2019 legislative session opens with new education, economy promises

New Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, left, is sworn-in by outgoing Speaker of the House Greg Hughes, right, during the first day of the Utah legislative session Monday, Jan. 28, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s new Senate President and House Speaker kicked off the 2019 legislative session Monday by addressing Utah’s recent economic growth, potential for policy changes in education, Medicaid expansion and air quality in light of the $158 million-dollar Utah budget surplus.

“Significant growth brings significant challenges. But I am not worried because I know you, Republican and Democrat alike, and I am absolutely certain that you are up to the task,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.

Wilson emphasized several areas to focus on this session, including safety, education, air quality, infrastructure, housing affordability, suicide prevention and long-term policy planning. Wilson said he plans to cut taxes by $225 million during the 2019 session. He also urged the Capitol Preservation Board to work on a proposal for a new state office building and improvements to the Capitol, including expanding parking.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he hopes to focus on education as a top issue this year. Adams co-sponsored the 2015 compromise bill SB296 that granted anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community and HB155, which created Utah’s DUI threshold of 0.05 percent blood-alcohol content, which took effect starting in January.

With a historic 25 female legislators, new leadership and a roster of bills with topics ranging from gun control to abortion rights, the 2019 session has potential to make substantial changes to laws that affect Utahns’ daily lives.

President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began the opening day of the 2019 legislative session by delivering the session’s opening prayer in the House.

Ballard expressed gratitude for Utah legislators’ service and prayed for their guidance and understanding, following which the Farmington High School Chamber Choir sang the national anthem.

Former Senate President Wayne Niederhauser asked for “the blessing of God to grace the legislators as they embark in the work of the people.” Elder Jack N. Gerard, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then offered another prayer and the Davis High School Wind Ensemble played the national anthem.

New legislators were sworn into office in both the Senate and the House, many accompanied by their spouses and children.

Outgoing Speaker Greg Hughes handed the gavel to new House Speaker Wilson. Wilson then addressed the Senate, thanking Hughes for his example of leadership.

“You taught me a great deal about leadership, and more importantly, how to protect this House and the members of this House,” Wilson told Hughes.

Senate members offered a standing ovation for Niederhauser honoring his years of leadership and public service to the state. The Senate then welcomed its new president, Stuart Adams, and new Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-Kearns.

Both Wilson and Adams addressed the legacy of diligence and freedom founded by American leaders, urging current legislators to look to the past as they legislate for the future.

Wilson spoke about the transcontinental railroad, noting how early Utah pioneers worked hard to innovate and create a prosperous society. Now, 150 years after the railroad’s completion, Wilson pointed out Utah is currently seeing a period of remarkable growth comparable to the time of the railroad’s construction. 

Both Adams and Wilson emphasized the importance of each legislator’s service and urged them to be responsive to their constituents. The Senate and House opening ceremonies both closed by recognizing the staff, interns and legislators’ family members who support the legislative session.

“You should be proud, you are a leader in the greatest state in the greatest country in the history of the world,” Adams said. “As Sam Adams put it, you are now the guardian of your own liberties.”

Visit le.utah.gov to learn more about bills scheduled for hearing during the 2019 legislative session.

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