SALT LAKE CITY — With three weeks left before Utah lawmakers wrap up their annual session, the House and Senate hope to fuse their competing visions for tackling Medicaid and the state gas tax while moving through hundreds of other bills. Add into the mix issues such as medical marijuana, and it's a recipe for a busy week.
Here's where some of those key issues stand:
Gov. Gary Herbert this week scaled back his three-year Medicaid expansion plan, which would use federal money to enroll Utah's poor in private health insurance. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told reporters Thursday that the governor's office is now looking at trying out the plan for two years in response to concerns from House Republicans about the long-term costs.
A bill containing the governor's plan is set to come up for a debate before the full Senate the next week, as is a competing proposal from Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden. His bill would cover those with the most serious medical needs who earn less than the federal poverty level, about $11,700 a year for an individual.
A Democratic proposal to fully expand the program as envisioned under President Barack Obama's signature health care law is also pending in the Senate. That bill, from Salt Lake City Sen. Gene Davis, is also expected to be discussed.
Lawmakers are grappling with how to make up an $11 billion shortfall for road and bridge maintenance over the next few decades. While many lawmakers agree something must be done, they haven't agreed on a plan. In the Senate, lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill to raise the state gas tax by 10 cents to 34.5 cents per gallon. The proposal would be the first raise since 1997 and would also raise the diesel fuel tax by 5 cents, putting it at 29.5 cents per gallon.
In the House, Rep. Johnny Anderson has just released a proposal to change the gas tax from a flat rate to a percentage that can adjust with the price of fuel. When the rate is set, it would include a baseline and cap so those setting the budget can predict to some degree how much revenue the tax will generate. Anderson, a Taylorsville Republican, also enables local governments to impose a sales tax to fund their transportation projects.
Leaders in both the House and Senate appear to favor the proposals that have come out of their chambers, but they say they hope to find a meeting of the minds soon.
At a weekly meeting this upcoming Thursday, House Republicans will meet to discuss the dueling proposals and could vote on a path forward.
A bill that would legalize some forms of medical marijuana in Utah is expected to be unveiled next week. The proposal by Republican Sen. Mark Madsen of Saratoga Springs would allow the use of certain products containing THC, such as oils and edible products, by people who have certain conditions and a doctor's consent. His bill would not allow marijuana to be smoked.
It's unclear if Madsen's colleagues will support the proposal, which would have to start moving quickly to pass this year.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said Friday that it's too early to tell what support there will be.
"Anything with the word marijuana in it will create some concerns," he said.
Last year, Utah lawmakers and the governor approved a very limited medical marijuana program that allows those with severe epilepsy to possess cannabis extract oil. Many in the GOP-controlled Legislature said that while they supported that program, they didn't want to open the door to a more robust medical marijuana law.
Associated Press writer Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this report. Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice