Lawmakers enter the last week
March 8, 2011
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell said state lawmakers this year have introduced nearly 1,300 bills.
But as the legislative session entered its final week, Van Tassell said lawmakers may end up having to vote on about 500 pieces of legislation.
"The next three days are always in some ways the most interesting of the session," said Van Tassell, a Republican who represents the Park City area.
He said one of his biggest challenges this week will be reading the bills that are sent to the Senate from the state House of Representatives.
"We’ll have enough time to at least get through the bills and be somewhat familiar with them. The focus for me will be to get familiar with a lot of them in the next three days to make sure that we know what we’re doing," Van Tassell said. "It’s a terrible process but it’s not all bad It’s a good way to make sausage at the end of the day."
To better understand the legislation he said he will rely on House votes, recordings from committee meetings and feedback from the public.
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"The process is like taking a drink from a fire hose, but you trust the committees," Van Tassell explained.
Guest worker program
State lawmakers approved a bill this year that could set up a way for illegal immigrants to work in Utah.
The direction of the national immigration debate could shift with passage of the guest worker program, House Minority Leader David Litvack, a Democrat, told reporters on the Hill.
"We all hope this changes the way that Congress will take on the issue," Litvack said. "The polar opposites at the extremes have really controlled the debate on immigration."
House Bill 477
Lawmakers last week rushed to pass a controversial bill that could restrict public access to politicians’ voice mails, text messages, video chats and other electronic communication.
The House and Senate approved House Bill 477. But lawmakers recalled the bill on Monday.
"It went through fairly fast and there were some issues there," Van Tassell said. "It looks like maybe it went too far."
Instead of H.B. 477 taking effect immediately, if the bill is signed by the governor, lawmakers voted to delay its implementation until this summer.
The bill would change the Government Records Access and Management Act, which was enacted in Utah nearly two decades ago. Members of the public use the law to request access to government documents.
"At the time that law was written we hadn’t even heard of Twitter and some of those things," Van Tassell said.
The only Summit County lawmaker who voted against the bill last week was Rep. Joel Briscoe, a Democrat who represents a chunk of the Snyderville Basin.
Van Tassell supported the bill last week.
"I’m not worried about what’s going on in my e-mails or texts; they’re welcome to have it. But the fishing expeditions are costly and in some ways unfair because they get hold of personal records," Van Tassell said. "There have been a couple instances, even with the state. Attorneys have got a hold of those and they have been used against the state to prepare the defense."
Money for charter schools
A bill that would take money away from traditional public schools to provide to charter schools is one of Briscoe’s top concerns on Capitol Hill. If House Bill 313 is approved funding school districts receive from local property taxes would shift to charter schools when students transfer away from traditional public schools.
"I’m very concerned about the impact that could have on school districts like Park City," Briscoe said.
Briscoe also said he worked this year to make funding available for tourism promotion in Utah.
According to Van Tassell, the budget lawmakers approve this week could include $7 million for tourism.
"We’re maintaining that $7 million in the base budget that we had last year, which in my opinion is the right thing to do," Van Tassell said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers must approve a balanced budget by Thursday.
The Executive Appropriations Committee approved a base budget bill Monday night, Van Tassell said.
"That’ll be coming forward early today going through both bodies," Van Tassell said Tuesday.
He added that he doesn’t expect the cuts to public education to be as deep as some people feared.