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Halfway through legislative session, funding a big concern

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Feb 24th, 2014 @ 9:32pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature will reach a milestone Friday: just a little more than halfway through the session.

It’s a good benchmark for determining not only what issues are set to pass, but how much money the state has to spend.

Every year, hot issues come and go, and we're finding, yet again, many are simply on hold waiting for money.

As usual, lawmakers are concerned with education funding for Utah’s growing school-age population. Monday, Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart pledged to at least fund the basics.

“I believe we can address growth in public education as well as the WPU, and also address the technology initiative,” Lockhart said.

There is a list of bills getting the green light already this year, including several air quality bills, measures to change campaign finance laws in light of the John Swallow situation, and a resolution to relocate the state prison in the future.

House Democrats call progress on these bills — especially air quality — success.

“Democrats have been pushing for that kind of consideration for our environment for many, many years,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig. “So it’s very satisfying to actually see those bills come forward.”

Among the issues on hold for now: the question of expanding Medicaid and Lockhart’s plan to fund new technology in schools. But there's competition for that money, according to one of the money gatekeepers in the Senate.

“If we fund the growth in public education, we fund 2.5 percent WPU as suggested by the governor,” said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. “If we do something comparable to state employees, we’re talking about a lot of money.”

Other bills have been stopped in their tracks, including the idea of statewide non-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation and the idea of tweaking the liquor laws to bring down the “Zion curtain” in restaurants.

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