SALT LAKE CITY — Political gridlock, partisan fury and the inability of Congress to get anything passed. If you’ve watched the news in the last few years, that’s most likely the impression you’ve gotten about the lawmakers up on Capitol Hill. But how have our own lawmakers here in Utah fared?
In areas of importance to the Deseret News, did they pass the recent round of lawmaking with flying colors? Or are they going to summer school?
The Family: “Some will say that the government has no roll in taking action,” Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said. “I propose that society does have a stake in the family.” It’s always nice to see the government take an active role in strengthening the family, as shown by two recent bills. HB290, proposed by Nielson, is an amendment to current Utah divorce laws and requires the divorced couple to take a class on the effects of divorce (waived for victims of abusive relationships). HB290 would require that class to be taken before filing for divorce, obviously with the goal of preempting the decision. HB131, proposed by Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, offers incentives to young couples seeking to tie the knot by offering to make that marriage license fee just $20 if they participate in premarital education. It’s unlikely that these bills will have any drastic effect on divorce rates, but it’s nice to see some effort put forth. Overall grade: A-
Faith in the Community: Well, this is Utah, so your religion probably isn’t going to be under attack any time soon. In fact, if you’re religious, you’re being very well represented (for those not-so religious, please try again later). The legislative sessions are opened with prayers from members of just about every religion you can find in Utah. Imams, priests, bishops and reverends all take turns giving prayers for our lawmakers up on Capitol Hill. The most common thing they ask for? Civility. Overall grade: A-
Education: Oh, my. There were some good intentions. For one, the Democratic Best Schools Initiative had some good ideas, from decreasing class sizes, increasing per-pupil funding and efforts to help make teachers more prepared. But don’t hold your breath. Republicans already shot down capping class sizes for grades K-3, with the wonderful logic that it would only lead to an increase of class sizes in other classes (and that it costs too much). Said Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, "I will continue to have problems when we focus on the wrong issue. We need to focus on academics. We shouldn’t focus on class size." But naturally, we should focus on limiting what schools can teach about safe sex, because that makes sense. Overall grade: F
Financial Responsibility: If you’re looking for a government body to base your spending off of, you could do worse than Utah. Spending increased in the 2012 budget ($440 million more, to be exact), but the state is also raising more money ($360 million, without raising taxes) and the state debt is projected to decrease somewhat. And the increased spending is being relatively well spent, such as with a $110 million increase in public school funding. All in all, the budget that’s being followed by the state is reasonable, with spending following an increase in revenue. And even if you think it could be better, at least our own local congressmen can pass a budget. Overall grade: B+
Caring for the Poor: The new budget also approved an increase in spending on Medicaid, some $87 million more in spending on the program which already cost $1.8 billion a year (roughly 9 percent of the budget). The increased spending is in response to the increased number of Utahans enrolling in the program. While other, smaller programs were pushed (most notably by Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton) in fear that all the spending would go to Medicaid, one is federally mandated, the other is not. So while an increase of funds to help the poor is appreciated, maybe they could focus more on helping prevent people from becoming poor in the first place. Overall grade: B
Values in the Media: Have they banned “Jersey Shore” yet? Nope? Well, that’s pretty damning evidence against them. However, they have done nothing to impede the publication of varying thoughts and opinions throughout the mediums. They very fact that I am able to write this without having to get it censored speaks pretty well. They get kudos for doing what all American bodies of government should do, but they haven’t done anything special, either. Overall grade: C+."
Freeman Stevenson is a college student and occasional contributer to KSL and Deseret News.