Forty-six days ago, the Utah Legislature convened as America went to war. The session ended at midnight Wednesday as the Persian Gulf war comes to a close.
The war overshadowed each day of the Legislature's work, but the lawmakers still managed to make some history of their own - even though many of them predicted a fairly easy, uneventful session.Utah drew national attention - even competing with the war-grabbing headlines - when legislators passed the nation's toughest abortion bill, which Gov. Norm Bangerter signed into law just two weeks into the session.
In solving a difficult property-tax problem, legislators changed forever how homes, local businesses, multi-county businesses and vehicles are taxed in the state.
The property-tax solution - required after the Utah Supreme Court ruled AMAX Corp.'s property taxes weren't fairly assessed - means a small property-tax increase on most homes, averaging less than 1 percent, an average 3.1 percent increase in local business property taxes and an increase on all vehicle and boat property taxes for those registered outside Salt Lake County. Vehicles and boats within Salt Lake County will see a tax decrease.
While most of the vehicle tax increases will be small, several counties will see hefty increases of a third to a half.
After much debate, legislators decided not to impose new taxes on the large, multicounty businesses that get a 7.4 percent property tax decrease because of the AMAX solution. Those in favor of the additional taxes say local business owners will bear the burden of the large-businesses tax break.
Other than the AMAX-caused property-tax shift, legislators neither raised nor lowered general taxes. They did, however, raise some fees. Lawmakers increased the driver's license fee by $5 - from $10 to $15 - raised the state cigarette tax by 31/2 cents a pack and gave county commissions the authority to place a 1 percent meal tax on restaurant sales.
Of course, legislators - led by their Republican majority leaders - put together a budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The $3.5 billion budget provides for modest pay packages for state employees - between 4.5 percent and about 5 percent, which includes health-care cost increases as well as merit raises.
Even though they haven't given themselves a pay raise in almost a decade, House members refused to go along with senators, who suggested a $35-a-day pay increase. Legislative pay stays at $65-a-day level, plus $25 a day for expenses and mileage.
Lawmakers also decided not to give elected state officials - governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer - a pay increase, either. Judges did get a 4 percent salary hike.
While few are happy with the budget, most displeased are advocates of Human Services. Because of federally mandated programs and few new funds available, Human Service programs didn't keep pace with inflation. There'll be no cost-of-living raise for families on welfare, said Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River, Human Services Senate budget chairman, and a number of programs will suffer a similar fate.
Special session for bonding
In the waning minutes of the session, House and Senate members couldn't decide on a bonding package for next year. Bangerter may call a special legislative session this spring to pass a bonding bill. Senators wanted a $100 million bond for buildings, water development and roads. But the House wanted only a $70 million bond, $55 million for buildings, $15 million for water development and nothing for roads.
"I think it's safe to say there will be one (a special session) to deal with the bonding," said Bangerter after the session ended at midnight.
Bangerter will be calling legislators into special session in the late summer or early fall, regardless of bonding requirements, to deal with reapportionment of legislative and congressional districts. The majority Republicans will redraw the lines for the 1992 elections after final U.S. Census figures are made available.
Mirror, mirror . . .
Lawmakers also looked in the mirror this session, passing tough legislative campaign finance and lobbyist expenditure disclosure laws. Those laws won't affect regular citizens but may, over time, change the way legislators run their campaigns and conduct themselves in office.
Along with the abortion, AMAX and legislative reform measures, which proved emotional for many legislators, House members also went through the difficult debate over whether to expel one of their own - former Rep. Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden.
Halverson pled no contest to a shoplifting misdemeanor charge in December. A House ethics committee recommended she be expelled. No one remembers a House member being expelled, officials said. The expulsion vote fell two votes short. But the following week, more than two-thirds of the House members, the number needed for expulsion, signed a petition to reconsider the vote. Halverson, in an emotional speech, resigned, telling House members to look into their souls to see if they had the right to judge her.
While it seems as if the abortion bill passed long ago, in remembering the 1991 session that action will likely come to mind first.
The new law will not be enforced, however. Bangerter agreed to stay its implementation until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups promise to file a challenging lawsuit within weeks. Then the long appeal, which will take two to three years, to the high court begins.
The law prohibits abortions except in certain cases: rape or incest, if reported properly; severe fetal deformity; or where the mother's life is endangered or where the pregnancy means grave damage to the mother's health.
Report card for governor
What Gov. Norm Bangerter asked from legislators, and how well he fared:
$3.5 billion budget A
Bonding projects F
Abortion limitation A
AMAX prop. tax solution C
Class-size reduction A
Campaign reform B
Driver's license fee B
New environmental dept. A
$15 million for Salt Palace A
West Valley Highway C
Expand drug-free zone A
Children's Justice Center A
5 percent pay raises B
Graded by Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. and State Capitol reporter Lisa Riley Roche.