Officials representing Carbon County discuss 2004 legislative session
The Utah Legislature has been in session slighly more than one week. Little has reached the actual floor of the two houses, but committees and hearings on bills have been going on.
The legislators representing Carbon County constituents spend a lot of time every year watching for proposals that may hurt the local area and trying to prevent the bills' passage.
"I spend a lot of time looking for bad bills - things that will affect Carbon negatively," pointed out District 69 Rep.Brad King after last year's legislative session. "I think that is often more important than creating bills to submit."
Rep. Darin Peterson occupies the Utah House District 67 seat on state government. The district encompasses the western part of Carbon County.
"I think that it is fascinating that we, as a Legislature, are all to eager to act as a super school board," said Peterson on Tuesday. "Too many times in the past and this year I see us trying to usurp power from districts or even towns, counties, etc. I firmly believe that the levels of government that are closest to the people are the best decision makers."
Usurping power is frequently what proposed legislation is about.
Many bills that come down the line have to do with regulating and controlling what local governmental entities can do, either by direct edict or by controlling the state's purse strings.
On Tuesday, Senator Mike Dmitrich from District 27 said there had been little introduced during the last week that directly affects Carbon.
"The major bills being passed were the abortion bills and both have constitutional concerns and will probably end up in court," indicated Dmitrich. "I think the important legislation will result as the appropriation process moves forward. I am concerned about funding for the road projects in our area."
Gov. Olene Walker previously announced the intent to transfer revenues from road funds to education.
Carbon County School District and College of Eastern Utah could use more money. But raiding money for road improvements in the area, particularly U.S. Highway 6, could create a serious problem.
Many people working on economic development view expanding U.S. 6 into a four-lane road as a key element in attracting additional business into the county.
Educational funding is on the mind of Peterson, but the representative is focusing on a different approach to give more usable money to school districts.
"(Rep)Tom Hatch and I have been working on a bill freeing up options for expenditures to local districts," said Peterson. "That would allow a 10 percent shift from a district's basic levy to be raised to 15 percent and opened up to operation and maintenance."
Utah is also becoming increasingly urbanized. When compact areas with high populations are viewed, Utah is considered one of the most urbanized places in the country, with 90 percent of the state's population living along the 90 mile stretch of the Wasatch Front.
Urban growth means more recreational pressure on rural locales and often spawns more support for wilderness in the areas.
"Wilderness settlement and designation is again on the horizon and, as always, is uncomfortable to me," noted Peterson. "I'm not sure that anyone really wins with wilderness designations. Consider that those who come to Utah to enjoy its beauty probably have never realized that it is impact from ranchers, recreationalists, hunters etc. (locals) who have kept Utah pristine, healthy and beautiful."
In recent days various committees have been looking at bills to protect children from guns that aren't locked up, to change the states constitution so the governor doesn't have to give permission to have himself or herself impeached, a couple of hate crimes proposals, one defining what a marriage is, a measure to inform citizens of possible annexations in their area, one to require the Division of Children and Family Services to videotape interviews with children and a repeal on a 2003 law on medical arbitration, amongst dozens of others.
One bill that has drawn some interest from veterans groups is a bill that passed the house on Tuesday that awards college tuition to Purple Heart recipients. Peterson is also sponsoring a bill that affects military personnel.
"I have a bill exempting activated military personnel from state income tax," he explained. "I think that we as a state need to extend this willingly. These individuals and their families sacrifices need to be more than just recognized but also rewarded."