Legislature to grapple with immigration, affirmative action issues at next session
Most years the number one thing on most Utah State legislators' minds prior to the general session in January: budgetary concerns.
That will be a big issue this year, but it appears that the state's revenue is increasing as the recession seems to be letting up a bit.
As the representative from District 69 in the House side of the legislature, Christine Watkins, who was unopposed in the early November election, has a number of issues she says that the state will be looking at starting Jan. 18, 2011.
"I think the most high profile bill we will be considering will be Sandstrom's (Rep. Stephan Sandstrom (R), District 58) immigration bill," said Watkins in a phone interview on Sunday. "The final bill has not been released yet. However I think he is mad about the stand the coalition took last week on the bill."
The "coalition" Watkins referred to was a group that signed a document asking for something different from the state legislature, a less restrictive bill with what many of them said was more "compassion." The group consisted of some pretty heavy political and business hitters in the state.
"I believe we do have a problem, but it isn't the same as some states," said Watkins. "We are not a border state and this really is a federal problem. I know I am concerned about getting involved in a bill that could produce litigation, which costs the state money."
While Sandstrom's immigration bill has been a highlight of the off-legislative season, another bill that was never brought to the floor last year - but Watkins feels will show up again this year - is a bill that aims to do away with affirmative action programs in the state of Utah.
"If a bill like that comes up, it will be a tough one to figure out for me," she said. "I can see both sides of that issue. I really believe people should make it on their own abilities and hard work, but on the other hand there are those in our society who need protection and help. I will have to look at the issue and the bill closely."
That bill will probably be sponsored Margaret Dayton (Senate District 15, Orem) and Curtis Oden (House District 14, Clearfield).
Watkins said that there will be some local bills in the legislature as well. One will be to change the sales tax revenue loss that came from a prior bill that passed three years ago and has decimated Wellington City's operating budget.
"There were actually a lot of small communities that were hurt by the bill," stated Watkins. "The way it appears it will be written is that cities of certain sizes will be allowed to prove the loss of revenue and then recoup what they lost. It will not just be automatic, they will have to show how the loss affected them."
The bill has affected some bigger counties as well, but their tax bases were not as dependent on mining equipment sales tax revenues as the smaller communities were. It appears the bill will be introduced in the Senate by local Senator David Hinkins and Watkins may be asked to sponsor it in the House.
Watkins is sponsoring a bill to name Highway 123 from Sunnyside Junction to East Carbon/Sunnyside the Virginia Wheeler Road, in honor of the Wheeler who was the medical director of the East Carbon Clinic for 18 years. Wheeler passed away in February.
For Watkins the coming session will also find her in some new assignments. A Democrat, Watkins is in the minority party and they lost some seats this year, including Jim Gowans of Tooele who was the party's caucus manager. She will now hold that position and will also be on the executive appropriations committee this year as well as the committees she served on last session.