by Becky GINOS
NORTH SALT LAKE—With the start of the 2018 legislative session on Monday, as usual there will be numerous bills to discuss over the 45-day period. Prior to that, local lawmakers joined together last week for a town hall meeting to explain upcoming legislation and have a conversation with Davis County residents.
“There are some big issues every year,” said Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake. “Growth – we hear our population is going to be doubling by 2050. That means twice as many people on the freeways and in the grocery stores. What about transportation and housing affordability? Where are we going to house people?”
Tax reform is another big dilemma, she said. “We have to find ways to rebalance the way we collect taxes. I was talking to a group of scouts recently and I told them the legislature makes the laws and spends the money.”
As always, education funding is at the forefront as well, Edwards said. “It is the best investment we’ll make in our workforce,” she said. “We have to continue to diversify and strengthen the depth of our economic sectors. Strong families help us have a strong state.”
There are barriers to women trying to work, she said, so she has plans for several bills to address the issues. “One is childcare accessibility and affordability, paid family leave and workplace protection,” said Edwards. “If you work at a business with 15 employees or less there are no legal protections. I want to provide for every employee to make it safer so they can support their families which supports our economy.”
Rep. Ray Ward intends on running his bill that would give Medicaid benefits to women under the poverty level for family planning services. “This would not cover abortions,” he stressed. “These would be services already provided by Medicaid. Right now when a woman gets pregnant Medicaid pays but if we provided birth control it would decrease the costs. It’s not about wanting them to have less children, it’s about giving them the choice of when.”
Ward also wants to modify the medical form for drivers. “The intention is to make sure you’re safe to drive,” he said. “That’s good but the changes don’t make sense. People have to come into the doctor to get these filled out and I have to spend time filling them out (as a doctor) and the form has become so complicated I don’t know what half the questions mean.”
The opioid crisis is an ongoing problem facing the state as a whole, but Ward hopes to push some legislation to help stem the tide. “We’re still having 600 overdose deaths per year,” he said. “We’ve done some things in the legislature but we haven’t seen much of a change. I want to see more education on standards for opioid prescribing so we change back to giving the patients what they need but keeping in mind how dangerous it can be on those medications.”
After opening it up to the public, one Centerville man expressed frustration over the debate on SB54 and the duel path to elections. “There has been a bitter fight over this,” said Ward. “Two things will happen; the lawsuit will either fail or come to an end.”
“I supported SB54 four years ago,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. “The good news is by the end of this year the 10th Circuit Court will have ruled and I believe the will of the people will be heard and it will end. I think the duel path will stay.”
Others had questions about better boundaries and gerrymandering with redistricting. “Every 10 years we do a census so in 2020 we’re required to redraw the lines,” said Weiler. “We’ve never had a lawsuit for gerrymandering in Utah.”
One resident asked if they thought the legal limit on alcohol change would be revisited this session. “I don’t know of any bill bringing it back,” said Edwards.
“It’s a very divisive issue,” Weiler said. “I think the legislature will be hesitant to pick at scabs that are healing. At first I didn’t want any part of kicking people in the shin because they drink and I don’t. But it’s not a Mormon Church bill; it’s a recommendation by the safety council. In France it’s .05 in Ireland it’s .05. Countries are getting the Olympics that are already at .05.”
Weiler said .08 gives the impression that you can drink a little and still drive. “With .05 it says ‘don’t drink and drive,’” he said. “The real kicker for me was that truckers are all on .05. They can’t have a professional license if they’re over that. If any changes are made it might be the penalty between .05 and .08.”
Every year as the inversion socks into the valley, people are clamoring for cleaner air bills. “We’re all excited about the prospect of tier 3 gas coming,” said Edwards. “Without pushback from the public we wouldn’t be where we are on clean air. The end of a tailpipe is one of the biggest contributors to pollution.”
“In the big picture I hope we can switch to alternative vehicles,” said Ward. “As long as we’re driving cars that run on gasoline we won’t make a change.”
“That gunk you saw a few weeks ago, that’s coming from driving cars, heating our homes and businesses,” Weiler said. “We need to switch to high efficiency water heaters – that would make a difference. I’m the lucky senator who has all five refineries in my district. They’ve spent $2 billion in the last 15 years cleaning up their industry. Unless the legislature tells you you can’t drive your car or heat your house it won’t change.”
Other questions centered on citizen initiatives and taxes but the meeting ended with a woman who asked each lawmaker to state their values.
“I value a good education system, cleaner air and healthcare,” said Ward.
“My values are family, safety and an affordable tax burden,” Weiler said.
“Strengthening families and creating equal opportunities in jobs and education are my priorities,” Edwards said. “We need to protect in a civil and respectful way the disenfranchised population.”