Lawmakers balance budget as legislative session ends

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The 2009 session of the Utah Legislature is over. Utah now has dozens of new laws and a balanced budget.

House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin Garn said, "It has been very difficult, very stressful to fund critical programs with a lot less money. So, it has been a very stressful session."

Lawmakers got help from federal stimulus money in deciding how to cut $600 million from next year's $10.6 billion budget.

While balancing the budget took most of lawmakers' time, that wasn't the only accomplishment.

Lawmakers made changes in Utah's liquor laws, eliminating the private club system in exchange for electronic ID verification and toughening up DUI laws.

They also took another step toward reforming the health insurance system by creating an online portal and more affordable options for those without coverage.

A number of ethics reform bills passed. They include limiting but not banning gifts, closing the revolving door, and changing campaign contribution reporting rules.

Lawmakers voted to raise vehicle registration fees by $20. They rejected the idea of a hike in tobacco taxes.

Lawmakers also decided it should be illegal to text or e-mail while driving. House Bill 290 would makes it a misdemeanor offense to text messaging or e-mail while operating a car.

A driver who gets into a crash while texting could have his or her driver's license revoked. And if someone is killed in a crash while the driver had been texting, the driver could be charged with a felony.

A movie incentives bill made it through the Legislature. Analyst expect that will bring at least a major motion picture a year to Utah.

The school year is likely to get shorter, meaning teachers will lose some pay.

A package of gay rights bills, called the Common Ground Initiative, failed.

Lawmakers did vote to bond for $2.2 billion in highway construction.

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