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Richard Piatt ReportingThe 2005 Legislative session is about half over. Lawmakers are now starting to feel pressure to push their bills and work on the budget. The talk on the hill today is mostly about money; a better picture of the budget is starting to form. Plus, lawmakers are taking on illegal immigrants with a new bill to create a new class of driver's license.
Right now, driver's licenses can be used as identification and to register to vote--as well as a way to drive legally. But lawmakers are unveiling a proposed change to create a new class of license for illegal immigrants. It's the result of an audit showing the state has issued more than 58,000 licenses to undocumented immigrants in Utah.
Sen. Curtis Bramble, (R) Provo: “What we found as the result of the audit were not only undocumented citizens getting driver’s licenses and registering to vote, but criminal aliens using this as a means to legitimacy.”
There will surely be debate on that bill soon. But debate over money is also heating up. Out of an 8-billion dollar budget, the focus is on a version giving Transportation projects 80-90 million dollars.
That's good for UDOT, but other agencies are scrambling. State parks board officials listed 11 state parks that could close unless the budget is restored.
Jeff Packer, State Parks Board Chairman: “The citizens either need to get to their legislators to help get those monies restored, or in April we’ll be making those decisions.”
In the Senate kitchen, USU students try ice cream to woo lawmakers to fund Higher Education. But in spite of pleas to keep tuition down, Higher Ed may get only modest funding this year.
Rich Kendell, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education: “There will have to be some budget cuts, some restructuring, but higher tuition to meet these needs.”
Republican funding priorities this year include roads, restoring medicaid benefits, education and state worker raises. That leaves the rest of the state scrambling for the remainder of the budget surplus--and leaves the Democrats and the Governor at odds with legislative leadership.
Lawmakers are also advancing an update to Governor Olene Walker's reading initiative. Representative Karen Morgan has a bill that makes first second and third graders read at grade level--at least--before passing to the next grade.
Rep. Karen Morgan, (D) Holladay: "If we don't catch them early and give them the help they need then they go on the rest of their lives without that critical skill."
Some lawmakers don't like the bill because they say it stigmatizes students who are left behind. But it's one of the dozens of bills that is now in front of the full House.