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5 issues on the horizon for Utah lawmakers
Prison relocation, health coverage for the poor and a possible end to daylight savings time are a few of the debates likely to play out at the Utah Capitol next week.
State lawmakers are gearing up for the last two weeks in their designated month and a half at the state Capitol. They are expected to mull Medicaid and school technology and hammer out the budget. But they will also consider allowing public hearings about whether the state should continue to dial clocks forward and back each spring and fall.
Of the 737 proposals to receive the initial OK from committees at the Legislature, only 138 have advanced to receive the stamp of approval from both the House and Senate. The governor must sign them in order for the proposed laws to take action.
Here's a look at several pending issues that are likely to come up:
As of Friday, lawmakers have a slightly bigger cash pool than they expected in January, said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, the Senate budget chair. One proposal vying for a big chunk of those state dollars would set up a state-run alternative to Medicaid expansion that would cost about $35 million over two years. It comes from House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. She also backs another measure with a hefty price tag: an estimated $200 million push to equip each Utah student with a digital tablet. The school tech initiative is "a big ask," Lockhart told reporters on Friday, adding that the small increase in legislative cash on hand gives her hope it will be paid for in full.
Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday announced he wants to reject a traditional, full Medicaid expansion, and instead seek federal dollars to cover the poor under a state-tailored plan. But in order to move forward, he must first garner the support of the state's Republican-controlled Legislature. That could prove a battle: Legislators are criticizing that plan, saying it could prove a poor investment if Washington takes back its promise to help pay for the program. Legislators are drawing up their own blueprints regarding Medicaid, which will be considered side-by-side with Herbert's plan.
Families, farmers and others could have a chance to weigh in on whether the state should continue to observe daylight savings. The House last week backed a proposal dealing with the twice-yearly adjustment. Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, said her constituents routinely ask lawmakers to ditch the time shift. But past proposals to do so have died, she said, so gathering ideas from a wide cast of stakeholders is the best way to move forward on the issue. Menlove's proposal would set up a state-run public meeting on daylight savings.
Lawmakers are expected to continue weighing whether to move the state prison from its 700-acre plot in Draper. Several high-tech firms have set up shop in the area in recent years, which lies south of Salt Lake City. Those in favor of the move say the land could be freed for real estate development. They contend that moving the facility would prevent the state from paying for years of repairs and upgrades on the existing structure. A consulting firm hired by the legislature estimates Utah would gain $100 million by moving the prison. A resolution to support moving the facility is pending in the Legislature.
MEDICAL WASTE BURNING
A measure to block facilities burning medical waste from going up within two miles of neighborhood homes is pending in the Senate. The proposal relates to a North Salt Lake waste-burning facility owned by Stericycle, which has said it wants to move to a remote site in Tooele. The Stericycle incinerator processes about 7,000 tons of laboratory tools, human tissue and other waste each year, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said his measure tries to prevent health risks by barring any such incinerators from going up near backyards and playgrounds. A recent state study indicated surrounding communities there had higher cancer rates, but epidemiologists have said the results are not definitive. A group of doctors has urged hospitals to boycott Stericycle. Weiler's measure would need approval from the House and a signature from the governor to become law.