Utah Legislature adjourns

    0
    64

    By Leah Elison

    After 45 days of meetings and mayhem, the 2003 session of the Utah Legislature has adjourned, leaving some wondering what happened.

    Senators and representatives tackled controversial issues, from education to hazardous waste, often with much emotion.

    “There is a lot of heat but no light,” said Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, describing the atmosphere.

    Here is a review of several of the most prominent-and sometimes confusing-issues the legislature dealt with this session.

    Credit Union Taxation

    Perhaps the most memorable bill to come out of this legislative session will be House Bill 162, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo.

    Alexander sponsored the bill in an effort to equalize financial institutions by imposing a 30 percent tax on retained earnings and a 5 percent corporate franchise tax on the three largest credit unions in Utah.

    “You have an uneven playing field with financial institutions,” said Senate Majority Whip John Valentine, R-Orem. “If you are an industrial loan company, a bank or a savings and loan, you have to pay this tax.”

    Opponents said the bill tax would cripple credit unions and encourage them to apply for federal charters.

    After 44 days and 14 substitutions, the bill finally passed on Tuesday but with none of its original amendments.

    The version of H.B. 162 that will become law creates a task force to study the consequences of charging credit unions the same taxes that are charged to other financial institutions.

    In November 2004, the task force will present a report and recommendations for any future taxation of credit unions to the Legislature.

    The bill was a challenge for the Capital Printing Office because the office prints each substitute version of a bill on different colored paper.

    By the session”s end, the office was resorting to colors like “pumpkin” and “lemon.”

    Several legislators commented that they had never seen a bill make it all the way to pumpkin before.

    Education

    Reforms and funding for Utah”s education system concerned many legislators, as demonstrated by the numerous education bills sponsored during the session.

    “We have not solved the funding rubric yet,” said Gov. Mike Leavitt in a press conference Wednesday night. “We got a start; we made a commitment.”

    Senate Bill 34, which would give parents a tax break if they enrolled their children in private schools, came very close to passing Wednesday night.

    The bill had been combined with Senate Bill 154, sponsored by Sen. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch.

    Hatch”s bill requires students to pass competency-based exams before graduating and would increase funding for education.

    When it was clear the combined bills would not receive enough support to pass, the House separated them and passed the reform bill.

    Tuition tax credits faded into oblivion.

    The body did, however, pass House Bill 110, which increases capital building loans for charter schools, and Senate Bill 103, which allows permit holders to bring concealed weapons onto school campuses.

    Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, sponsored another education bill, Senate Bill 105, which passed on Feb. 12, which requires that the pledge of allegiance be recited daily in elementary schools and weekly in secondary schools.

    The Legislature reviewed 43 bills and nine resolutions that addressed education during the legislative session.

    Alcohol

    Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-West Jordan, and Valentine sponsored complementary bills amending the alcohol laws in Utah.

    Waddoups” bill, Senate Bill 66, created a fund specifically reserved to finance the enforcement of drunk-driving laws.

    The new money will come from raising the tax on beer from 20 to 26 cents for a six-pack.

    Valentine”s bill made several changes to the Alcohol Beverage Title to toughen state liquor laws and accommodate the industry.

    Changes include limiting a drink”s alcohol content to 2.75 ounces, increasing penalties for serving alcohol illegally and making it easier to obtain a permit to serve alcohol.

    Liquor laws had not been reviewed since 1984, so the 278-page bill was much needed, Valentine said.

    Hazardous Waste

    Legislators tried to find the line between making Utah a hazardous waste dumping ground and turning away valuable state income.

    Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, created a task force to examine whether Utah should accept hazardous waste, how waste facilities in Utah compare financially with out-of-state facilities and how to manage waste facilities long-term.

    Bramble said the task force was necessary to document the logic used to make any permanent decisions about accepting hazardous waste.

    The bill also put a moratorium on the acceptance of any class B-level or C-level hazardous waste until February 2005.

    A hazardous waste tax, proposed by Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, also passed, and will generate money for the state environmental account.

    Ure”s bill requires Envirocare to pay 15 cents per cubic foot of radioactive waste instead of 10 cents, raises fees from $14 to $28 per ton of hazardous waste and imposes a 3 percent gross receipt tax.

    Marriage

    The Legislature passed two bills that altered marriage laws in Utah. House Bill 213, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, created a new legal status of marriage called covenant marriage.

    A couple choosing to have a covenant marriage would be required to attend marital counseling before getting married or divorced, to disclose any information that may jeopardize the marriage and to wait longer before getting a divorce.

    Sponsor of House Bill 213 Rep. Doug Aagard, R-Kaysville, said the bill is an opportunity for structural support for the institution of marriage and supports people with a commitment to marriage.

    The Legislature also passed House Bill 307, which makes it a second-degree felony for a married adult to take an additional spouse under the age of 18 and makes it illegal for religious leaders or parents to pressure a minor into getting married.

    Hate Crimes

    Representatives passed the first hate crime legislation to reach the House in five years but changed their minds the next day.

    House Bill 85, which would stiffen penalties for hate crimes in Utah, was recalled to the House on Feb. 28 and killed on Tuesday at the request of its sponsor, Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City.

    The bill would have increased a crime”s classification one-step if the crime was motivated by prejudice.

    For example, a class B misdemeanor would become a class A misdemeanor if ruled a hate crime, or a second degree felony would become a first degree felony.

    According to the bill, hate crimes occur when a defendant targets a victim because of a prejudice held by the defendant against a certain group.

    Litvack said as many as 120 hate crime are reported in a given year.

    Seatbelts

    What was introduced as a relatively benign bill by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake, became a hot issue after Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, amended the bill to repeal seatbelt requirements for adults.

    “It was petty; it was reckless, playing political games with people”s lives,” Moss said.

    House Bill 8, which would have allowed police to issue tickets to adult passengers in cars who do not buckle up, failed to pass the House by four votes.

    The House also rejected Bennion”s attempts to amend the bill.

    Medicaid

    The Legislature passed a bill to raise the maximum income for individuals receiving full Medicaid coverage.

    Medicaid requires dependents to pay a $383 monthly fee for medical services as soon as they earn an income of 75 percent of the poverty level.

    House Bill 37 sponsor Rep. Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, used the bill to change the maximum income to 100 percent of the poverty level to avoid forcing people into deeper poverty.

    Judiciary

    The Legislature looked at a bill sponsored by Rep. Katherine Bryson, R-Orem, that would have allowed the Legislature to impeach state judges for inappropriate conduct and to suspend pay.

    “Someone said in the Senate Judiciary Committee that a judge could come to work in his underwear and still get paid,” said Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley.

    Bryson”s bill was not passed, but Hendrickson said it accomplished its goal of prompting the resignation of Judge Ray Harding Jr., of Provo”s 4th District Court.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email