Democratic leadership from Utah's House of Representatives presented an overview of legislative priorities for the 2008 session at the Capitol on Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Rep. Brad King, D-Price, outlined the role that he and his fellow Democrats play as the political minority.
"We have an important role as loyal opposition ... to maintain balance ... and make sure the difficult questions are asked," King said.
Democrats in the House have a specific, prioritized list of their concerns this session. They include education, health care and the environment.
Assistant Minority Whip Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said the days when Utah teacher salaries compared favorably to other mountain states are long gone and that proposed increases now being considered are just a beginning. Bills currently moving through the Senate include proposals to test a year-round curriculum schedule and creating special incentive pay for math and science teachers. Moss said these bills have good intent, but may not offer practical solutions to current issues.
"Teacher salary increases should be distributed across the board ... and would be most effective if they went directly to teachers," Moss said. A year-round program could be difficult if issues, such as the lack of air conditioning in some schools or "cultural attitudes" about summer break, are not addressed.
Moss said her party would like to see a weighted, across the board increase that recognizes seniority.
Democrats did support the proposed health-care reforms, although simply studying the issue may not be enough. Minority Caucus Manager Phil Riesen, D-Millcreek, said the bill sponsored by House Majority Leader David Clark, R-Santa Clara, may be taking the right, first steps toward creating a state system that facilitates insuring all Utahns.
"Access, quality, cost and portability are the key points for health-care reform," Riesen said. "Creating another task force to look at the issues may not be the best way to get things done."
Minority Whip Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, was encouraged that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. made the issue of Utah air quality a feature of his State of the State address and said that his party is in support of Huntsman's efforts on behalf of environmental issues.
Litvack said House Democrats are working on bills that would enable the retrofitting of school buses for alternative fuels and proposals to create consumer-focused incentives to encourage "environmentally friendly decision making."Another legislative proposal that Litvack's party is working on is changing the energy buy-back program that is currently creating obstacles to solar-power development. This change would enable plans, like the one proposed by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon to place solar panels on county buildings, to move forward.