Utah lawmakers hear updates on Medicaid, public lands push

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers heard updates on their bare-bones plan for Medicaid expansion and push to take control of public lands Wednesday before meeting in a special, late afternoon session to try to patch up a problematic gasoline tax law.

The late-afternoon special session followed a day of meetings where lawmakers hashed out the details of some new laws they may try to pass next year.

A look at some of the issues lawmakers tackled Wednesday:


Utah is waiting for U.S. health officials to sign off on the state's very limited Medicaid plan passed earlier this year. The plan was submitted to federal officials this summer, who told state deputy health director Nate Checketts that they planned to respond soon. Checketts told lawmakers Wednesday that health officials are likely to suggest changes but he doesn't know how the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will affect the process. Utah's $30 million plan covers about 10,000 people, far fewer than the amount federal officials offered to help Utah insure under President Obama's health law, and mainly helps those living in severe poverty making less than $600 a year. Critics say the plan is a short-term solution and leaves Utah missing out on millions in federal dollars to help more people.



A senator hoping to cut down the estimated 10,000 divorces in Utah each year said he's working on a bill that would require couples to pay $20 more to get a marriage license unless they take a six-hour course on marriage skills or undergo three hours of premarital counseling. Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, said divorces contribute to societal problems that cost the government money and counseling could help couples learn to communicate better, solve problems or perhaps realize they shouldn't marry. The proposal would allow someone to use religious or non-religious counseling. Legislators considered a similar bill earlier this year but it lost steam at the end of the short lawmaking session amid a crush of other bills. Marriage license costs vary around Utah's 29 counties--from $50 in Salt Lake County to $30 in Washington County.



Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, told lawmakers on a natural resources committee Wednesday that Trump's election may bode well for Utah's push to gain control of federal lands. Utah's spent several years gearing up for a potential lawsuit to force the U.S. government to hand over about 30 million acres of land in the state, with the expectation that the legal battle might eventually wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Stratton told reporters that he's pleased Trump has pledged to put a conservative justice on the court to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Stratton said the decision about whether to sue rests with Attorney General Sean Reyes, who says he's studying the issue. This summer, a bipartisan group of Western attorneys general cast doubt on many of the arguments Utah has floated for a potential lawsuit, which could cost up to $14 million. Stratton said Wednesday that the report is one perspective on the issue and brushes over several arguments.



Lawmakers passed a measure that aims to make a second stab at fixing Utah's fuel tax overhaul passed in 2015. That law included a complicated formula that was supposed to give cities and counties a 17.5 percent increase in road money. Some counties ended up receiving far less, and legislators tried to pass a fix earlier this year. They later realized their fix steered too much money away from urban areas. Lawmakers said the measure passed Wednesday will even out the distribution between rural and urban spots.

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