Taylorsville state lawmakers enjoy productive session on Capitol Hill
May 08, 2018 12:55PM
● By Carl Fauver
Sen. Wayne Harper led the charge this year in an overhaul of the Utah Transportation Authority. (Google)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
The Utah senator and two representatives who serve Taylorsville each championed a variety of causes during this year’s 45-day state legislative session. And in the midst of working on their own bills, the trio also found time to agree on several things.
Sen. Wayne Harper and Reps. Karen Kwan and Jim Dunnigan say this year’s session was busy, productive and particularly good for education.
“We attacked more difficult issues this session than we have in years,” Harper said. “We expanded Medicaid for the needy, lowered our state income tax rate (from 5 percent to 4.95 percent) and reformed the election process. In terms of addressing policy and funding issues, this was one of the most impactful sessions I’ve ever been a part of.”
That from a man who began as a representative in 1997 and switched to the Utah Senate in 2013.
Not far behind Harper in Capitol Hill tenure is District 39 Dunnigan, who has served in his post since 2003.
“With a few announced retirements in the House — at the end of this year’s session — I will now be the second-most tenured Republican representative behind Eric Hutchings (District 38) of Kearns, who started in 2001,” Dunnigan said. “Overall, it was a good session. We provided more than $800 million in new money for education in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The amount added this year will push that over $1 billion.”
While Taylorsville’s two Republicans have been serving for a long time, freshman Democratic Kwan (District 34) just wrapped up her second session.
“It started fast and never slowed down this year,” she said. “Last year, I was just learning my way around, and my bills passed early in the session. But this time, I had more bills, with one of them still on the board (awaiting a final vote) on the last night of the session. So, it was much more intense.”
The three Taylorsville state legislators worked on many different bills. But, when pinned down to describe their biggest “success or accomplishment to come out of the 2018 Utah State Legislative Session,” this is what they shared:
Sen. Wayne Harper – Senate Bill 136, Transportation Governance Amendments
Harper led the charge on a massive overhaul of the Utah Transit Authority through his transportation bill, which reduces the size of the UTA board, increases electric car registration fees and renames UTA as the TDU (Transit District of Utah), among other things.
“The name change has drawn a lot of attention, but that is only two lines in a 6,000-line bill,” Harper said. “The most important thing I believe the legislation accomplishes is to replace the current 16-member, part-time UTA board of directors with a more accountable, three-member, full-time board.”
UTA officials objected to the name change, claiming it could cost up to $50 million to repaint signs and busses, along with other changes. But Harper scoffs at that notion.
“The bill clearly explains, the name change will come over time,” he said. “When new busses are ordered, they will have the new name. The same for bus stop signs, letterhead and everything else. It won’t add to the cost.”
Harper said the overhaul was needed, because the transit agency has been under Department of Justice investigation and has lost much of its public trust.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan – House Bill 45, Consumer Reporting Agency Fees
Early in this year’s session, Dunnigan made headlines when his bill to reduce the number of days Utahns can discharge fireworks over the July holidays passed. But he believes his work to protect us against identity theft and credit fraud was more impactful.
“The three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) now charge $10 each to freeze and unfreeze our credit,” he explained. “It’s safer for consumers to always have their credit frozen and then to unfreeze it just long enough to make major purchases. But few people do this now, because of the fees.”
Dunnigan’s bill requires the credit bureaus to stop charging consumers to freeze and unfreeze their credit and to develop mobile apps to make this process easier.
“Right now, credit freezing and unfreezing can take up to two weeks, with ‘snail mail’ back and forth,” Dunnigan added. “My bill requires apps now being developed to do this in 15 minutes.”
Frozen credit does not impact our ability to make daily credit card purchases.
“You really only need your credit unfrozen for major purchases like a house or car,” he said. “It just needs to be easier to keep our credit frozen and this bill will help with that.”
Rep. Karen Kwan – House Bill 263, Assisted Living Facilities Amendments
As the only Democrat in the Taylorsville legislative delegation, Kwan believes her biggest accomplishment during this year’s session was to protect senior citizens who are involuntarily discharged from assisted living facilities for failure to pay their bills.
“We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in homelessness among seniors in recent years,” she said. “This bill requires assisted living centers to report to the state ombudsman office whenever they discharge a resident for non-payment. Then that office can assist the senior in securing new housing.”
The bill comes with a cost of $98,600, to fund one new full-time equivalent position in the ombudsman office.
“This issue was brought to my attention by a Taylorsville constituent,” Kwan added. “They were also a constituent of City Councilwoman Kristie Overson (before she was elected mayor), and she worked hard with me to research the problem. I’m very grateful for her help.”
As an aside, although Kwan is in the opposite party from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, she said they have an unusual link to one another.
“When I got married last September, I asked (Herbert) to perform the ceremony,” Kwan said. “As a governor, he can do that and had done it before. He agreed, and we had a wonderful wedding at the state capitol.”