by Becky GINOS
UTAH STATE CAPITOL—There was excitement in the air Monday as the 2018 Legislative Session got underway for the next 45 days. In both the House and Senate lawmakers took their seats, some flanked by family members, along with notable dignitaries from church and state.
Elder Dale G. Renlund, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened with prayer in the House followed by the presentation and posting of the colors by the Utah National Guard. Speaker Greg Hughes’ father-in-law, Bruce Edmund led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
A vocal group made up of former members of the House including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Davis County representative Jim Nielsen sang the National Anthem.
“We’re going to dynamite the boulders in the field,” said Hughes in his opening remarks. “We’re not plowing around anything. We’ve shown the political will to tackle issues. These things don’t come by themselves it’s with the leadership of this body.”
Hughes recalled some of the major things that have been accomplished by the legislature in the last three years. “In the last three sessions we’ve increased public funding for education by $800 million,” he said. “We need to keep that pace. It’s the No. 1 issue whether you live in Kane County or West Valley. We have to prepare for an emerging workforce.”
He also talked about homelessness and transportation. “We’ve put building blocks in place in the last two years (on homelessness),” Hughes said. “Transportation is a tough issue in our growing state too. We can’t repair roads quick enough but we’ve made good progress. We’re going to see some big changes and I don’t think we’re afraid of those things coming our way.”
Hughes said the culture of the House is to face challenges. “We’re wired to do difficult things,” he said. “If it was impactful or easy someone else got to do it. We’re left with the hard things. We’re always looking to leaving this place better than we found it.”
As the session began, Hughes encouraged the lawmakers to be loyal to the House and to each other as debates arise. “Be respectful to each other as we tackle these issues,” he said. “I could see us become fragmented and not be able to move forward if we didn’t have this culture. We’re designed to be good – not just in good times but in bad.”
The opioid epidemic is at the forefront of the session as it has been in the past, he said. “I learned something I didn’t know last year,” said Hughes. “It was news to me that people could stay well within the doctor prescribed prescription opioid and they could still find themselves addicted. We’ve paid a terrible price. I think there are no better or more important bills to address this on a state level. In my opinion we need to create accountability for those who put out these drugs. We need to go after ‘Big Pharma’ and litigate.”
Hughes mentioned the federal government shutdown. “It’s interesting to note that today is the first day business starts for the people of Utah but the government is shut down because they couldn’t come to a consensus.”
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield said the shutdown would hamper his efforts as well. “I’m over health, human resources, etc. It’s hard to plan a budget when you have no clue what’s coming,” he said.
On a more local level, Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton expressed concern over citizens’ initiatives. “I’m concerned about them,” he said. “I think the better place for these subjects is with the legislature. I believe they’ll get better outcomes than with citizens’ initiatives.”
Handy said he’d be surprised if there are any tax increases this session. “It is an election year,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen until it (session) starts – it’s very dynamic.”