We have nearly reached the half way mark for this year’s session. By the end of this week, the appropriations sub-committees will be voting to prioritize the funding not included in the base budget. Last week I wrote about the passage of the base budget and how it represents 95% of the total budget. During Week 4 the subcommittees will be voting on the remaining 5% of the budget. This is traditionally where bills that need one-time funding, pilot programs, or funding requests for new on-going programs will get a hearing. It is also where we consider how much money the State has left to spend after covering all the “must haves” that are included in the base budget.
Once each committee has finished prioritizing and voting, all budgets are sent to the Executive Appropriations Committee. This committee is charged with looking at the “big picture” of the total budget, while subcommittees review only the departments and programs that fall under their purview. For example a funding request for teacher supplies might compete against a program for additional technology upgrades in classrooms in a Public Education Appropriation Subcommittee setting. In the Executive Appropriations Committee process, teacher supplies will compete against bridge repair for I-15, drug retreatment for prisoners, and State Parks improvement projects. The Executive Appropriations Committee will factor in all the subcommittee recommendations and compare them against the final budget projections, which will be presented on February 21st. Once the Committee has approved a final package, it will go to the floor of each chamber for a vote.
As you can see, even though the session is halfway over, we still have a lot of work to do. Below are some of the bills that saw legislative action this week that I thought you might find interesting. Please feel free to contact me with any comments or questions on bills during the session. I always enjoy feedback from constituents and find it very helpful when gauging how to vote on the important issues that come before us.
HB 155 Drug Screening for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Recipients (Wilson – me)
This bill addresses the issue of those applying for public assistance that may have substance abuse problems. The sad truth of substance abuse is that it makes it nearly impossible for the abuser to make rational decisions about how to improve their situation and get a job so they can get off public assistance. The bill would require anyone eligible for public assistance with the Department of Workforce Services to take a substance abuse screening exam. In other states the exam has been shown to be 95% accurate in assessing whether an individual has addictive behaviors. Based on the results of the initial assessment exam, an individual would then be sent for an actual drug test. If the test came back positive, the individual would then be mandated to participate in a drug treatment program to receive TANF benefits (commonly known as welfare benefits) and subject to random drug testing for the length of time the person receives the benefit.
HB 40 Gambling Amendments (Ipson)
Don’t be fooled by the title of this bill. The Legislature has not decided to reverse the State’s position on gambling. This bill added some clarification to what is and what is not gambling. A promotional activity that is ancillary to a businesses daily operations is not considered gambling. For instance, McDonald’s popular Monopoly game where diners get game piece with meals and can win prizes is an example of a promotional activity that is considered ancillary to daily operations and therefore not gambling.
3rd. Sub. HB 245 Amendment to Definition of Smoking in Utah Indoor Clean Air Act (Last)
Last summer, it was discovered that a loophole existed in the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act (which prohibits smoking inside public buildings). When the Act was originally passed Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes) had not been invented and hookah pipes were not well known or understood in Utah. In the past few years, use of both devices for “smoking” has grown dramatically and there was some question about whether these devises could be used in public places or were subject to the restrictions placed on traditional cigarettes. This bill clarifies that the same restrictions do apply to E-Cigarettes and to hookah pipes. The use of hookah pipes in bars will be subject to a phase out by 2017.
Representative Brad Wilson