King braces for difficult 2016 session | ParkRecord.com

King braces for difficult 2016 session

Jeff Dempsey, The Park Record

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-28, said he worries Republicans and Democrats are becoming too combative to make substantive progress. (Courtesy of Utah Legislature)

As House Minority Leader and District 28 Representative Brian King prepares for the start of the 2016 legislative session, he said he looks back on 2015 as a year of successes and letdowns.

"I thought it was a great thing that we passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, HB 348," he said. "That will bring a lot of good things to pass for our criminal justice system. I was also happy with the anti-discrimination bill on the LGBT front. As for bad things, the failure to pass full Medicaid expansion or, at the very least, Healthy Utah, was disappointing."

King said for 2016, his first hope is that Healthy Utah will pass through the House successfully. Healthcare, he said, remains at the forefront.

"Medicaid expansion is not going away. We can do it intelligently or stupidly," he said. "I worry that too many of my Republican colleagues in the House are going to expand it to fewer people in a more expensive way. In other words, stupidly."

King was also critical of Speaker of the House Greg Hughes, who declined to hear Healthy Utah in the House last session after it passed through the Senate.

"I also am concerned about the public statements the Speaker has made about how any bill of significance will need to have Republican support only for the votes necessary to get through that chamber," King said. "It has never been the case in the past that 38 votes out of the 75-member House must all be from the majority party. And, in fact, there are many significant bills that have passed the legislature in the last few years having less than 38 Republican votes. His statements and position on this point are profoundly anti-democratic. And anti-Democratic caucus."

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King said he expects to see a number of reproductive rights bills, from both the left and the right. He said he also would not be surprised to see something with gun rights come up. Adequately funding public education will continue to be a tricky problem to solve. Beyond that, he has a wish list of his own.

"I hope we’ll see a greater commitment and expression of political will to increase revenue in a way that will decrease class size and increase teacher compensation," he said. "I hope we expand Medicaid in a meaningful, efficient way and in a manner that brings the most possible of our tax dollars."

King said he personally plans to introduce a bill to make sex education more comprehensive and to make contraception more widely available, "especially to young people." He said he hopes to have that in a final form this week.

"If we’re serious about reducing STDs, unplanned pregnancies, abortion rates, and reproductive cancers, we need to get serious about providing comprehensive sex education and access to contraception," he said.

King said he is also looking to introduce a campaign contributions bill. He said he worries, though, that with the current state of the legislature, getting anything passed on just about any issue will be a slog, or even impossible.

"I’m concerned about the state of the legislature," he said. "In the past we have had good working relationships with members of the opposite parties in both chambers. We’ve gotten a lot done on a bipartisan basis. We’ve not seen the type of gridlock and hyper-political approach in Utah that we’ve seen in D.C. and in some other states. I sense a big change on that front, at least in the House, over the past two months."

King points to the Gang of Six that was formed at the end of the 2015 session, which included only Republicans.

"Democrats asked to have a voice on that issue but were rebuffed," he said.

King said the plan they came up with after seven months of work, Utah Access+, received very little support even among the Republican caucus. King called it "legislative incompetence," and he said it shows exactly why the Republicans and Democrats need to work together.

"The legislature comes up with better proposals and better laws when there is a healthy and open dialogue across party lines and in open proceedings. Closed door, one-party control of the legislative process is at odds with the traditions of good policy making in Utah."

The 2016 session of the Utah Legislature began Monday. Meetings are open to the public. For a full meeting schedule and for contact information for local representatives, visit le.Utah.gov.