With almost 5,000 present Saturday at the State Capitol to demand action on pollution control, there is a slew of bills seeking to address the declining air quality of the Wasatch Front. However, even residents on the Wasatch Back are concerned about air quality, says 54th District Rep. Kraig Powell (R).
"I am willing to look at additional regulations on any of the sources of pollution industry, vehicles, [etc.]," Powell said.
Powell said he and Rep. Becky Edwards (R North Salt Lake) are looking at further regulations and restrictions on refineries in Edwards' district, as well as medical waste disposal companies like Stericycle.
Although air quality is a focus for many during this year's legislative session, Powell also is sponsoring a number of bills on other issues.
H.B. 235, for instance, is a campaign finance reform bill that prohibits anonymous contributions of over $50, while H.B. 237 states that a judge or a state, legislative or school board candidate may not accept more than $9,999 in contributions from the same individual during a two-year period.
Powell calls this last bill the "Governing Under the Influence" bill, comparing the influence of alcohol on driving to the influence of large campaign contributions on responsible governing. He admits it is a "baby step," but believes the problem needs to be addressed.
Channeling the frustration of restaurant owners in the Park City area, Powell is also sponsoring H.B.
"I became convinced that the means that were chosen to meet the desirable ends by regulating restaurants through this fashion [had the] costs outweigh the benefits," Powell said, adding that any change in the state's liquor laws will be an "uphill battle."
Powell also is sponsoring a bill, H.B. 69, which attempts to formulate a compromise for the currently contested caucus system. The bill requires that a political party participate in a primary in which at least two candidates are seeking the nomination of that party.
For each office where at least two candidates are seeking nomination, the names of at least two candidates must also be included on the primary ballot as the registered party's candidate. Powell said he has done a lot of research on Count My Vote, a group seeking to eliminate the caucus system, and believes this bill is a good compromise.
"The caucus and convention supporters think [Count My Vote] is a great way for people to get involved," Powell said. "On the other side, you have opponents who say it's exclusionary, leads to extreme outcomes and is unworkable. My bill combines what I think are the best features of both arguments."
In the realm of alternative energy, Powell is formulating what he calls "energy choice legislation" that would allow residents of a city or county to band together and use their city or county as a bulk purchaser of alternative energy through a provider.
The legislation is partially inspired by a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) system, made popular in areas like Marin County, Calif. Powell said the proposed system would allow Rocky Mountain Power to charge for the transmission of alternative energy to customers, but it is not clear yet exactly how the system would work.
Another Powell-sponsored bill, H.B. 238, addresses a problem Summit County found itself in during the 2012 Truth-in-Taxation hearings, when a citizen petition stopped a tax increase from going into effect, leading to drastic cuts in road projects and law enforcement.
H.B. 238 would essentially declare that only those who would be directly impacted by the tax increase would be able to sign such a petition in the instance of a tax increase that does not include all precincts and subprecincts.
Base Budget Week
The Utah State Legislature is also making a slight change for its first week of legislative session, designating the first week as "Base Budget Week," Powell said.
"We have a budget process and thus we don't expect a lot of cuts," Powell said. "But rather than looking forward to saying what additional money can we give [to certain entities], we're looking back at their past budgets and asking if they're spending their money appropriately. Should their budget be cut?"
With the first week dedicated to budgetary matters, no hearings will be conducted on bills. Powell said every member of the Legislature serves on a budget committee.
To view the Utah State Legislature's session schedule and to view bills, visit le.utah.gov.
Powell will also host a legislative town hall on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Park City Library, 1255 Park Avenue.