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The City Journals

State control versus local control—the mantra of this year’s legislative session

Feb 22, 2021 10:31AM ● By Cassie Goff

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

A virtual legislative town hall was held on Feb. 10 with Rep. Carol Spackman Moss from District 37, Rep. Doug Owens from District 36, Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion from District 46, Sen. Kathleen Riebe from District 8, and Sen. Jani Iwamoto from District 4. The five legislators answered questions and responded to concerns from attendees regarding canyon transportation, concealed-carry permitting, drought and water shortages, billboard regulations, social disparities, education funding, COVID-19, and various others. 

Canyon Transportation

“Is the legislature going to be weighing in with UDOT (the Utah Department of Transportation) regarding the Little Cottonwood Canyon transportation plan?” asked attendee Steve Glaser. “I'm concerned that there may be a gondola. We need to be addressing this problem in a way to benefits the range of people who use the canyon.” 

“(Gov. Spencer) Cox would really like to see a gondola,” Sen. Kathleen Riebe said as she summarized some of the current positions. “That’s not something the people in Cottonwood Heights or Sandy would like to see. (Cottonwood Heights Mayor) Mike Peterson and I have talked about how changing transportation to the slopes is difficult. Snowbird has changed the traffic patterns tremendously with reserve skiing this year. We have an option to change the patterns of business instead of widening the road.”

Moderator and KSL’s Radio Host/Journalist Doug Wright chimed in, “The Governor told me and the KSL Board that the appeal to him was the gondola.” 

Riebe clarified “I’m not saying I am against the gondola completely but that’s not what the people in my neighborhood want. This has been going on since the 1970s and nothing’s been done yet.” 

Sen. Jani Iwamoto discussed funding regarding the canyons. “50 million is just a down payment. 500 million to one billion dollars will be benefitting Snowbird and Alta. We need to think really clearly about what we are doing with taxpayer money.”

Drought

Iwamoto also mentioned that part of her concern regarding the canyons is the watersheds, especially because this year the State of Utah will be experiencing a drought. The legislatures mentioned that Utah received 62% of normal precipitation. 

“Even if we get snow now, we don’t’ have enough water,” Iwamoto said. “We are in a drought. There is a lot of money being put into the fire efforts. We have to think of ways to save our water. We are the top driest in the whole nation.”

“Our soils are dry,” said Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion. “They are not even in a condition to absorb water well. It’s a great concern.” 

Rep. Doug Owens mentioned “a bill to assemble a committee to make sure Utah gets the share of the Colorado river water” (H.B. 297 Colorado River Amendments). 

Conceal Carry 

Wright asked the legislatures if they would like to respond to H.B. 60 Conceal Carry Firearms Amendment which passed earlier that week as attendee Jan Chamberlain said “do whatever you can to stop the insanity of gun violence!”

The bill allows individuals to conceal carry a firearm without a permit and related training. Wright mentioned how a similar bill passed through the legislature last year, but Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed it. This year, Cox has publicly stated that he will sign the bill when it comes across his desk. 

“Now, someone can buy a weapon, put it in their purse, and carry it around,” said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss. “The climate is so divisive and violent right now. This doesn’t seem to be the time to make it easier and encourage people to carry weapons if they are not trained.”

“I was opposed,” Owens said. “The data shown was that violent crime had not increased. I did not find that wholly convincing.” 

“I was concerned about this bill from the very beginning,” Bennion said. She recalled some of the instructors for concealed carry courses writing her, detailing how two thousand people were turned away from the course because they did not meet the requirements to conceal carry a weapon. 

“I support having guns,” she continued. “This is not a gun issue, it’s a gun safety issue. We have lost a safe guard, and the training that helped with suicide prevention and gun safety.”

“We are going in the wrong direction here,” Iwamoto said. “Suicide rates are so high. We should be teaching about suicide prevention and gun storage.” 

Billboards

“Please comment on S.B. 61 (Outdoor Advertising Amendments), which would prohibit municipalities from limiting conversions to electronic billboards,” said attendee Andrew Gruber. 

“Holladay is very concerned about the billboard bill. Billboard companies have way too much influence in the legislature,” echoed attendee and Holladay City Councilmember Paul Fotheringham. 

S.B. 61 would prohibit municipalities from limiting conversions to billboards. “The reason for opposition is that it takes away local control,” Moss said. “Holladay and Murray don’t’ want it. Holladay doesn’t allow any billboards. They even squelched the school marquees.”

“Millcreek wanted them on the west side where there was more expanse land. Community councils want local control; they don’t’ want the control at the state level. Cities are against it that I represent. It’s a local control issue,” Iwamoto said. 

Community Disparities 

Attendee Kelly Lake responded to Iwamoto’s comment. “I'm always deeply disappointed and concerned when I hear anyone, especially political advocates, continuing to push less desirable business to the west.”

A few similar comments were made about the different areas of the Greater Salt Lake Valley. Moderator Wright then asked, “Is there equality in East side and West side?”

Reibe quickly spoke up, “We have to stop the east side and west side mentality. We have the capacity to meet the needs across the entire state. We are going to work across all demographics. If we are pretending it’s not there then we cant’ solve the problems. This is something we need to still work on. 

“The disparities are great,” Iwamoto said. She mentioned health, social, and economic disparities in her own experiences working with the Native American community while also being a representative of color. 

Education 

Wright asked if the legislatures wanted to respond to anything regarding the current pandemic. 

Moss mentioned that she hopes funding for education will get passed, as it might allow for teachers to get raises. “It’s double the work for them as they have had to do two different kinds of teaching. I originally said that schools shouldn’t open until we have a nine percent positivity rate. We have been at twenty percent most of the year. Its way worse than we thought. This will be a record year in terms of appropriation for education. I am saying yes this will be a good year but there are many challenges.”

Riebe mentioned that she hopes S.B. 175 Special Education Least Restrictive Requirement Amendments will pass as it would “change some of the ways we are funding education.” It would ideally result in increased funding to education and create a less restrictive environment. 

“It’s really scary when the pandemic started. Lots of teachers retired and quit, they were nervous,” Reibe said. “We are relieved it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Elementary school kids have washed their hands and worn their masks, but they are on top of each other on the playground. We have a lot of federal funding coming. With state and federal funding, I think we are in a good place.”

Various

Other topics mentioned briefly during the Town Hall were the 32+ bills on police reform including governmental immunity and citizen advisory boards, domestic violence, committee involvement, duration of legislature sessions, prioritizing time in relation to reading bills, mask mandates, senior care (especially in relation to COVID-19), redistricting, mental health, food insecurity, student disparity, ADUs, and budget. 

Conclusion 

As the two-hour town hall came to a close, Wright asked for final comments. 

“This session has shown me that technology is important,” said Reibe. “Congrats to all the parents who have made it though school, really neat to see so many people adapt.”

“I appreciate my smart and hardworking colleagues,” said Owens. He mentioned that constituents should continue to stay informed and connected. “We are looking at what you are sending.” 

“All your voices matter,” said Bennion. 

“Thanks to my constituents who are wonderful,” said Moss. “I’ve received 600 emails in the last few days on just a couple of bills. I get all my best ideas for bills from constituents. I want to make a shoutout to the intern Ashlynn Polmen who set this up as well.” 

“The constituents have been my number one thing. I love the involvement,” said Iwamoto. “We try to do the best policy for our community. Keep in touch with us at le.utah.gov. I’m really appreciative of the legislature communities.”