Rep. Christine Watkins and Sen. David Hinkins address the Chamber of Commerce.
At a Carbon Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday State Senator David Hinkins and Representative Christine Watkins talked at some length about the 2012 session of the legislature and what was accomplished.
"There were over 1,300 bills introduced during the session," said Watkins. "We passed 480 of them in 45 days. On the last evening of the session you would have thought you were at a fire sale or an auction, they were being presented so quickly."
Hinkins said he thought the session was very productive saying that it was the "first time we didn't need to make cuts while I have been in the Senate."
This year the state had more money and was able to keep many programs intact, despite the fact in the prior three large cuts had to be made to make the budget balance.
Each of the legislators brought up bills they had introduced and had passed, and they also discussed some of the more controversial issues to come out of the session this year. An example of that discussion was House Bill 148 which is intended to make the federal government adhere to the Enabling Act which stated that they should turn over federal lands in the state within a reasonable period of time. Utah became a state in 1896 and in that 116 years the federal government has not turned over the nearly 60 percent of lands it owns within Utah to the state. Some feel it is time for the national government to do that.
"They either need to do that or they pay taxes on the land like every other private land owner must." said Hinkins. "They need to pay up if they want to keep the land.The federal government does pay a tax on the land to the state called a PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) but it is at a greatly reduced rate from what the land would bring if it were in private hands.
He pointed out that the litigation that will come as a result of the bill has many partners participating in it, but that SITLA (school trust lands) said they don't want to contribute any money toward the fight.
Hinkins also is concerned about the national government and even the state's attitude toward coal and the coal industry.
"I don't want any legislative body mandating that coal should not be used for power generation or industry," he stated.
Watkins pointed out that the BEAR program (Business Expansion and Retention) that started in Carbon County has now expanded to other parts of the state in a big way.
She also pointed out that the Miners Bill passed, which pushes the medical care for coal miners.
"Before it was almost like the fox was watching the henhouse in the way the money was being used," she said referring to the fact that much of the money was being used for upstate miners and coal miners from the eastern part of the state were at times being allegedly neglected. "This pushes them to come and commit to what they are going to do. It will make them use the money that has been appropriated correctly."
Hinkins also voiced concern about what could be happening with Community Impact Board money that is generated by the energy industry and is supposed to be used to help communities that are impacted by energy development.
Both expressed concern about what is happening to rural representation in the state. Cutting rural representation in the House didn't happen very much with the recent reapportionment of districts. But with the next census, if the Wasatch Front communities continue to expand those changes could really affect rural Utah's voice at the legislature.
Hinkins is from Emery County and represents District 27.
Watkins is from Miller Creek and represents District 69 in the house. She is the only rural Democrat in the legislature.