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PSN on March 20, 2008 - 9:40am
While the session started with larger ambitions, a diminished budget surplus and political deadlock led to less dramatic results -- a good thing in the case of a proposed $100 million tax cut which was shelved.
Regarding the environment, the session was a mixed bag:
- On transit, the state spent $2.6 billion to rebuild I-15 in Utah County, while sticking local taxpayers, rather than the airport itself, with much of the cost for funding a light rail line to Salt Lake City International Airport.
- The legislature approved Clean Air and Efficient Vehicle Tax Incentives, a $750 tax credit for vehicles meeting higher air quality and fuel efficiency standards. Unfortunately, compressed natural gas vehicles were excluded.
- A Net Metering Program will allow customers to sell back excess electricity generated, such as from a customer's rooftop solar panels.
Public Education: With voters rejecting the plan by legislators last year to privatize public education through a voucher system, the legislature got the message to improve the public school themselves. Education speading increased $239 million, with teachers given a $1,700 raise and per-pupil funding going up 2.5% along with more equity in how school building funds are distributed throughout the state.
Immigration: Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. signed anti-immigrant bill SB 81 into law. The bill was amended from its original version in early March, notably removing the provisions that would have ended access to in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants who reside in the state. What remained in the bill included allowing local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws, forbidding localities from engaging in "sanctuary" policies, and requiring public employers and their contractors to verify the legal status of workers. However, implementation of all provisions are delayed until 2009 in the hope, according to the Governor, that the federal government will resolve the issue first. The legislature also approved HB 262, which requires the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel to study the actual costs of undocumented immigration to the state.
On health care, broader plans to expand coverage were replaced by a task force, HB 133, to study the problem. However, $18 million in tax breaks for buying health care were approved, along with a program to educate low-income residents about existing health care options they are eligible for that are underused.
Other significant laws approved included:
- SB 83 - a watered down bill to require some reporting by payday lenders.
- SB 38 - the Transparency in Government Finance Act to put key government finance information online.
- SB 16 - expanded right of prisoners to use DNA to seek a new trial.
- HJR 1 - a resolution declaring that federal trade agreements should not undermine state lawmaking authority, give investors additional rights to ignore state and federal laws, undermine state use of procurement policies, or undermine state regulatory powers over domestic industries.
- SB 299 - a bill originally intended to eliminate Salt Lake City's domestic partnership registry, but which after some compromises may do little more than force the city to change the program's name.