Is the Utah State Legislature too much like ‘Groundhog Day?’

Posted at 11:14 AM, Jan 26, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes urged his colleagues not to treat the legislature like "Groundhog Day," repeating the same thing over and over again.

In remarks Monday on the opening day of the Utah State Legislature, Hughes referenced the Bill Murray movie repeatedly, telling lawmakers not to put off debates or action on bills.

"Do you recognize the legislative version of 'Groundhog Day?'" Hughes said. "For how many years have we talked about some of the same issues? For how many legislative sessions have we tinkered around the edges because the challenges seem insurmountable in just 45 days?"

In his prepared remarks, Hughes referenced a number of issues he believes to be a priority.

"I think I speak for the whole House in a bipartisan way when I say, 'We oppose an unhealthy Utah,'" he said, taking a swipe at the governor's Medicaid expansion alternative.

The remark brought tepid applause from the House floor.

In a leadership briefing with reporters, House Majority Leader Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said ongoing meetings had been taking place between the Utah Department of Health and the Lt. Governor.

Dunnigan said he believed the House will pass a Medicaid expansion plan, but it may not pass the governor.

"While we are well aware that people need health care and the folks that fall in the coverage gap need treatment, it does not suit our state to worry about having to make a quick decision to satisfy the desires of the federal government," he said.

Asked about a series of bills dealing with LGBT anti-discrimination as well as religious freedom, the House Speaker said he would like to see them discussed. Such bills were held off last year while Utah appealed a federal judge's ruling on same-sex marriage. This year, some in the Senate have suggested the bills wait another year while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case.

Hughes lamented that Utah's appeal was not chosen by the U.S. Supreme Court, but said the discussion should go forward in the legislature.

"Unless we hear a very strong legal argument that we would be putting the state at a disadvantage legally, we will see a process go forward here," he told FOX 13.

In his opening speech, Hughes said lawmakers need to address transportation funding and said "the structure of our gas tax is failing us in all areas of the state, rural as well as urban."

"In this legislative session, we will have the opportunity to reform the funding formula into something that actually makes sense and keeps pace with inflation," Hughes said. "If we succeed, it will be truly transformational."

Talking about clean air, the Speaker said the state should "no longer pit the environment against businesses and our economy." He pressed for relocating the Utah State Prison and criminal justice reforms, stating: "Doing nothing is not an option."

He urged debate over public lands control and strengthening "both traditional and nontraditional public education."

"It is time we bring our classrooms into the 21st Century and better prepare our children for the jobs of the future," Hughes said, channeling former House Speaker Becky Lockhart.

Amid the opening ceremonies of the Utah State Legislature, the House took time to honor Lockhart with a presentation to her family. Lockhart died earlier this month of Creuzfelt-Jakob Disease, an extremely rare brain disorder.