Welcome to The Senate Site

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Truth about Senator Madsen

It’s been a fairly quiet week. We cleaned out the desk of Senator Mark Madsen’s intern and found this. Seriously.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Aloha Hawaii

The Hawaii House Majority just launched a legislative blog site.

Inspirational.

"Odd and Unfortunate"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Healthy Children

By Peter Knudson
Utah State Senator, District 17

I was absolutely thrilled when I heard that Governor Huntsman had asked the United States Congress to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). I was the original sponsor of this legislation when I served in the Utah State House of Representatives and have been very involved in the CHIP program ever since. I cannot think of many battles of which I am more proud, or any program more beneficial to the health of children across this country.

Working parents who have very low incomes, who are unable to get insurance for their children through their employers can qualify for benefits through the CHIP program. Many CHIP recipients make enough money to exclude Medicaid as an option, but they don't make enought to provide adequate medical care for their children. CHIP helps.

I think CHIP is a tremendous program and I applaud Governor Huntsman for taking action to reauthorize it. Hopefully, his plea will ring through the ears of the lawmakers in Congress and they will re-enact and fund this great program.

Rock Canyon Editorial

Editorial in the Daily Herald:
We happen to agree with much of Utah Senate President John Valentine's politics. But even if we didn't, we would like to nominate him for a medal.

Valentine's willingness, along with his law partner, Phil Lowry, to step up to protect the beautiful mouth of Rock Canyon from a strip miner is an act of public service that the Utah Valley community should not forget. But they appear to have a fight on their hands in the form of a new bid to turn the mouth of the canyon into a quarry.

It's a long story, but here's the short version . . . .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Statement of Condolence

Condolences from the Governor's Office today:
Mary Kaye and I are saddened by the terrible loss of Corrections Officer Stephen Anderson and offer our most sincere condolences to his family and the Department of Corrections. We are grateful for the lifelong dedication of a true public servant who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This tragic incident engaged many of Utah's finest and I commend all of the agencies involved for their swift actions to end what could have affected so many more Utahns. I also want to thank those citizens in Arby's who were willing to take heroic actions to disarm the suspect, thereby saving lives.

Today we are all members of the Corrections family.

Chris Buttars

By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25

In the past two weeks, I have been involved with Sen. Chris Buttars, who chairs two committees of which I am a member. The first was a Judicial Confirmation Hearing and the second was a task force looking at the retention elections for judges.

Chris is a non-lawyer who grew up in my general area of Cache Valley. I knew him in high school and remember him as someone who was always actively involved and doing things. He has had some controversy associated with his service in the Senate because he hasn't been afraid to ask tough questions or take on difficult issues. These two committee assignments are challenging because they have very significant long-term impact.

I know that he has had serious health challenges. Most people would understand if he called an end to this high pressure job and started enjoying the freedoms of retirement. In spite of competing pressures and health concerns, Chris was there, doing more than would ever be expected of him. I was impressed.

He had prepared well for the meetings and treated people with dignity and respect. You may not agree with his decisions - as I often disagree, personally - but watching him work makes me better appreciate how a citizen legislature functions; People willing to stand up and make a difference without really being paid or complimented for the time and effort made.

I suspect that if most people took the time to really understand just how demanding legislative service is, along with the constant pressure and criticism we work under, there would be a lot more thanks given to people like Chris who work hard and do the job, in spite of competing pressures and health concerns.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Woomba. Freedom Matters"

George Archibald's blog:
The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled on June 14, 2007: "It is not a violation of the First Amendment for a state to bar a labor union representing government employees from using non-union workers' dues for political causes if those workers have not explicitly consented."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Policy Information

2 new bundles of info from our non-partisan staff offices, upstairs:
  1. State Revenue Numbers from the Fiscal Analysts Office; and
  2. Report on June Interim Meetings from the Office of Legislative Research & General Counsel.
Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Losing ground

By Margaret Dayton
Utah State Senator, District 15

Utah's resistance to No Child Left Behind created ripples across the nation - and created some angst and frustration with the U.S. Dept. of Education.

We continue to fight for flexibility and state control of education, with local legislation and repeated requests for waivers in Washington.

