Utah legislature now in session

Posted at 6:45 PM, Jan 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-28 20:45:18-05

SALT LAKE CITY--Utah lawmakers are back at work as of Monday for Utah’s 60th legislative session, where they will tackle such issues as education funding, the state budget, gun control and ethics reform

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Salt Lake County, said the budget is the biggest issue they deal with each year. He said the details of a budget may seem boring to many people, but he said the budget will have a big impact on Utahns.

House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said things will get worse if the U.S. Congress can’t resolve the nation’s fiscal problems.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she said.

Niederhauser said the state depends on federal funds for things like Hill Air Force Base, higher education and building roads. He said about 25 percent of the state’s budget comes from the federal government, and the current fiscal climate is worrisome.

“I’ve served in the legislature for six years, and I’ve been unsure about our forecast more than I ever have, and that's because of some of the things going on in Washington D.C.” he said.

Lockhart said when setbacks come their number one priority will be funding public education.

“We have a lot of new students coming in this next year," she said. "That will probably be one of the first things, if not the first thing, that we look at,” she said.

Ethics reform has taken a spotlight in the wake of an FBI investigation of Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake County, said his party has been working to put ethics reforms forth for years, and this may be the time they can get the Republican cooperation they need.

“We are presenting a whole package of ethics bills,” he said. “And the Republicans have fought against them every step of the way for years. Now Chairman [Thomas] Wright, the chairman of the Republican Party, and Governor Herbert are saying they’re for them. I hope they’re serious.”

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Davis County, said these reforms are different than those put forth two years ago.

“There should be some more things done,” he said. “I know that the Senate and the House, we did an ethics reform package two years ago, just as I came on, that seems to be working well. This is, I think would be geared more toward the executive branch.”

Other hot-button issues include raising the state income tax, prohibiting the sale of dogs in public places and banning smoking in cars where children are present.

Related story: Utah lawmaker seeks to limit campaign contributions