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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers kicked off their legislative session Monday morning with a tribute to former House Speaker Rebecca "Becky" Lockhart, who died just over a week ago from a rare brain disease at age 46.
Members of the House of Representatives used their first vote of the year to unanimously pass a resolution honoring Lockhart, the first female speaker of the House, and wore pins featuring her initials on their lapels.
"Although this is a very difficult time for us, it is also a time when we must unite as a House family and through tough times become stronger," said new House Speaker Greg Hughes during his opening address.
Lockhart's husband and daughters then stood behind Hughes as the Draper Republican took the oath of office Monday morning. Lawmakers later presented Lockhart's family with a painting of the Capitol and a copy of Lockhart's official portrait that hung in the Capitol during her term as the first female speaker of the House.
In the Senate, President Wayne Niederhauser called for a moment of silence Monday to honor Lockhart, whose term ended Jan. 1. "Her untimely passing reminds us of our mortality, and the unpredictable nature of our lives," Niederhauser said.
Hughes used his opening address to speak of Lockhart's legacy and to inspire lawmakers to get to work. He referenced comments she made on the first day of the 2014 session, where Lockhart criticized Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and called him an "an inaction figure."
"Speaker Lockhart, more than anybody, would tell us that we have a job to do and we need to more forward and get to work," Hughes said Monday. "As I recall, this speaker of ours, she wasn't a big fan of inaction."
Lawmakers have a tall agenda this year that includes tackling a stagnant gas tax, Medicaid expansion, the relocation of the state prison and a package of criminal-justice reforms.
Hughes told House representative to be prepared to tackle those big issues this year, saying they should avoid the legislative version of the movie "Groundhog Day," where the same day is relived over and over again.
"For how many years have we talked about some of the same issues?" Hughes said. "For how many legislative sessions have we tinkered around the edges because the challenges seemed too unsurmountable in just 45 days?"
Niederhauser also used his opening address to warn lawmakers of the heavy agenda.
"I don't recall being faced with so many big issues in one session," he said. "So buckle up. Let's go to work."
In the Senate, three new members took the oath of office administered by former Sen. John Valentine, who now chairs the Utah Tax Commission.
In the House, Utah's U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican, administered the oath of office to 15 new House members.
Beyond Monday's ceremonial start and Herbert's State of the State address on Wednesday night, the lawmakers' first week will be devoted to reviewing and approving preliminary budgets.
The deep-dive into the state's $14 billion budget sets a baseline for lawmakers who will need to finalize the next year's state spending in 45 days.
Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice
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