Fortunately for Utah, one of the members of our Congressional delegation was a school teacher for nearly 30 years, and he has always been an ally in our fight for flexibility. But lately Congressman Bishop's efforts in Washington have been partially undermined - undermined by fellow Utahns who are fighting choice and flexibility here at the local level.

Congressman Bishop has apparently been given repeated indications by folks in the federal education establishment in DC that the actions of the Utah State Board of Education and others to fight against Utah's voucher legislation are undermining his work. Not allowing choice and flexibility for parents in Utah while begging for flexibility at the federal level seems somewhat hypocritical, and it is backfiring.

Also, Rob's claims that the Utah Legislature and the State Office are united in their education efforts are sounding a little hollow lately. Utah may well be losing ground in our national NCLB flexibility battle because of the mixed message. We insist on choice and flexibility when negotiating with our colleagues in D.C., but work tirelessly to sabotage it here at home.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

State Department Report

The State Department just released a report on modern day slavery.

Interestingly, they didn't mention Paul Mero. Or public education.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Confidential Reporting of Impaired Drivers

By Allen Christensen
Utah State Senator, District 19

Rebecca Walsh wrote a good column today.

I still believe impaired drivers behind the wheel of a car present a dangerous problem, and age can be an impairment. Our aging population is increasing rapidly and can become dangerous if they refuse to recognize when it is time to hang up their car keys.

By far the majority of our seniors regulate themselves well. They can recognize the writing on the wall when the time comes. A few, unfortunately, refuse to give up what they see as their independence. So what can we do? Strictly age-based measures would impair so many drivers unnecessarily. Waiting for that Highway Patrolman to report them may prove to be too late.

For the past few years I have pushed a possible solution that would smooth the way for more reporting of dangerous drivers. Those closest to an elderly dangerous driver often see the problem clearly but may hesitate to notify the authorities due to being perceived as the 'bad guy'. The bill I now plan to bring back would allow confidential reporting. In some cases the drivers license division could take the blame for re-testing a reported impaired driver. I don't love the idea of people ratting out friends and family. But I like it better than reading the obituaries and wishing we had done something more.

A small tweak of existing law might make the difference between life and death for a family member, friend, the impaired driver, or even you.

Peering into the future

In April, Executive Appropriations directed the Revenue Estimating Committee (which is made up of representatives of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, GOPB, and the Utah State Tax Commission) to meet quarterly to update state revenue projections.

Here's a press release on today's update: Revenue Projections Higher than Anticipated

Interim Wednesday

Tomorrow is interim day at the State Capitol. Feel free to drop in.

The Senate will be meet in Chambers at 12:00(ish) p.m. to offer "advice and consent" on the Governor’s latest round of nominees.

You can find links to all tomorrow's meetings (including agendas and live audio) on the calendar page.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Daily Herald on Vouchers

On Friday morning, The Daily Herald offered this perspective to the voucher discussion (we bolded a few parts):
When more than 25 percent of high school seniors in the public schools fail a basic academic competency test, it seems fair to ask whether the school system is failing Utah. With a number like that, it's hard to defend it as a roaring success.

A quarter of students tested failed at least one of the three parts of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, whose results were released earlier this month. State law requires students to pass all three basic skills sections, and they get up to five attempts, starting as sophomores. Of 36,545 seniors enrolled last October, 22.4 percent failed math, 20 percent failed writing and 15.8 percent failed reading. That's a shabby showing.

But here's the kicker: Vouchers are available to pay for the tutoring of students who fail the test -- in short, for a better education -- and Utah's anti-voucher voices are not to be heard. In fact, the more times a student fails, the more tutoring money is available from the state. The Legislature appropriated $7.5 million for the program.

Yes, you read correctly. Vouchers are available for students who need a better brand of education. The vouchers are worth $500, $1,000 or $1,500, depending on how bad the student is. Students with the lowest competency scores are eligible for the most money, which can be used to pay for a private -- yes, private -- tutoring program, or for a program sponsored by a public school district.

Strangely, the teachers union and others in the public education lobby who are vehemently opposed to vouchers for school choice do not seem to object to these tutoring vouchers, which are clearly aimed at providing the education that the public school system failed to deliver.

