SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature kicked off a busy week Monday. In the last three days, bills ranging from the name of Dixie College to the quality of our state's air have passed before lawmakers' eyes, and many have seen approval.
Dixie State University bill moves to Governor's office
After years of preparation and months of controversial debate over its name, a bill to make Dixie State College the state's newest university is headed to Gov. Gary Herbert's desk for his signature.
On Wednesday, both the House and Senate passed HB61, which grants official university status to the St. George school and changes its name to Dixie State University.
"This is a great day in the lives of the people of Utah to be able to make this great institution a university and be able to serve the students of southern Utah and throughout the world," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said.
ACT bill unanimously passes out of committee
A bill to fund the ACT for all high school students, as well as create an online program for college test preparation, unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, would clear up the language in state statute, establishing a requirement for all students to take a college readiness test and provide ongoing funding for the test's administration.
Stephenson said states that have already implemented universal ACT testing policies have seen substantial benefits. He said students who struggle in their coursework have been surprised and inspired by their ACT scores, which often motivates them to consider a college education.
Air quality is hot topic for debate
The Wasatch Front's notorious inversions this season continue to get plenty of air time at the Capitol, where Gov. Gary Herbert stressed Tuesday the state is working diligently on multiple fronts to address the problem.
At the same time, top Utah GOP leaders in their lunchtime caucus said they plan to look for "long-term" fixes to inversions, such as loosening restrictions on Utah's HOV lanes to ease congestion.
"We want our constituency to know we also believe in clean air," House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said.
During the meeting, House Republicans threw out a number of ideas, including the HOV proposal and making it easier for Utahns to drive alternative fuel vehicles.
Dee said the majority of Republicans have yet to back specific legislation, but are looking for long-term solutions aimed at the biggest source of pollutants, vehicles, unlike many of the proposals coming from Democrats in the Legislature.
Tuition breaks for out of state students
Out-of-state college students in Utah could get a tuition break thanks to the LDS Church allowing men and women to serve missions at younger ages.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' decision to lower the age for missionary service will cause enrollment to drop in the state's colleges and universities for at least two years, said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George.
To fill that void, Urquhart proposes that schools be allowed to waive all or part of the difference between resident and nonresident tuition for "meritorious" students. SB51 defines that as students having college entrance exam scores and grade-point averages above the average for that particular school.
The Senate unanimously approved the bill Tuesday. It now goes to the House for consideration.
Anonymous campaign donation limit stays at $50
The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday setting the limit on anonymous campaign donations at $50 after debating whether to raise or lower it.
HB38 sought to raise the maximum amount to $100, but several senators argued that was the wrong direction to go. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, proposed setting it at $25.
"In light of transparency, we should be not be increasing the limit. We should be decreasing it," Valentine said.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said lawmakers shouldn't discourage people from donating to political campaigns. Some donors have friends in both parties or hold community or church positions and should be afforded anonymity, she said.
Ultimately, the Senate settled on $50, which is the current limit. The amended bill now goes back to the House.
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill banning smoking in vehicles when children age 15 or younger are passengers passed the House Monday after a long debate about how much control the government should have over personal behavior.
HB13 was approved 41-30 and now goes to the Senate.
Bill sponsor Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said sitting in a vehicle with a smoker is more dangerous to children than putting "a lit cigarette in their mouth" because of the high concentration of secondhand smoke.
But a number of lawmakers questioned whether such a ban would lead to restrictions on other personal behaviors.
Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, also asked where lawmakers should draw the line. A doctor, he said, smokers need encouragement to quit rather than the threat of punishment.
POW/MIA flag bill passes committee
A bill requiring the state Capitol to display the flag that honors prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action on six national holidays unanimously passed a House committee Monday.
"Forty-eight Utah women and men are reported missing in action at this time," said Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, sponsor of HB62. "We need to recognize these people."
The bill originally proposed to require all government entities in Utah to display the POW/MIA flag on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
The substitute bill approved by the House Political Subdivisions Committee calls for four locations at the Capitol complex to display the POW/MIA flag beneath the U.S. and Utah flags on the same flag pole on those six dates.
Six air quality bills to be announced
The Utah House Democratic Caucus on Monday announced six air quality bills that will be proposed this legislative session.
"We know Utah citizens are demanding that state government find solutions to our air quality problems," Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said during a news conference at the Capitol. "Our hope for mass, voluntary action alone will not bring all the changes we need."
Arent, who proposed a task force to address air quality last year, said Democrats are working harder this year to address the complex issue.
"It's one that requires strategic delivery and approach that is realistic in terms of time, effort and, yes, sometimes sacrifice," she said.
Arent will propose the State Agency Air Quality Litigation Act, which would require all state agencies to develop a specific plan to reduce activities that cause air pollution and report on what they have thus far done to curb that pollution.
The plans will be reported to the Economic Development Task Force this summer, Arent said. Plans include a variety of strategies such as flexible work hours, mass transit passes, purchasing of more fuel-efficient vehicles and increased teleconferencing strategies.
Bill to reauthorize veteran's task force moves forward
A bill reauthorizing a task force to create a statewide action plan for assisting veterans with reintegration into communities passed the House Political Subdivisions Committee on Monday.
"Many veterans don't even know that they have benefits available to them for their service," said Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, sponsor of SB38 and co-chairman of the 21-member Veterans Reintegration Task Force during the past year.
"That's frightening in many ways," Knudson said, "because many veterans are in need of services, but they are very proud group of people who do not ask for much."
One of the big problems, he said, is the lack of coordination and cooperation between various entities charged with the responsibility of giving veterans access to the benefits to which they're entitled.
Suicide prevention bill focusing on parents leaves House
A bill that would create seminars to train parents on bullying, Internet safety and suicide prevention cleared a major hurdle Monday, passing the Utah House by a 61-11 vote.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, seeks to combat the high rate of youth suicide in Utah by providing information and training for parents to identify warning signs exhibited by their children.
Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among Utah's teens, a sobering reality that Eliason described as a "silent epidemic."
"This topic is more than sad, it's worse than tragic, but it's preventable," he said. "This is one small step to help our children who so desperately need our help."
Under the terms of HB298, school districts would be encouraged, but not required, to hold an annual seminar for parents on the topics of substance abuse, Internet safety, bullying and suicide prevention.
Requirement for seismic study on old schools fails by one vote
A bill that would have required school districts to conduct seismic studies on older facilities before bonding for new construction failed by one vote in the House Monday.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask these school districts to look at these older buildings,” the sponsor of HB278, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said. “If we could save just one child in this state in the event of an earthquake, then I think we’ve done our job.”
But several representatives questioned the need to spend tax dollars on the studies.
“What’s next?” asked Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton. “What’s the next inspection we’re going to require school districts to do?”
Contributing: Benjamin Wood, Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Dennis Romboy, Lisa Riley Roche, Rachel Lowry,