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House passes resolution for locals to build prison; work on funding for schools

House passes resolution for locals to build prison; work on funding for schools

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Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Legislature kept working on resolutions and bills as this session nears its end. Lots of work is still done on the new prison and trying to make school budgets work.

Here are highlights from the stories:

House passes resolution calling for Utah workers to build new prison ====================================================================

The Utah House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday to encourage the employment of Utah workers to build the new state prison.

The bill's floor sponsor, Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said the state should have "first and foremost" consideration of Utah's work forces as it prepares for the construction of the new prison.

"It's not lost on any of us that we have tremendously skilled people in the state of Utah in our construction trades," Handy said. "There are major construction companies here in the state of Utah that build things around the world."

Senate approves bill to equalize property tax for school capital funding ========================================================================

Some school districts may be required to contribute more than $500,000 in additional property tax revenues to support capital funding for schools.

The Senate on Tuesday passed HB119, which lawmakers say corrects a "drafting error" in current statute that determines how school districts contribute funds to the statewide school capital fund. As charter schools don't have taxing authority, they don't contribute.

The current statute allows districts to pay the lesser of two options: Paying one-fourth of per-pupil local revenues, or paying one-fourth of charter schools students' average local revenues. This creates inequity among districts, putting a higher tax burden on rural districts with fewer financial resources, according to floor sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

Governor 'not satisfied' with proposed increase to school funding =================================================================

Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday said he's not satisfied with the increase to education funding legislators have settled on in a budget proposal.

His comments echoed the voices of hundreds of parents and educators who gathered at the Capitol on Monday, calling for lawmakers to stick to the governor's proposed funding plan.

The Legislature is considering a 4 percent increase to the weighted pupil unit, or WPU, a metric used to evaluate the cost of educating students statewide. The proposal includes $435 million in new money for schools.

Student crisis line bill goes to House floor ============================================

Last year, Utah's suicide count dropped by 4 percent to 548 incidents. But suicides among children ages 10 to 17 increased by 25 percent from the previous year.

Laura Warburton's daughter was one of them.

In 2013, the 16-year-old was injured in a car accident, and the emotional stress of recovery bore down heavily despite neuropsychiatric and physical treatment.

Bill to ban fixed contact lens prices passes House ==================================================

A bill that would restrict contact lens manufacturers or distributors from fixing their prices passed the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The bill's floor sponsor, Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, said contact lens manufacturing companies are currently selling contact lenses under "pricing policies" that establish a retail price floor. He said the companies set a minimum price with a stated intent to "remove incentives for consumers to shop around."

Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, spoke in favor of SB169, saying it will help Utah consumers by providing greater competition in an industry that is currently limiting its own rivalry by setting fixed prices.

Additional math requirements for high schoolers get House approval ==================================================================

A move to better prepare high schoolers for college-level math passed the House on Tuesday.

SB196 would establish paths for students to demonstrate necessary math skills, depending on what their plans are after high school. For college-bound students, the bill would require them to show math proficiency at a college entry level before they earn their high school diploma.

Students not planning to go to college would have to demonstrate the math skills required to earn a career and technical education certificate. But if they change their mind, they could be admitted in a Utah college after taking a math placement test.

Students could demonstrate competency through an exam, such as the ACT, advanced placement or college placement tests. They could also use concurrent enrollment courses to fulfill the competency requirement.

Alta High School student spearheads new civic engagement group

A student group founded at Alta High School met at the Capitol Tuesday to learn how to make their voices heard at the Legislature.

The group, Students Organized for a Legislative Voice, was sparked from the political passion of 17-year-old Gabby Saunders, a senior at Alta. Saunders said too many of Utah’s youths don’t realize how powerful their voices can be and how they can make an impact in the legislative process by getting involved.

“It’s important that our voices are heard," she said, "because if our voices are not heard, then part of the story is not heard. And I know at 15, 16 and 17 it feels like we do not have that power because we are young, but we don’t have that power unless we take it.

“The issues we care about should be cared about by the state and can be advocated for,” Saunders said.

Southern Utah STEM initiative gets OK from legislative committee

n initiative to support ongoing efforts to involve more southern Utah students in science, technology, engineering and math got unanimous support from the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

HB335 would provide permanent funding for Southern Utah University and Dixie State University to work with local schools in providing STEM activities for students as young as 8 years old, as well as professional development for teachers.

"I've been more excited about this proposal than anything else that I've worked on in my three years here in the Legislature," said bill sponsor Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George.

Currently, Dixie State University offers LEGO robotics activities, STEM summer camps and coding classes for students. It is also considering offering Latino- and girls-only courses.

"There's a great disparity of very, very few females that go into these fields," Stanard said. "They've found that what interests girls is very, very different than what interests boys. With the boys, especially once they get to college, it's 'What does it pay and how am I going to provide for my family?' For girls, it's 'How can I change the world?'"

Nonpartisan State School Board bill moves to Senate

A bill that would establish a nonpartisan process for the election of State School Board members was sent to the Senate after a unanimous recommendation by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said HB186 is a "compromise" in what has been a lengthy and divisive debate about how State School Board candidates should be vetted after a federal judge ruled the current system unconstitutional.

Gibson's bill would allow candidates a place on the ballot if they collect 2,000 signatures from voters in the state district as well as the local school district where the candidate resides.

If more than two candidates in a district get the required signatures, they would be placed on the primary election ballot. The two candidates who get the most votes in the primary election would then be put on the general election ballot.

The bill also proposes to remove nonvoting members from the State School Board and increase board members' pay.

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