Hot legislative topics include creating a convention of the states

Hot legislative topics include creating a convention of the states
Report from the Legislature





Hot legislative topics include creating a Convention of the States

With Week Four of the 2017 Legislative Session over, we are now more than halfway done! We have passed a total of 96 bills, and they just keep on coming. Some of the bills have caught significant attention, often because they are considered controversial. Allow me to discuss some of these hot topic bills.

The Utah Legislature is considering dissolving partisan requirements in government. Currently, many state boards and commissions in Utah require there be no more than a certain number of members that belong to the same political party (e.g. seven members only).    Originally, these requirements were meant to ensure the boards contained multiple different opinions. In practice, however, these partisan requirements have created staffing problems. There are many instances in Utah where a town contains almost entirely Republican or entirely Democrat civilians. This means for instance, a local Radiation Control Board cannot be staffed by enough doctors because they filled up their party member quota, and cannot fill the opposite party affiliation slots. Furthermore, what happens when the only qualified doctor—who also happens to have the necessary partisan affiliation—lives in St. George and must commute to Salt Lake City to serve on the Board?

This bill, HB11, solves this problem by eliminating all references to partisan affiliation. Under this bill, neither the Governor nor the Senate is allowed to even consider partisan affiliation as a prerequisite to service on a board.  The purpose is to make quality the determining factor, not partisanship.

Another hot topic bill concerns Utah school grading. Over the last few years, we have worked on how to improve our school assessment and accountability systems. We want to ensure that these school systems are helping our students learn and grow— not just placing overwhelming burdens of tests and grading.

SB 220 seeks to reach the next level in school assessment and accountability by switching over from SAGE to ACT. We hope to establish a single meaningful statewide report of school performance. ACT uses multiple indicators that are focused on student-level outcomes, and also seeks collaboration with the State Board of Education and other stakeholders.

SB 220 hopes to leave normative school grading and bell curves behind, and instead establish set criteria for attaining each grade level. This bill has only begun the legislative process, and will be appearing soon on the Senate floor.

This week, our appropriation subcommittee chairs presented priority appropriation requests they want funded to the Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC). These priorities are shared in hopes that the EAC will fund the priorities in the general budget. If you are following a certain budget appropriation request, know that we are closer to hearing the funding results of our appropriation request presentations.

Lastly, I want to speak on the resolution causing the largest debate in the legislature currently: HJR 3. This resolution calls for Utah to join other states in petitioning Congress to create a Convention of the States. At this convention, states would consider amendments to the US Constitution, in order to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.

This concept has been debated for many years in almost all of the state legislatures in our country. As the resolution has been presented in both the House and Senate committees, members of the public have come to speak passionately on both sides of the issue.

Most all of them are in agreement that the federal government has grown beyond the original intentions of the Founding Fathers. Those who oppose the proposed Convention of the States have brought up that this kind of convention has never been successfully implemented.

In their eyes, there are too many unknowns and possibilities. Some believe that the chance of a “runaway” convention is too high, that there is nothing to keep nefarious delegates from proposing changes that will ultimately take away freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.

I and many of those in favor of a Convention of the States believe that the only fear should be our federal government growing unchecked. I contend that fears of a “runaway” convention are unfounded. In order for that to happen, 38 of the 50 states would have to agree to changes instituted in a “runaway” convention, and I believe that state legislators are more worthy of trust than our current US Congress.

HJR3 has passed out of both House and Senate Committees and the House Floor. Its next stop will be the Floor of the Senate for continued debate.

                That’s it for our current hot topic bills. You are welcome to join me at the Capitol any time this session, whether it be to watch voting in the 4th floor House and Senate galleries, or to share your concerns in a face-to-face meeting. If you don’t have time to come up to Salt Lake City, all floor activity in the Utah Senate Chamber is broadcasted at senate.utah.gov/webcam.html.                 Hearing your voice helps me accomplish my job to represent you. I can be reached by email at rokerlund@le.utah.gov.  If you’d like to meet with me, you can reach out to my intern, Saren Winter, by email at swinter@le.utah.gov or by phone at (335) 441-0600.

I hope to hear from you as the legislative session wraps up. I’m starting to get a little homesick, and I’m not much of a city kind of guy. I would love to see some fellow rural Utah faces this next week.


Senator Ralph Okerlund

Utah State Senate, District 24