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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sandy Leaves the Senate

Sandy Tenney will be leaving the Senate Offices for a new position as office manager for the Utah House of Representatives - she is an excellent employee and we applaud their taste and judgment. Her service to the legislature includes ten years in our Legislative Printing Office and another ten years in the Senate. We are sorry to see Sandy go but wish her the best (and hope she will bring doughnuts from the House Kitchen from time to time). Here is the Speaker's E-mail to his colleagues:
From: "Greg Curtis"
Subject: hiring announcement
Date: Mon, Aug 29, 2005 4:41 PM

Good Afternoon,

I would like to announce that the House of Representatives has hired Sandy Tenney as the House Office Manager. Sandy will replace Hollace Parker, who is retiring after 30 years of service to the House. Though we are sad to see Hollace go, we are very excited to welcome Sandy to the House. Sandy brings with her a wealth of experience in state government and office management. She will be officially joining the House Staff Sept. 12th.
Greg Curtis

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Brigham Young?

An interesting thing happened last night in the Senate Chambers.

Toward the end of the Extraordinary Session, one of our spectators loudly remarked, "I am the reincarnation of Brigham Young!"

The Majority Leader turned around and asked, "Now, why do you think that?"

The spectator said, "God told me."

Suddenly a voice from Senator Bill Hickman’s desk rang out, "I did NOT!"

Senate Confirmations

Congratulations to the following individuals, recently appointed by Governor Huntsman, and confirmed last night by a vote of the Senate:

Paul F. Iwasaki - Judge of the Second District Juvenile Court

Francine Giani - Executive Director of the Department of Commerce

Drew Sitterud - Member of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board

Jim Abegglen - Member of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, representing Uintah County

Michael S. Milovich - Member of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, representing Carbon County

Keele Johnson - Member of the Wildlife Board

Rick Woodard - Member of the Wildlife Board

Lyle Hillyard - Reappointed as a member of the Utah Commission on Uniform State Laws

Reed Martineau - Reappointed as a member of the Utah Commission on Uniform State Laws

Friday, August 19, 2005

Best in the Nation!

The Utah State Legislature Web site was just recognized as best in the nation.

The first annual Online Democracy Award was presented to the Utah State Legislature for outstanding achievement in the use of design, content, and technology to bring democracy closer to the citizens of Utah.

Of specific note is its use of RSS feeds and audio/video streaming with information on legislation. NCSL recognizes the Utah State Legislature’s Web site as an example for other legislatures to follow in using Web technology to deliver public information to their constituents.

Congratulations to the legislators and staff who brought this award home - particularly Mark Allred and his staff. Thank you for making us look good.

The Online Democracy Award was created to recognize a state legislative Web site that stands out for making democracy user-friendly, and it seeks to honor the best use of the Web by a state legislature, legislative chamber or partisan legislative caucus. It was presented to Utah at the 2005 NCSL Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA.

Not to brag, but this isn't the first time our site has been recognized.

2003: We ranked 7th in the national 2003 Digital Legislature’s Survey (the only legislative survey they plan to do)

2004: We were awarded the CIO Award for Digital Democracy by Governor Olene Walker for design and implementation of customer focused IT services.

1998: We received the Roy Gibson Freedom of Information Award.


Check it out, bookmark it, and use it!

Rock Climbing

One of our staffers left a voice mail message for LaVarr Webb, which made its way to the pages of the Utah Policy Daily. DISCLAIMER: Although bright and at least moderately gifted, Ric Cantrell is kind of crazy and we take no responsibility for his extra curricular activities.

Friday Buzz
Written by LaVarr Webb & Associates

Ric’s Got My Back

Ric Cantrell of the Utah Senate Majority office periodically calls and tries to convince me to go rock-climbing with his Thursday lunchtime rock-climbing group, made up mostly of legislative staffers. So far I’ve been able to find valid excuses, beyond being too old, too fat and worrying that some Democrat will push me off a Big Cottonwood Canyon cliff. But Ric’s invitation is reassuring: “We find it’s a lot better to go on dangerous adventures with good friends. That way we’ll really try to save your life if you get in trouble. On the other hand, if you do happen to die, we can embellish what happened so it sounds really cool to your family and friends.” Ric is always looking for new victims, so if you want to go rock-climbing, call him at the Senate.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Valentine: Rescue Guy

This morning's version of Utah Policy Daily included this spotlight on the secret life of John L. Valentine, (President of the Utah State Senate):

Pres. Valentine: Rescue Guy

By Hayden Hill

Rappelling down high-angle, sheer cliff ravines may not be the extracurricular activity you might expect from one of Utah’s most powerful politicians, but that’s exactly what Senate Pres. John Valentine does for fun.

