State legislators huddle with Summit County officials to get on the same page ahead of general session
All five of the men elected to represent Summit County at the state Legislature attended a forum in Coalville this week with county officials, exchanging updates on priorities and the happenings in Salt Lake City over croissant sandwiches and appetizers ahead of this month’s start of the legislative session.
The recently passed tax reform legislation dominated parts of the conversation at the Ledges Event Center, with county officials wondering how much time would be devoted to it in the upcoming session and how and whether it would be implemented with a push underway for a statewide referendum to overturn it.
The 2019 legislative session was particularly productive, Summit County officials have said, as two major initiatives they supported became law, one regarding renewable energy and the other regulating failing wastewater systems. Both pieces of legislation benefited from broad coalitions, they noted.
On Tuesday night, after everyone had been through the buffet line and taken their seats around circular tables, county officials whose departments directly benefited from the legislation took the podium to thank legislators and explain the impact of the new laws.
County representatives then spoke to a few issues of importance they would like to see championed at the Statehouse, like changes to tax collection rules, and the legislators explained what they were working on for the upcoming session.
The forum occurred in the days before the all-day meetings of political parties that would set the agenda for the Legislature, so rather than providing an overview of what to expect, legislators concentrated on the bills they knew they would be sponsoring.
The crowd of about 40 people included most of the County Council, the Summit County sheriff, the Park City Fire Department chief and a range of other elected officials high-ranking staffers and department heads.
The majority of the evening centered around issues that affect the day-in, day-out workings of local government.
In an example of the kind of nonpartisan, nuts-and-bolts type of issue that commonly came up, outgoing County Council Chair Armstrong remarked that there is a statewide shortage of Spanish-speaking mental health professionals and asked the legislators to consider incentivizing the industry with a scholarship program.
County elected officials and staff discussed tax changes that could directly affect the county, like allowing counties to collect the resort communities sales tax or increasing staffing at the state tax commission to effectively enforce the transient room tax on national travel companies like Orbitz and Expedia. Together, the two taxes could yield upwards of $4 million annually for county coffers, according to county officials.
County Manager Tom Fisher requested the legislators oppose a drive to make the transient room tax redistributable, which would mean the county would likely send millions of dollars back to the state. Fisher said such a move is not imminent, but has been a persistent rumor.
The legislators answered questions throughout, with Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, commenting that “tax reform isn’t over by any means,” implying that legislators will be working to tie up loose ends of the controversial bill that was passed in a Dec. 12 special session.
Christensen said that he’s working on legislation to combat vaping, which he said should have been done sooner. His plan calls for more law enforcement officers and for similar regulations to be implemented on vaping devices as are on tobacco. It would also allow schools to confiscate the devices.
He said it was no longer just the “parking lot crews” that are vaping, but the “good, clean kids,” too.
Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croyden, touched on his accomplishments “running” two bills for the county last year, one that changed county recorder fees, which aided county revenues, and another making it easier to form non-voluntary sewer districts. He added that he is working on land-use and water-quality legislation in this session.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he is working on legislation for background checks on firearm purchases modeled on a New Mexico bill.
“I really don’t know why it’s so controversial,” King said of the gun control bill. “I really don’t.”
He also mentioned other firearm-related measures, including trying to prevent people who have been convicted of domestic violence from possessing weapons and instituting a system to make sure people know they’ll be required to relinquish their guns if they plead guilty to domestic violence.
Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber, spent a lot of time at the forum answering questions about tax reform, which he said has taken up the last 20 months of his life. Quinn led an unsuccessful push for tax reform during the 2019 general session, then toured the state as a member of a tax reform task force, only to vote against the bill put forward in the December special session. He has said it didn’t go far enough in restructuring how the state funds its government.
Sen. Ron Winterton, R-Roosevelt, said he plans to sponsor only one bill this session, a sales tax exemption in the energy industry.He added that he’s maintaining capacity to sponsor more bills and that he’s listening to what his constituents want to see done.
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