By NATALEE CAPPS
Rep. John Valentine, R-Orem, outlined the accomplishments of the 1998 legislative session for the Women’s Legislative Council yesterday.
Valentine spoke to the group and gave a brief overview of the highlights during the session and of some of the major legislation that passed.
One of the major issues addressed this year was the controversy regarding highway funding. When the session began in January, the state still had not found a way to pay the estimated $450 million the project required. Valentine said legislators were adamant they solve the problem without cancelling the project.
“In the session we said we do not want to get into the position of having to stop work in the middle of the project,” Valentine said. “I mean, you think it is bad now, imagine just saying ‘stop work’ and leaving it the way it is. That’s not good policy.”
Valentine said legislators did not want to worry about the project being completed in time for the 2002 Olympic Games.
“One of the things we were concerned about is that we did not want to get caught like Atlanta did having the roads still in a construction mode six weeks before the (Olympics) started,” Valentine said. “We want to be finished the summer before the games begin.”
Valentine was optimistic about the bills passed regarding public education.
He said overall education received a 4.5 percent increase, which will go toward additional computers in classrooms, more textbooks and reimbursement for teachers on classroom supplies.
“A great windfall happened this year,” Valentine said. “Last year there were 478,000 students and that number has stayed the same for this year. That is a flat growth which means the monetary increase really goes a long way.”
The corrections budget was a priority for legislators this year, Valentine said.
“Nobody wants to spend money to put people in prison,” Valentine said. “Yet, you don’t want people committing violent crimes on the street.”
Legislators met the challenge of the corrections budget in three areas. A new law will allow for 288 beds at Gunnison facilities as new, secure beds for high security prisoners. Legislators also passed a bill allowing more prisoners to be placed in county jails which costs $20 less a day than state prisons. Another bill has allowed for new money to be put into a privatized prison facility that will save the state money on each individual prisoner.
Members of the Women’s Legislative Council were impressed by the actions of the legislature during this year’s session, and felt Valentine was receptive to their needs.
“He has a strong belief in human rights and will stand up to the rights of others — even with those with whom he disagrees,” said Pearl Rex-Hartsell, committee chair.
Valentine said legislators were concerned with health and human services during this session. The Children’s Health Insurance Program took the majority of the budget set aside for health issues. This law allows families who make 200 percent of the poverty level to provide their children with state medical insurance.