This is identical in principle, in our view, to helping students get a better education through school choice. If the public school system is failing a child, as determined by the most interested party, the parent, then state money should also help that child attain a better education through a long-term tutoring program known as a private school.

If you're not complaining about the tutoring program, you shouldn't complain about school choice.

While Utah's public schools deserve credit for the good work they do, it remains a painful truth that some of our best and brightest students are slowed by large classes, limited resources and government mandates.

School choice vouchers are a philosophically sound answer for some of them. After all, when the politics are stripped away, the system is supposed to work for the students. Tax-funded education is not primarily about creating government employees. It's about creating an educated generation of Americans.

Opponents to vouchers frequently claim that using tax dollars to pay a private entity to accomplish a public purpose is wrong. In fact, this is done all the time. Highways, for example, are built by private contractors; trash is collected by others; state-funded mental health services are provided by others.

And now we find that public money is being made available -- stunningly without objection from the anti-voucher crowd -- to help failing students acquire a remedial education that is made necessary by a weak public school system.

Their silence signals their assent in principle to the use of vouchers for education.

Voucher opponents miss the mark when they say that private education is the sole financial responsibility of parents. This might hold water if education were not imposed by force of law, or if public education were proved generally superior to private, or if the voucher program as passed by the Legislature was going to hurt school finances.

None of these is the case. The Legislature provided bridge money to protect the public school system during the initial transition years, and a windfall remains behind as a bonus to the public system. Of the $5,000 to $7,500 of taxpayer dollars that go to support a single student annually in public school, vouchers would drain only $500 to $3,000, depending on the recipient's income. The entire cost of that student goes away, except for some costs that can be temporarily assigned to capital infrastructure. That leaves a substantial surplus for fewer remaining students per taxpayer in the public system.

Thus, on the financial merits alone, vouchers present a winning argument.

But, of course, much more is at stake than money. Parents have a moral obligation to see that their children rise to their full potential. If the public system is failing, they have a duty to try something else.

So long as education remains compulsory under the law, the state should help them do it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Senator Mayne

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

Don't miss Matt Canham's update on Senator Mayne: Battling lung cancer, Senator Ed Mayne finds new cause

Ed Mayne is a capable legislator and a good friend. We're all praying for him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shift

This presentation was posted by Emily, over at Utah Amicus. It’s the most thought-provoking six minutes you’ll spend on the web this week.

Word from the Governor's Office

Press release:
Governor Nominates Third District Juvenile Judge

Salt Lake City, Utah - Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has nominated Mark W. May as a Juvenile Court Judge for the Third Judicial District Juvenile Court. The Third District is comprised of Summit, Salt Lake and Tooele Counties.

“Mark’s demonstrated dedication to juvenile justice will be a tremendous asset to Utah’s judicial branch,” Governor Huntsman said. “I am grateful for his continued public service.”

May obtained his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in 1984 and graduated from the University of Utah School of Law in 1989. He is currently the Division Chief of the Child Protection Division in the Utah Attorney General's Office and has been with the Attorney General's Office since 1996. May has also worked for the Office of the Guardian ad Litem and for the law firm of Moyle & Draper.

May’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Utah State Senate.

# # #

Monday, June 11, 2007

Straight A Student

Love it or hate it, Margaret Dayton is a conservative. Now she has the numbers to prove it.

Two conservative groups gave the freshman senator their highest ratings this year. She received a 100% from the Utah Taxpayers Association which evaluated legislators on 15 key tax and spending bills.

Dayton also received the top senate score from Utah GrassRoots. Senators Stephenson and Jenkins also received high scores, but not as high as Dayton. GrassRoots evaluates the voting record of legislators on the basis of over 25 bills that focus on principles of the Constitution, limited government, free market economy, separation of powers, and the family.

Senator Dayton is new to the senate but she is a veteran legislator, having served 10 years in the House of Representatives.

"Caught in the Middle"

El Cartoonista talks about choice in education and a cartoon the Davis County Clipper declined to publish.

