Senate Education Committee endorsed McMullin's plan, passing the bill out favorably for Senate discussion.
- Utah has a state bird, a state tree and even a state dinosaur.
On Thursday, lawmakers considered what one senator described as "one of the most important issues we'll face this session," naming a state rock.
"Let me submit coal is a rock, and copper is a mineral so we can't do that one," said Sen. Omar Bunnell, D-Price.
Bunnell said that state has a 100-year supply of coal, and on average 20 million tons of coal are mined in Utah each year. Last year, a record 22 million tons were mined.
Asked Sen. George Mantes, D-Tooele: "If we make coal the official state symbol, does that mean we can't burn it anymore?"
"If not, we won't have any electricity," Bunnell responded.
The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 22-2, with Republican Sens. Chuck Peterson, Provo, and Lyle Hillyard of Logan dissenting. Hillyard said there is no severance tax paid on coal, so he questioned whether it should be declared the state rock.
- The Senate approved a bill Thursday that clarifies the process by which the governor may extend pay raises to department heads.
Gov. Norm Bangerter came under fire last year for raising the salaries of 12 department heads above the levels set by the Legislature, which led to one legal opinion stating the governor acted "above and beyond his constitutional and legal authority."
Presently, department head salaries range from a beginning salary of $43,800 for the departments of agriculture, insurance and alcoholic beverage control to a high of $81,000 for the director of the department of health.
Sponsored by Rep. Ted Lewis, D-Salt Lake, HB49, was intended to shore up confusing language in the section of law. The bill was approved on second reading and forwarded to the Senate's third reading calendar.
- The House Education Committee passed out favorably a bill that would establish a comprehensive records access and records management statute for the state of Utah.
Proponents of the bill said the existing law, the Utah Public and Private Writings Act, confuses both recordkeepers and members of the public and press who seek public information.
Media attorney Patrick Shea said he receives two or three telephone calls each week from people who run into roadblocks when seeking public records. "It's fitting on the 200th anniversary of the First Amendment that this Legislature is revisiting the public's right to know," Shea said. "This is a compromise bill because the press and the public, I think, would like to have better access."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, is the product of a two-year legislative task force. It grants rights of access to public records, establishes fees, designates records classifications as public, private, confidential and protected.
One opponent who testified at Thursday's committee meeting said the bill may make public "anti-competitive sort of information" that could hurt business interests, said Shelly Cordon Teuscher of the Utah Petroleum Association.
She suggested one way to ease concerns would be to empanel a business interest on the state records committee.