The Utah State Legislature accomplished a lot in its 45 days this year. It was a less raucous session, although extremists still managed to have a voice, albeit with less volume than previous years. On budget issues, legislators deserve a high mark. With the threat of sequestration and lingering economic woes, lawmakers were able to finalize a $13 billion spending plan and avoid a major tax increase.
Lawmakers deserve a solid B-plus on the budget. They were able to provide a 2 percent increase to public education. Granted, that's not a lot, but it's better than previous years. Also, there was money for an increase for state workers' retirement benefits. Higher education did well. Ten million dollars was provided to boost enrollment in the University of Utah's medical school. Weber State was allocated $3.5 million for a new science lab building. The Falcon Hill project at Hill Air Force Base received $2.3 million and Ogden received $29.3 million for a new juvenile courthouse.
On clean air initiatives, the Legislature deserves a C. Lawmakers passed on several bills that would have improved air quality in the state. However, a bill from Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to make compressed natural gas stations more numerous, and provide incentives for busses and large vehicles to convert to CNG, is on the governor's desk.
The Utah State Senate deserves an F on liquor laws, for killing a House bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, that would have removed the odious "Zion Curtain" from some Utah eating establishments. As long as there are moralists in the Legislature, such as Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who push religious beliefs over common sense, the curtain will not come down.
On gun bills, we'll give the Legislature a C-plus. Lawmakers were right to kill a bill that would have voided federal gun laws that clashed with state laws but they allowed an unnecessary bill that amended concealed carry laws in Utah to reach Gov. Gary Herbert's desk. Hopefully, that will be vetoed.
On an issue relating to Obamacare, lawmakers deserve a B for killing a message bill that attempted to force the governor to immediately reject Medicaid provisions for the new bill. There are a lot of problems with the new health care law, but Gov. Herbert deserves time to study the issue and work with the feds if necessary. The silly bill banning that wasted a lot of the Legislature's time.
Another accomplishment by the Legislature included plans to study a relocation of the state prison. The study of intergenerational poverty, a good idea from Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, advanced to a second year. Also, legislators passed bills that ban smoking in cars with children 15 and under in vehicles as well as banning cellphone use for drivers 16 and 17. One bad idea that wasted the Legislature's time was a bill that would have taxed online purchases. This issue is already being debated in the U.S. Congress, making state action unneeded.