Panoramic View

A nationwide perspective on the 2007 Legislative Sessions from Stateline.org.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Clarity

Today the Supreme Court tied the fate of the second voucher bill (HB 174) to the first (HB 148). There will be no change in the ballot language. November's vote will decide the future of the entire voucher program.

This at least, provides the clarity we all needed. Now it's up to the voters.

Best quote:
"We fear a small forest somewhere has given its all for this case." (Justice Wilkins, commenting on all the analysis supplied to the court by the various parties.)
Here is the Summary of Decision (PDF). Look for a full, official opinion later.

The Right Vehicle

By Dan Eastman
Senate Majority Whip

I used to run car dealerships for a living. The first thing my salespeople were trained to ask potential customers was, "What's your purpose in buying this car?" We wanted to make sure people bought a vehicle that would serve their wants and needs. The current situation with vouchers is a lot like a group who visits a dealership, with specific needs - and the car that meets those needs is right there in front of them. But, for some reason, they insist on a different vehicle and drive down the road. When the other car doesn't perform, they want someone to engineer the car they bought into the one they should have purchased in the first place.

What they really need to do is go back to the dealership and get in the right vehicle. The vehicle for a clean up or down vote on both voucher laws is an INITIATIVE.

Maybe the Supreme Court will step in and provide the clarity we all need. Maybe not.

BTW - The Justices said there is a good chance they will be ready to issue a decision at 2:00 p.m. today. You can listen here.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Supreme Court

The Utah State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the voucher and ballot title issues tomorrow (Friday) at 10:00 a.m.

You can listen live on-line.

More Opinion on Achieving Clarity

Another letter released today, this one from Minority Leaders Mike Dmitrich and Ralph Becker.

We're going to get the clarity we all need on the voucher issue.

There are, however, significant disagreements on how to get there from here. All players seem to see their favorite solution as the obvious best solution, but viewpoints are as divergent as they are strong. The kind of consensus that makes for a productive Special Session does not currently exist.

There are also significant disagreements as to who pushed all of us into the morass. Craig, one of the Bloghive's more thoughtful participants, offered the insight (6/1/07, 10:58 AM) that this little fistfight, while interesting, does not arm citizens with the facts they need to make an educated decision on school choice.

We need clarity. Four routes to that point are currently being discussed.
1. The Supreme Court could issue a definitive, clear-cut judgment.

2. If not, we could hammer it out in a post-decision Special Session.

3. We could also hold a Special Session before the Court issues a decision.

4. Concerned groups could push an initiative, which is probably what should have happened in the first place.
Any proposed solution needs to respect a) the law and the Rule of Law, and b) the sovereignty of the citizens of the state of Utah.

4th Seat Update

The DC Vote folks just sent the following:
Senator Lieberman has announced that the mark-up in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will very likely be Wednesday, June 13 at 10:00 AM in 342 Dirksen. This information is subject to change, and we promise to keep you updated.

Special Assistant Attorney General

SLCSpin published two letters from Mark Shurtleff to his [former] special assistants at the State Board of Education.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

June 6, 1944

FDR’s prayer on D-Day, 1944, on behalf of American soldiers fighting on the beaches of Normandy.

Governor's Nominees

Governor Huntsman just sent us his latest batch of appointees to a plethora of boards, commissions and other state assignments.

The Utah State Senate will vote to confirm (or deny) these appointments on Wednesday, June 20th. As always, anyone in the world can listen on-line.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

2008

Chances are the next President of the United States will be our first woman president, our first African-American president, or our first Mormon president.

Why not just elect Gladys Knight and get it all over with at once?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Injunction Lifted

". . . Consequently, the court lifts the preliminary injunction, thereby allowing the state of Utah to enforce the 'Partial Birth Abortion Amendments.' The court dismisses this case with prejudice. The Clerk’s Office is directed to close this case."

- From the Court Order, signed May 31, 2007
Utah’s Partial Birth Abortion statute has been frozen since 2004. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart (which found an almost identical federal law to be constitutional), Utah’s federal district court lifted the injunction on Utah’s law and dismissed the case that challenged it.

Bottom line: Utah's partial-birth abortion ban statute may now be enforced.

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