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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislators began the 2015 session Monday by passing a resolution honoring former House Speaker Becky Lockhart and a new proposal for the state domestic animal.
Lockhart's successor, House Speaker Greg Hughes, urged lawmakers on the opening day of the Utah Legislature to engage in the "big, hard fights" needed to take on tough issues including boosting gas tax revenues this session. Lawmakers also spoke about issues they want to tackle this year, including Medicaid, transportation, water, education, prison relocation, religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws.
A new proposal for the state domestic animal was submitted by a group of fourth-graders from Daybreak Elementary School in South Jordan.
New House Speaker Greg Hughes urged lawmakers on the opening day of the Utah Legislature to engage in the "big, hard fights" needed to take on tough issues, including boosting gas tax revenues this session.
Hughes, R-Draper, took the oath of office Monday with the husband and daughters of his predecessor, the late Becky Lockhart, by his side, and reminded representatives that "she wasn't a big fan of inaction."
The House passed a resolution honoring Lockhart, 46, who died at her home earlier this month after a brief battle with a fatal and extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD.
House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said the first legislation to go before the House, HR3, was "simple but heartfelt." It was approved 74-0.
Gus the golden retriever wagged his tail as frenzied elementary school children lined up to shake his paw.
Gus, along with handler Maureen Kilgour, visited Daybreak Elementary School on Friday to put fourth-graders face to face with the dog breed that may become the domestic animal of Utah — all thanks to them.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is sponsoring a bill that Daybreak Elementary teacher Alli Despain’s fourth-grade class created last year. The bill proposes to designate the golden retriever as the official state domestic animal.
Despain said her class was inspired to draft the legislation when they realized the bill created by Monroe Elementary fourth-graders to make the quaking aspen the state tree in place of the Colorado blue spruce was passed last year.
“We looked and saw there wasn’t a Utah domestic animal yet, so we thought it would be pretty easy to get one implemented,” Despain said. “So I honestly Googled ‘how to write a bill,’ printed off the template for the kids, and I had them all research it.”
During his State of the Judiciary speech Monday, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant asked legislators to address three distinct issues of criminal justice reform, including the recommendation of a salary increase for judges.
Durrant said dwindling pools of well-qualified judge applicants have pushed the Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission to create a report that recommends an increase of judicial salaries over the next two years to draw more “high-quality, talented and thoughtful” judges to Utah.
“Now, it obviously has the air of self-interest for me to stand before you and say ‘amen’ to the committee’s recommendations,” Durrant said. “But I genuinely believe it is in the best interests of the citizens of this state as well. … To have the best judiciary, the kind of judiciary that the citizens of this state deserve, (the governor) needs a broader array of qualified applicants from which to choose.”
The report proposed an 18.7 percent increase over the next two years, which would bring the annual salary of the highest-paying judges, the Supreme Court justices, from $150,150 to $176,024, according to the report. The salary and benefit increase for all 114 judicial positions would calculate to roughly $4 million in annual ongoing costs, the report states.
Because criminal cases in Utah have decreased while the number of civil cases has gone up in recent years, it has become especially important to find judges who have experience in commercial and business law, Durrant said.
“Those who seek to become judges do so to serve the public, to give something back,” he said. “For these reasons, they are willing to serve at a financial sacrifice. But compensation remains important to attracting the best people.”
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, Dennis Romboy, Katie McKellar