Herbert sets Utah graduation goal, calls for Medicaid plan

Wednesday , January 27, 2016 - 10:46 PM1 comment

By MICHELLE L. PRICE Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert used his annual State of the State speech Wednesday to set a goal to raise Utah’s graduation rate and implore lawmakers who’ve rejected Medicaid expansion plans to somehow help poor residents get health insurance.

The Republican governor only highlighted a few specific policies he’d like to see lawmakers tackle this year, instead spending most of the 30-minute speech touting Utah’s economy and praising lawmakers for sending more money to education last year.

Here’s a look at highlights from the governor’s prepared remarks before lawmakers in the House of Representatives chamber:

EDUCATION

Herbert on Wednesday said he wants to see Utah’s graduation rate rise to 90 percent in the next four years, up from its current rate at 84 percent. The governor said Wednesday the current rate is relatively good compared to other states and is almost 10 percent higher than it was when he took office in 2009.

But Herbert said he wants Utah to do better. The governor did not provide specifics on how Utah would meet that goal but pledged that Utah officials will provide resources and innovation to help. He also challenged students, parents and educators to work to meet the benchmark.

MEDICAID

Herbert told lawmakers that they must find a way to help more low-income residents get health coverage. Though lawmakers have rejected several Medicaid expansion plans, Herbert said the problem won’t go away because too many people are without insurance.

He did not offer a specific plan Wednesday but asked lawmakers to find a solution. A flaw in President Barack Obama’s health care law has left tens of thousands of Utah residents without affordable coverage. States have the option under the law of expanding their Medicaid program to insure those people and the federal government is offering to pay most of the cost. Utah’s GOP-controlled Legislature has not agreed on a plan, citing concerns about the cost. Lawmakers have rejected two proposals that the governor worked on.

EXECUTIVE ORDERS

The governor said stripping away unnecessary rules and laws is one of his priorities this year. Herbert said he’s reviewed every executive order issued by all of Utah’s governors and will repeal 52 that he said are no longer needed. He did not offer details about which orders he will repeal.

The governor also told lawmakers that he will not issue executive orders that bypass the Legislature or the will of the people. He contrasted that with moves from Obama that bypass Congress and create law by executive order.

Herbert himself issued six executive orders last year. Some orders were meant to free up special funds by his declaring that the risk of wildfires had reached a state of emergency. Others ordered state agencies to start a sage grouse conservation plan and help with water conservation efforts.

DEMOCRAT PRIORITIES

Ahead of Herbert’s evening speech, top Democrats on Wednesday afternoon outlined their priorities while acknowledging they face an uphill battle to get their bills passed in the GOP-controlled Legislature. Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said instead of just funding enrollment in public school, Utah needs to raise teacher pay to attract and keep the best educators.

They also criticized the governor and Republicans for failing to reach a Medicaid deal. Democrats called for lawmakers to pass proposals to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, up from the federally-mandated minimum of $7.25, and a proposal requiring state employees to be given six weeks of paid parental leave.

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