utah capitol
April Ashland / Utah Public Radio

With the Utah Legislative session now less than two months away, Utah lawmakers are being asked to consider adding a couple of weeks to the annual 45-day session.

Because lawmakers don't meet on weekends during the session, the actual number of days spend legislating is nearer to 32 or 33. Last week a legislative committee forwarded the idea of amending the Utah constitution to stipulate that lawmakers should meet for a full 45 days within a 90-day calendar period. State representative John Westwood of Cedar City feels that more time just makes for more mischief.

"I am not for extensions. We have 45 days to conduct our business. We've done that, we want to remain efficient and take care of our bills and not extend it and bring in more bills. Sorry, I'm not for that. More is not always better," Westwood said.

Three Plans For Utah Medicaid Expansion Emerge

Mar 5, 2014
Utah Healthy Policy Project

As state legislators try to decide what to do about the 60,000 Utahns who fall into the Medicaid gap, there remain plenty of unanswered questions regarding health care reform.

There are currently three proposed health care plans in Utah. The House, Senate and Governor all are presenting separate plans.

The House’s Plan:

The House plan is being presented by Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart as House Bill 401. The reform by only using state dollars to cover the Medicaid gap.


The Senate’s Plan:

Senate Bill 251, which is sponsored by Sen. Brian Shiozowa, is a partial expansion and private-option plan. This means it would subsidize health care coverage through employer-sponsored insurance, private insurance and Medicaid Accountable Care Organizations.

The proposed bill would cover anybody who is under the poverty level which means any individual making less than $11,500 per year. By 2020, it is estimated to cover 54,000 Utahns.

Under this plan, Utah would have to ask the federal government to help cover 90 percent of the cost, while the state would cover the rest. This is opposed to the current system in which the national government covers 70 percent of Medicaid.

However, the Utah Health Policy Project, which supports the governor’s bill, is fearful that the federal government would pull it's funding down the road.

Caucus Bill Passes Committee After Compromise

Mar 4, 2014

State legislators have compromised with the Count My Vote initiative as it passed in the House Government Operations committee on Monday. A bill - SB54 - was amended to be inclusive to the Count My Vote movement.

Todd Weiler, a state senator from Bountiful, said if passed the bill would allow candidates to bypass the caucus system by collecting enough signatures to be on the voter ballot.

“The Count My Vote organizers have agreed to stop collecting signatures and to not submit the signatures," Weiler said. "They are going to effectively withdraw their language with SB 54.”

April Ashland / Utah Public Radio

Gov. Gary Herbert announced today a plan to fill the gap in Utah’s health care system without expanding Medicaid.

Healthy Utah” is the name of Herbert’s new plan to cover those living in poverty in the state.

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Herbert said he would seek a grant from the federal government and use the money to provide health insurance assistance to the poorest Utahns.


A Utah legislator is pushing to define things like carbon dioxide and nitrogen as natural components of the atmosphere, not as pollutants. The bill, HB 229, was proposed on Tuesday to the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

Rep. Jerry Anderson (R-Price) is a former science teacher. He said he is a sponsor of the bill, which would re-define what air contaminants mean, because carbon dioxide is an important part of photosynthesis.

Strand of DNA
National Institute of Justice

A House committee unanimously approved a measure this week which would allow police to take DNA samples from people they arrest on suspicion of felony.  Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy), the major proponent of the bill, said genetic evidence is the modern form of police fingerprinting.

H.B. 212 changes the protocol of DNA information to be available at the time of arrest instead of after conviction.

On Wednesday, Utah's four elected Latino legislators met with the public at the Utah State Capitol to outline and discuss pieces of legislation they are introducing and supporting during this legislative session.

Matt Lyon, executive director of Utah's Democratic Party, said all of the Hispanic elected officials in the state belong to the Democratic Party. He said Utah Democrats are increasing efforts to encourage Latino residents to participate in politics. As director of the party, Lyon is concerned by figures that indicate 13 percent of residents living in Utah are Latino but make up only 6 percent of the electorate.

"Are we making sure that we are being representative and that we are supporting our diverse communities," said Lyon. "That we are supporting our Hispanic and Latino populations and making sure that they are getting the same opportunities that we are giving everybody else?"

State lawmakers are considering Medicaid expansion proposals after Utah Governor Gary Herbert  said he will push for some form of expansion to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. State Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D- Salt Lake) is serving on a governor's committee assigned to evaluate the financial costs of expanding Medicaid.

About 15 percent of Utah residents are uninsured. Chavez-Houck said lawmakers must decide if Utah should participate in a full expansion program to offset the costs of extending health benefits to 111,000 of the state's poorest.

"And here we are, still unable to move and in the meantime people aren't getting covered and we are losing our portion of what should be ours," Chavez-Houck said.

Utah Looks to Change State Tree

Feb 7, 2014

Thanks to a class of fourth graders from Monroe Elementary in Sevier County, Utah is changing it's state tree. Last September, the students gave a presentation to Gov. Gary Herbert about changing the state tree from the blue spruce to the aspen.

Bill sponsor Sen. Ralph Okerlund (R-Sen. District 24) said Senate Bill 41, which would change the state tree, passed unanimously in the Utah Senate earlier this week.

Utah State Senate Votes to Not Hear SB100

Feb 6, 2014

Utah State Sen. Steve Urquhart (R-Washington County) said his anti-discrimination bill, SB100, appears to be dead this week as party leaders in the senate decided to avoid legislation that may impact the federal gay marriage court case.

