Rural lawmakers discuss compensation and recreation

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SALT LAKE CITY– For rural lawmakers, concerns include legislative compensation, improvements on Utah’s recreational infrastructures, and mental health.

Members of the rural caucus gather to discuss bills. (Mariana Chrisney)

A recent rural caucus meeting kicked off with a discussion from the committee regarding compensation during the legislative session. With less rural legislators, the commute up to the Capitol is becoming increasingly harder.

Ronald Mortensen of Herriman discusses his concerns with no compensation. “There is significant time and travel for these rural legislators,” he said. “There are a lot of days and miles that are uncompensated… [We have to] look into mileage and lodgings at least.”

Rep. Melvin Brown, R-Coalville, wanted to make it clear that this decision is not to simply raise their salary, but to make sure that they have the means to serve their communities. “We don’t set our own salary,” he said. “The public needs to know that this commission makes recommendations…”

Once the discussion closed, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake,  brought up HB52, which will modify provisions related to the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. With this bill, Arent hopes to build more parks in rural areas of Utah.

With the success of the 2015 pilot programs, Arent hopes that more tourists will flock the rural communities if there are more recreational activities. According to a flier that Arent handed out, there are 3 million people expected to live in Utah for the next 30 years.

“Now is the time to plan for our futures.” She said.

Brad Peterson spoke about the need to have more recreational areas in Utah, especially in rural communities. “[There is] an enormous desire to have a recreation infrastructure,” he said. “If we don’t have the infrastructure, it can cause more harm than good.”

Peterson explained how these recreation infrastructures will not only improve the economy in some areas, but he described how it will benefit tourism, quality of life, and how more businesses could be recruited from that.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R- Vernal, discussed SB200, which will create a mitigation program for the sage grouse. This will help minimize any damage that could occur on sage grouse lands.

If there are any companies that want to purchase a mitigation credit on sage grouse land, Van Tassell explains that they can purchase that through SB200 in order to create a mitigation bank.

On a volunteer basis, local businesses and other companies can purchase sage grouse habitat that has already been created.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, discussed briefly about SB212, where he will create a wildfire suppression fund in order to cut back on costs of wildfire damage in the future.

SB212, which is the culmination of a three-year project. “After devastating fires in 2012, the governor decided we need to really look hard at our fire suppression policies. . . to reduce the costs of those.” Vickers said.

Vickers explains that the money that goes towards the fires is returned, and hopes that the costs of fires will reduce with time.

Other topics that were brought up after the listed agendas included HB265 which will help bring more mental health practitioners into rural counties of Utah. Sen Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, explained how 2015 hit a record number of suicides in Utah.

Last year, about 600 people lost their lives to suicides. More surprisinly, they occur more in rural areas than in urbanized populations. “Our urban numbers are slightly on a decline, and our rural numbers are taking a large spike up.” He said.

With a 22 percent shortage of practitioners per capita, Bramble explained how there is a shortage of mental health practitioners in rural areas and said that HB265 will help provide more practitioners in the area.

Bramble discussed how these practitioners will receive a tax credit won’t need to move to rural areas, but they can use Telehealth to communicate with residents in rural areas.

 

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