As a leader of Utah County Search and Rescue, Valentine has been volunteering this summer to help the University of Utah record archaeological siteslocated on cliff faces on the Range Creek Ranch in eastern Utah. With ropes and carabineers in hand, he rappels down cliffs and sets up lowering systems so that archaeologists can get an otherwise impossible glimpse at the over 1000-year-old contents of storage granaries hanging on the sheer canyon walls.

Referring to it as his “avocation” (he isn’t paid for his rescue work, but saving people’s lives isn’t usually considered a “hobby,” either), Valentine has been volunteering for Search and Rescue for the last 25 years. His wife Karen also became involved in Search and Rescue because of their German Shepherd Chickory and the obvious canine application in rescue work. Now, as one of Search and Rescue’s four lieutenants, Valentine not only directs a variety of aspects within Search and Rescue but continues to play a hands-on role in the missions. In June, Valentine worked with the Utah County Sheriff’s Swift Water Rescue Team along the Bear River, searching for 11-year-old Brennan Hawkins.

First introduced to the Range Creek project by Deseret Morning News reporter Jerry Spangler, Valentine’s interest was piqued when he learned the digs would require the high-level mountaineering skills his team possessed. Without using any fixed bolts or damage to the cliff rock, the team helps archaeologists reach the sites and collect information on the size and contents of the granaries, while collecting samples of maize, soil and wood for radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology studies (tree-ring dating and climate reconstruction).

Valentine recalls the excitement of the archaeologists when he presented a way to get down the cliffs. “They said that they hoped some day to be able to get to the sites. I told them that some day is here, and offered them our expertise. They were able to access six sites that up to that point they only dreamed of.” In addition to providing the archaeologists with a means of access, Valentine was also able to help on the legislative side by supporting funding to protect what he calls one of the “great jewels” of Utah.

And just in case juggling his full-time job as an attorney, being president of the Utah State Senate, and scaling up and down vertical rock isn’t enough, the more-than-meets-the-eye Valentine is also a CPA and a registered EMT. Oh, and the next time you see him you might want to ask him about his lead guitar days in a rock band, too.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Evolution lacks fossil link

By Senator D. Chris Buttars
District 10

The campaign to eliminate God from the public forum has been going on for decades, having accelerated greatly since the Supreme Court's ill-advised decision in 1963 to eliminate prayer from public schools. And I believe those fighting against the teaching of intelligent design in schools have an ulterior motive to eliminate references to God from the entire public forum.

The argument over classroom discussion of evolution vs. divine design is just the latest attack on everything that would mention a belief in God. If you talk against Darwinian evolution in the classroom, you immediately incur the rage of those who don't want God discussed in any way, shape or form.

These vehement critics claim that there are mountains of scientific proof that man evolved from some lower species also related to apes. But in this tremendous effort to support Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in all these "mountains of information," there has not been any scientific fossil evidence linking apes to man.

The trouble with the "missing link" is that it is still missing! In fact, the whole fossil chain that could link apes to man is also missing! The theory of evolution, which states that man evolved from some other species, has more holes in it than a crocheted bathtub.

I realize that is a dramatic statement, so to be clear, let me restate: There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man.

Darwin's famous The Origin of Species concludes that over eons of time, and through countless mutations, man evolved from an ape-like ancestor. It takes an enormous leap of faith (oh my, there's one of those terrible religious words!) to conclude that man evolved from ape without any empirical fossil evidence.

Teaching evolution is really about the determined drive by activists to eliminate any reference to an intelligent power in the universe. That said, could it be that the reason they can't find the missing link is that human evolution didn't happen at all?

Utah State Sen. D. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, is active on the evolution-education issue.