Urquhart pushed for GOP leaders to allow the bill to have a hearing.

He also called for supporters to leave notes about the bill on the Utah Senate doors. Since then, supporters left about 450 notes urging legislators to hear the bill.

One gun bill has been scrapped and others are still on the table in this session of the legislature. Cache Valley Rep. Ed Redd's house bill 202 would have limited the ability of those who have been civilly committed to the custody of a mental health institution to get a gun. 

"You know somebody can't just diagnose, a physician can't just diagnose a person as being mentally ill and take away their rights to possess a weapon. Civil commitment is a process," Redd said.

He now says the bill is no longer necessary.

April Ashland

The clean air community had high hopes for SB 164, which did not pass out of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment committee on Tuesday. Jennifer Pemberton has more on the bill’s short life.

Ryan Cunningham

On Friday, Sen. Steve Urquhart (R) reaffirmed his support for his LGBT non-discrimination bill - S.B. 100.

At an afternoon press conference, he encouraged Utahns to come to the Senate Chamber doors and post messages asking the Senate to hear his bill.

Posting a blue note on the Senate Chamber doors that simply says, “Hear SB 100,” Sen. Steve Urquhart entreated other Utahns to do the same in support of his LGBT anti-discrimination bill.

USU President Stan Albrecht spoke at the higher education appropriations subcommittee meeting this afternoon. This marks the beginning of USU’s quest for funding at this year’s legislature.

Today’s meeting was not a request for any funding, but rather a presentation before the committee on the current university budget.

"What we've done to manage our budgets during the downturn from a few years ago; efficiencies have been created, maybe things that have been reallocated or things that have been cut," said Neil Abercrombie, director of governmental relations for USU.

senator Okerlund and Davis at a table

Senate leaders said no big decisions have been made on Medicaid expansion, though no potential options have been ruled out.

On Friday, Senate majority leader Ralph Okerlund said Republicans have barely scratched the surface on that topic in Senate caucus meetings, and no position has been taken.

“At this point, I believe all of the options are still out there on the table for our caucus,” Okerlund said. “We’re still willing to look at everything, and I suspect that (among) our caucus members, you’d find that we’ve got a lot of different opinions on whether we should go, at this point, with one of the options or with full expansion.”

State Senators Visit Lunchless Elementary Students

Jan 30, 2014

State Sen. Jim Dabakis and Sen. Todd Weiler visited the Uintah Elementary School in Salt Lake City Thursday to eat lunch with victims of a school lunch scandal.

It is estimated 30 elementary school children had their lunches thrown out after their parents didn’t pay the lunch fee.

Undergraduate researchers from Utah State University and the University of Utah will gather at the rotunda in the State Capitol Thursday to present their research to state legislators.

Research on Capitol Hill was founded 14 years ago as a way for universities to showcase undergraduate research.

Scott Bates is involved with deciding which USU students present at the capitol. He calls the event a distinct experience for undergraduates and lawmakers, some of whom are in charge of state funding for research grants.

League of Women Voters on Capital Hill

Jan 28, 2014
April Ashland

The Utah League of Women Voters gave an orientation of ways to lobby lawmakers during an onsite orientation on Monday at Capitol Hill.

Members of the league met in a room in the basement of the state capital, ate lunch, discussed the process of how bills become laws.

“Our founders believed women could vote their own heart and their own minds but like anybody they need education," said Jenn Gonnelly, co-president of the Utah League of Women Voters.

Utah Public Radio

Gov. Gary Herbert's proposed education budget for the next fiscal year is more than $5 billion, but some Utah legislators want to take it a step further.

Sen. Patricia Jones, (D-Salt Lake County), is the sponsor of Senate Bill 118, which would gradually phase out tax exemptions for families with children over a five-year period. Using the extra income generated from this, SB 118 would set up a funding plan that allocates the money to public schools for use on school improvement plans.

Speaking just outside the Senate chambers in the state capitol, Jones highlighted what the money could be used for.

On the opening day of the 2014 Utah Legislature we’re at the State Capitol. We’ll speak with Utah Governor Gary Herbert; Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund; Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis; House Majority Leader Brad Dee; and House Assistant Minority Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck. We’ll discuss air quality, education, the economy, Medicaid expansion, the budget and more.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart kicked off the 2014 legislative session with critical words for Governor Gary Herbert on Monday.

In her opening remarks on the floor of the House, the Prove Republican asked lawmakers to encourage Herbert “to lead and not just follow” and to “be innovative and not just reactive.”

She said Utah needs energy in the governor’s office, not “an inaction figure.”


With more students leaving for religious missions than ever before, Universities across the state are facing major enrollment dips.

Utah State University President, Stan Albrecht, said the school is still having difficulty estimating the fiscal consequences of this lower enrollment.

“We’re budgeting in a fog right now because we don’t really understand all of the impacts yet.”

Committee Rejects Climate Change Bill

Feb 5, 2013

Legislation that for the first time would have acknowledged the science of human-caused climate change by the government of the State of Utah was debated during a committee meeting on Monday, before being rejected on a 11-4 vote.

Republican representative Kraig Powell, of Heber, wants the state legislature to acknowledge the effects that climate change is having on wildfires in Utah.

“What the bill does is - it authorizes the state division of forestry, fire and public lands to consider the effects of climate change on their efforts to develop and implement firefighting strategies.”