Lawmakers begin with focus on transportation, opioids and taxes

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Rick Bowmer
Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee of Clearfield, stands for the National Anthem to open the 2018 Utah Legislature Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Lisonbee wants to bar doctors from performing abortions sought because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome even though legislative lawyers warn that there’s a high probability that a court will find the law unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers opened the 2018 Legislature with typical pomp and circumstance, prayers and music, but it didn’t take too long for leaders in both the House and Senate to get down to business

Rick Bowmer
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes speaks to the Utah House of Representatives Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers are expected to dig in to tax reform, Medicaid and more starting Monday when the state Legislature meets for a whirlwind annual session that wraps up the second week of March. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Children and family members, dressed in their Sunday best, sat eagerly next to their mothers and fathers on the floor of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill Monday as the annual 45-day legislative session began.

After an opening prayer by Elder Dale G. Renlund, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of Twelve, the House and visitors sang “God Bless America.” With the song still echoing through the historic chamber, Greg Hughes, R-Draper, took the dias and began his last opening remarks as House speaker.

“The work that is being done here is work that is transformational,” Hughes said as he shared a list of what the House has accomplished in recent years.

Hughes mentioned success on issues such as public transportation, public education, public lands and monuments, and homelessness. However, Hughes seemed much more concerned with what House members can accomplish together during this session, if the “culture” is right.

In the wake of the federal government shutdown that came as a result of a lack of cooperation in Congress, Hughes encouraged the House to come to a consensus without abandoning their personal beliefs.

After his admonition, Hughes introduced a number of issues that will be addressed this session, including public transportation, public education and governance model changes. In particular, he emphasized the opioid epidemic and greater accountability for pharmaceutical companies.

“There has been a human toll and a human cost.” Hughes said. “We need to make these big pharmaceutical companies accountable, not for their money, but to impress upon them their liability to these people.”

Lastly, Hughes spoke of the momentum the House has carried for the past three years.

“I know that momentum will not go away,” Hughes said. “I want to thank you for the job that we have done together and the work we have yet to do, it has been an honor to be a part of this.”

In the Utah Senate, Pres. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, opened proceedings with a message of unity and compromise for the general good of the people after members of the Utah Opera sang “Danny Boy.”

Niederhauser said that the people own the government, not the other way around. He issued an invitation to citizens to engage in the legislative process.

Rick Bowmer
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser speaks on the Senate floor Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers are expected to dig in to tax reform, Medicaid and more starting Monday when the state Legislature meets for a whirlwind annual session that wraps up the second week of March. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“This is your government. This is your process. This is your session,” Niederhauser said.

Niederhauser then segued into a short discussion of the U.S. seal. He said there were two ideas that impressed him in his studies of the United States seal. The first was the desire in Congress to symbolize the power of God in the country’s creation. The second was the concept of E pluribus unum, a Latin motto that means, “out of many, one.”

“It means for us, the joining of 13 separate colonies into one country,” Niederhauser said. “The bringing of many nationalities, races, and religions into one nation. And applicable for our present day and situation, the bringing of 104 legislators from all parts of our great state, with different vision, background, and ideas into a process toward one state policy.”

Niederhauser listed some of the policies the Senate will address this session, including education, the opioid crisis, infrastructure, public lands, water and tax reform.

“We don’t have to solve all the problems, but we need to incrementally do our part,” he said.

Sens. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe and Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, the Utah Senate’s majority and minority leaders, each shared thoughts.

Okerlund said, “We’ll continue to work with our colleagues to do the best job that we can for the people of the state of Utah. . .Although we may not always agree, we have a history of being the house of reason.”

Davis said, “Every one of us was brought here with different ideas, different leadership abilities. . . We come here to compete for good public policy.”

Davis also quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt saying, “Competition has been shown useful up to a certain point, and no further. But cooperation, which is a thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

Niederhauser gave tribute to Matt Hillyard, the son of Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. Matt recently died, but spent many sessions with lawmakers and had immense impact on the lives of all of the senators. He gave Sen. Hillyard time to speak. Hillyard said to follow Matt’s example by remembering three things this session: to love everyone, learn the words “thank you,” and there are no losers; everyone wins.

Niederhauser said, “This is Utah’s 45-day forum of free speech where ideas and policies are presented and debated in civility, decorum, and deliberation to achieve common ground and general acceptance.”

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