Legislative town hall highlights
Mar 07, 2018 01:06PM
By Aspen Perry
Sen. Zehnder, Sen. Iwamoto, Rep. Arent, Rep. Moss and Rep. Poulson with moderator Doug Wright at January town hall. (Aspen Perry/City Journals).
During the first week of February, house and senate representatives met with their constituents during what has become an annual town hall meeting. Here are the highlights:
House Bill 169
The first question asked during the legislative town hall was to get the legislators’ thoughts on HB 169 which would see fees modified for radioactive waste treatments. Patrice Arent was the first representative to state she had voted against the bill the morning prior.
“I just can’t imagine giving (Energy Solutions) a 1.7 million dollar tax break,” Arent said.
Arent went on to explain what the money could be used for instead, such as to improve education and healthcare, in addition to ensuring the state has the tax funds necessary to monitor energy companies.
Senator Brian Zehnder also expressed he is not interested in “playing favorites” with large corporations.
Senator Jani Iwamoto also planned to vote no, and stated she was up late answering messages from her constituents.
“I was up till 1:30 in the morning saying I’m voting no,” Iwamoto said.
However, she said she was afraid the bill did have a good chance of passing, due to a similar bill that passed during the 2017 January legislative session.
Representatives Carol Spackman Moss and Marie Poulson thanked the constituents who reached out to them so they would be aware of the public’s disapproval for this bill.
Moss noted another of her main concerns regarding HB 169 was that the representative who commissioned the bill had received a substantial donation.
“The house sponsor had a $7,000 campaign donation from Energy Solutions,” Moss said. A gasp was heard from a majority of those seated in the city hall auditorium at this statement.
Several questions from the audience were about education spending and budget. Moderator Doug Wright felt all of their thoughts could be encompassed with the following question: “Can you speak to increasing the funding for our schools, and the Our Schools Now petition?”
Moss expressed her disgust at the “unimaginably cynical bill” in position to counteract the Our Schools Now initiative.
Moss said the money proposed to be raised by Our Schools Now is almost exactly the amount missing due to the decrease in the tax rate, which was adjusted during the recession.
“During the recession, not a single dollar went to increased enrollment,” Moss said.
“10,000–12,000 kids a year coming into the system for four years… that’s why we have huge class sizes.”
Speaking patiently, Moss declared the bill should not be undermined.
Poulson further noted her support for the Our Schools Now proposal. “We talk a lot about how we’re putting more money into education, but really we haven’t.”
Arent spoke to the rise in citizen imitative proposals, which she feels is in direct response to the public’s dissatisfaction with the Utah legislators.
“The reason we have all these initiatives out there is because the legislature hasn’t really been doing their job. And people are reacting,” Arent said.
Wright asked the crowd to show by raise of hands how many would support the Our Schools Now initiative vs. those who would not. A majority of the room raised their hands in solidarity for the initiative. Zero hands raised in opposition.
It seemed the majority of concerns raised were in regards to the potential derailment of medicinal marijuana being made legal.
Iwamoto was the first to address this concern. “I think overwhelmingly people want it for medicinal purposes.”
“The argument now is this will open the door to recreational marijuana, which I do not think is true,” Iwamoto said.
Iwamoto discussed concerns with current initiative proposals not being strong enough to move the medicinal marijuana cause forward.
Moss was surprised by how frequently she is told how much medical marijuana could help members of their family.
In addition to constituent outreach in support for medicinal marijuana for various chronic pain diagnoses, in light of her years spent on the opioid epidemic, Moss expressed feeling certain medicinal marijuana would be a great pain alternative for patients.
“We know that if people could use an alternative kind of medicine for pain, it would prevent a lot of the addiction from opioids,” Moss said.
Moss also noted how bipartisan this issue really is, given those who have reached out to her.
“This is not partisan. I’ve had the most conservative people tell me we ought to pass (medicinal marijuana). It really is more people in the older population,” Moss said, to further the point this is not about youth trying to party.
Zehnder said that he too would be in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana provided the methods used to legalize were well researched and studied to ensure patients were receiving the best of care.
Arent expressed her interest in incentivizing citizens and companies to make more eco-friendly choices vs. the more common tendency to offer kickbacks for doing the opposite.
“There’s a proposal to help pay for roads by putting a $75 annual fee on hybrids, and $200 on electric vehicles. To me that’s not the direction we want to go,” Arent said.
Zehnder expressed his frustration as a physician with patients who are not able to leave their home due to the inversion.
“That’s a struggle — everyone deserves to live in a community where they can breathe,” Zehnder said.
Prison site, freeing Martha for Washington, Bears Ears and more were also discussed during the legislative town hall and all representatives urged constituents to continue to follow legislative session happenings, as well as pass along their thoughts, concerns and ideas.
To continue to follow the legislative session, visit le.utah.gov.