Representative recaps matters addressed by 2004 Legislature
|Brad King explains his position on an issue to a student lobbyist from St. Joseph High School. King fielded numerous questions between meetings during the recent session of the 2004 Utah Legislature at the Capitol. |
The 2004 Utah Legislature was a session that highlighted such issues as gay marriage, the national No-Child Left Behind Act and parental rights.
The legislative session went from the serious to the silly, from the sublime to the ridiculous, according opinions voiced by various state lawmakers.
"Almost unbelievably, we have come to the end of another session of the Utah Legislature," commented Rep. Brad King from District 69. "Certainly (it was) the most difficult of my eight years."
Important financial legislation, peppered in between moral and ethical issues, seems to be a sign of the times.
Two years ago, King said one advantage to occupying a seat in the Utah Legislature rather than serving in a U.S. government position is that many divisive issues permeating national politics are not as prevalent at the state level.
But the situation seemed to change in 2004, with a multitude of issues arising from national venues.
However, the budget battles that appear to be at the crux of many problems in Utah loomed as large as ever and King, along with other local legislators, was in the middle of the fight.
"The past two sessions were difficult because of the shortfalls which required budget cutting. But after two years of significant cuts so many needs have been created and deepened that, this year, having a little new money was even more difficult to figure out how to start the restorations," stated the representative. "After two years of cuts, the Legislature was very conservative in adopting projections for next year's revenues."
According to King, the new money amounted to slightly more than $100 million, a small piece of an $8 billion overall state budget.
Most of the increase went to state and education employees. But the money may not cover the rising medical insurance fees faced by state agencies, public and higher education in the coming year, despite the fact that the Legislature set up funds to cover benefit rate changes.
"Any small increase for state employees will be augmented by a one time December bonus of approximately $300," explained King. "Those eligible for state services received the next largest percentage increase. Inflationary increases for medicaid programs and for increased usage made it through the sifting process.
"Services for the disabled and for private providers of services for the disabled also received small increases," added the state representative.
Despite the relatively small increase in available state revenues, King said it is important for residents to recognize that Utah's economy has turned the corner and started to grow.
Gov. Olene Walker was positive about the budget in a statement released last Thursday.
"Considering the funds available, the Legislature did an adequate job with the budget," noted Walker. "I proposed a 2 percent raise for state employees and their compromise, in light of budget numbers, was a 1 percent raise with a one time bonus."
"I am very pleased with the bonding package and the balance they've struck between one time and ongoing monies," added the Utah governor.
Another money positive that came out of the legislature was the fact that the College of Eastern Utah received two appropriations, one for $2.4 million to build a new library at the CEU/San Juan Campus and another for $50,000 to bolster the Registered Nurse program at the college. That nursing department money, however, will only be appropriated if the college can match it with college or private source funds.
"Mike Dmitrich was totally responsible for the money for the library at San Juan," stated King. "That was a very shrewd move on his part."
Dmitrich serves as the state senator from District 29. The Utah Senate district encompasses Carbon County.
"I just worked with the Senate president and the majority whip to get it done and it passed," noted Dmitrich.
In addition to money matters, King said other significant legislation affecting rural Utah was enacted during the 2004 legislative session.
"There were several economic measures intended to address our struggling rural economy," noted the representative. "One measure sets up a rural liaison between the rural counties and the cities and the state office of economic development."
The measure was specifically drafted to make rural communities "bigger" players in getting new business to come to the state.
"The other measure will help state government look to rural smart sites to provide services in rural areas," stated King.
Legislation King considered important to the local area included a bill requiring the state planning coordinator to work closely with counties in responding to federal agencies when developing management plans for natural resources on federal lands.
Another important bill sets up a task force to study the drop in movie making activity in rural Utah in the past few years.
The activity used to add a significant amount of money to local economies around the state.
Reportedly, revenues generated by movie and television production in Utah are down several million dollars.
After developing a tax incentive plan for movie makers, New Mexico increased the state's income from the process from $7 million several years ago to more than $70 million in 2003
"Two other task forces which will need to be monitored carefully will be dealing with water and transportation issues," explained King.
The matters in question will include concerns involving U.S. Highway 6 and Utah State Road 10 as well as issues surrounding the potential Gooseberry project in Sanpete County.
King also mentioned one negative that came out of the 2004 Utah Legislature for Carbon and surrounding rural counties.
"In my opinion, rural Utah was dealt a blow in the new way state school board candidates are selected," pointed out the representative. "Instead of a local nominating and recruiting committee, there will be a single statewide committee. While we were able to insure that at least some of the members will be from rural areas, it certainly will be less responsive to our community needs than a local committee would have been."
Dmitrich indicated he felt two additional pieces of legislation passed by the 2004 Legislature were important to the state and people in Utah.
"One are the changes to the search and seizure laws," noted the senator. "That will help law enforcement with a tool to work on stopping drug trafficking, while it also protects private property rights."
Dmitrich was referring to a bill which allows communities to apply for money garnered from drug arrest property seizures, as well as another $5 million that is being released to the fund from the federal government.
The senator was also glad to see the changes to the medical arbitration bill. The changes specified that arbitration would not be mandatory.
"There is one problem with that legislation that makes it a little awkward,"explained Dmitrich. "Those that have already signed a mediation agreement can withdraw, but it has to be within 10 days of the year anniversary of them signing it."
The Utah Legislature has concluded for 2004 unless a special session is called for specific reasons.
Many of the bills and laws passed by the 2004 Legislature will come into effect between April 1 and July 1 after the governor signs the documents. Walker must execute the legislation within a 20-day period following last Wednesday's closing session if the laws and bills are to become active.