[This Opinion piece was published in USA Today]

Friday, August 05, 2005

Legislative Site Visit

By Senator Lyle Hillyard
District 25

Our Legislative Site Visit to Northern Utah was a tremendous amount of work but initial reports indicate it was well worth the effort.

The buses available were limited to about 32 seats, so we decided to break the tour into 5 groups and give each group a specialized taste of places and issues in our area. Before adding any site to the agenda we asked every tour director to answer this question: Why is it important that legislators see this site? Even then, we had many more things to see than we could have done comfortably in the 2 days allotted.

We all learned some new things about our area. The most common feedback I heard was regarding

* The cutting edge of the research and teaching at USU, the
* Continuing erosion of open farm land being converted into building areas, and
* Traffic congestion and what is being done to help solve it.

Most participants were able to view the proposed site of a dam at Washikie near Plymouth, Utah. That will be a major issue as we decide how and if to fund this project on a state level. The Box Elder and Cache business communities really stepped up to provide hosts and meals for the event.

I hope that every legislator realized that it is just as easy for him or her to drive to Logan as it is for us to drive to Salt Lake. We have great people and some stellar cultural events -- it is a very easy for people to visit and enjoy. (Our cheese, honey, Bluebird Chocolates, and Aggie Ice Cream are all great too!)

Monday, August 01, 2005

PDL Decision

By John L. Valentine
President, Utah State Senate

Last week the Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee declined to institute a Preferred Drug List (PDL) policy that would require Medicaid recipients to use drugs on a discount list or go through a prior authorization process. A few reporters and editors were quick to broadcast their assumption that this decision was driven by political contributions. That assumption is wrong.

In 2001 the State of Maine implemented a PDL policy - one of the first in the nation. Six months ago they issued a report which scrutinized their system and found what they characterized as “disturbing trends.” According to the report

* Emergency room visits have increased;

* Hospital admissions and patient referrals to specialists have increased;

* Many patients experience a worsening of their medical condition as they jump through the hoops to get medications not on the PDL;

* Many patients are forced to go to the doctor multiple times to get the right medicine;

* Medical staff time and attention is diverted from patient care to handle “voluminous paperwork” and increased calls from patients;

* Doctors are cutting off or limiting the number of Medicaid patients they accept due to the increased administrative burden; and

* Quality of care has decreased and patients have suffered painful consequences.

They reported, “while [a PDL] is an important cost containment tool, aspects of its implementation have adverse consequences directly affecting the health care of thousands….” Other PDL states are also experiencing serious problems.

I found these concerns to be compelling.

As a taxpayer and legislator, I would like nothing more than to save money in our Medicaid program. The bottom line for me, however, is that I am unwilling to conduct medical experiments on our most vulnerable citizens.

Some have asked why we don’t just approve a limited program to see how it would work. The answer is simple. We imagine that we might well save a significant amount of money in the short term, as have Maine and the other PDL states. Short-term savings, however, are only part of the equation.

Let’s look at the dynamics that would be set in motion. A limited program is likely to generate quick positive numbers while the long term impact and human cost would remain unquantifiable for several years. Stories of frustration and tragedy would have a difficult time competing with clear financial data which would build political momentum in favor of PDL’s, to the injury of a population that is already striving to overcome immense challenges.

In other words, this train has no breaks. I do not want it to start rolling down the mountain when we know there are people on the tracks below.

Maine is currently investigating the administrative problems caused by their PDL program. At some point in the future they plan to try to quantify the human damage caused by the program to determine if the money they saved was worth the cost.

At this point, I am unwilling to plunge Utah into a similar experiment. Perhaps we can revisit the issue when the bugs are worked out of the PDL system.

Seven legislators on Utah's Executive Appropriations Committee voted for a Utah PDL; nine voted against it. Each was lobbied fiercely from all sides of the issue. Each has their own reasons for the judgment call they had to make. They are all good legislators. They did their job. You will find your representatives to be far more informed, far more sincere, and more compassionate than the two dimensional caricatures portrayed by recent media accounts.


John L. Valentine
President, Utah State Senate

[This letter was published in Sunday's Daily Herald. A shorter version was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.]

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