House opposes helmets, but looming fiscal cliff makes planning tricky
House Republicans took a stand against mandatory helmet laws Tuesday but came to agreement on little else in their annual daylong pre-session meeting.
There was a brief discussion of a proposal to significantly increase the state sales tax on food offsetting it with a credit for low-income Utahns and the topic of gun control was raised as well, but the caucus didn't take a position on either issue.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said that after the Connecticut school shooting that left 27 victims dead, it was agreed that now is not the time to politicize the gun issue.
Lockhart said the caucus was also somewhat hamstrung by the uncertainty in the federal budget situation.
"We just talked about more things throughout the day, but because the fiscal situation has so many unknowns, we avoided taking a position on various budget issues because we know the numbers will be different in the future," she said. "Some of it will depend on the specifics of the deal reached in Congress, if a deal is reached."
Lawmakers were told earlier this month that if President Barack Obama and Congress are unable to reach a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff in which expiring tax cuts could add nearly $3,500 to the average tax burden and federal spending would be slashed it would plunge the state into chaos and a recession as well.
The state's projected $300 million budget surplus would become a projected $200 million deficit as disposable income dries up, sales tax revenues plunge and direct federal payments are slashed.
There was little discussion, but general consensus on only one issue that House members opposed an idea being floated by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, to require adults to wear helmets while operating a motorcycle.
Weiler has said that the move would save the state money, citing a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people involved in motorcycle accidents without helmets often end up having medical bills and disability benefits paid for by taxpayers.
Lockhart said she agrees with the position. "I feel like it's an issue of freedom and personal responsibility," she said.
The 61 Republican members in the 75-member body received a briefing by legislative staff on the potential impacts in the coming years of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, including the potential for expanding Medicaid to cover more Utahns and health insurance exchange requirements, but no formal positions were taken.