Once again, our loss is the state's gain. This hit the inbox today.
>>> Annette Moore 9/30/2009 10:43 AM >>> Some of you may already know; but just in case there are some who don't, Lynette Erickson (administrative assistant and docket clerk) has been recruited by our new Lieutenant Governor, Greg Bell, and she has accepted his invitation to move down to the second floor and be his assistant. It is a wonderful opportunity for Lynette (not so much for the Senate) and certainly a great tribute to her personally.
Lynette has been with the Senate for over 30 years (of course, she was just a teenager when she started). During that time she has served in many positions, including committee secretary, rules secretary, leadership secretary, third house secretary, docket clerk, status clerk and voting machine operator, and administrative assistant. With Lynette's departure, the Senate will lose a dedicated, loyal employee. I personally feel a great loss because Lynette has been my "right arm" for many years out on the "circle" during numerous legislative sessions. Her respect for the legislative institution, her institutional memory, her problem-solving ability, her willingness to "go the extra mile" are just a few of the traits that have made her so valuable.
Please join with me in expressing appreciation to Lynette for her many years of service to the Senate and in congratulating her on this exciting, new opportunity.
Representative Rob Bishop wrote an op-ed in the Deseret News concerning the Red Rock Wilderness Bill (so-called "Hinchey Bill"). This bill (which all 5 members of our congressional delegation oppose) would set aside a huge chunk of land in Utah as federally protected.
Yesterday, Jay Evensen of the Deseret News wrote a blog about the same subject. Read his take here.
It has to do with timing. The MATC has to move out of most of the facility it shares with UVU in Orem because UVU did not renew the lease. UVU can't renew it because they are bursting at the seams with student growth and needs the classroom space. (Fall enrollment this year at UVU grew by more students that the entire campus of students at CEU in Price and Blanding combined.) UVU also badly needs a science building for student classrooms - they have the least amount of classroom space per student than any other institution in higher ed.
At the same time, MATC has seen a similar growth rate. About 5 years ago, knowing that this growth was going to bury both institutions, we bought ground in Lehi at 50 percent of market value, right next to the planned commuter rail stop. Since it was at a bargain price, the deed and contract contained what is called a reservation clause - if the state did not build a MATC facility within that time, the deed would revert back to the original grantor at the original purchase price. We are close to that deadline now.
The Higher Ed cuts, just like cuts made to other state budgets, are from the ongoing general funds. However, we are financing the MATC building by a state general obligation bond. Both the training and the trade education at this institution are part of the economic recovery.
That was more than 140 characters, but I hope it helps.
At a groundbreaking ceremony today for a new campus of Mountainland Applied Technology College, Senator John Valentine noted the importance of this day to the students in attendance (Daily Herald):
"This is an opportunity you will not forget," he said. "Where were you on 9-11? At the time Apollo set down on the moon? On Sept. 22, 2009? You were at the birth of a physical facility, one that has been a long time coming.
"There is a need for the trades. It is part of our economic recovery. The training that is given at this new campus will be part of that recovery. A trained workforce more than anything else is what we can offer to the world."
In the policy arena, it’s always a good starting point to believe that people expressing opinions are informed and sincere. Really, the only other alternative starting point is to believe that people are uninformed and insincere – in need of a ruling class to tell them what they need.
Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is observed each year on September 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 and “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.”
More on the Constitution from the folks at Schoolhouse Rock:
[Update II:] Listen to the podcast of the Media Availability here.
[Update:] Senator Wayne Niederhauser was elected as the new Majority Assistant Whip.
We will be holding an informal Media Q & A TODAY, around 2:00 p.m. (LST) in the Senate President's Office. The newly elected Majority Assistant Whip will be there, along with newly-elected Senator Stuart Adams.
Today at noon, the Senate will confirm Governor Herbert's most recent appointments. See the full list here.
Amanda Smith is among those being confirmed. She will become the Executive Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. Our distinguished intern, Mike Cannon, interviewed Amanda about her new position. Listen to the podcast here or on Senate Radio.
Gary Herbert is one of the nicest people I have ever known, and I have counted him among my friends for many years. Despite our friendship, before he took the reins I had my doubts about whether he had what it takes to be numero uno, especially in these economic times.
Prior to Governor Huntsman’s appointment as ambassador to China, most of Utah’s political world had seen Gary Herbert fulfill his Lt. Governor duties with a work ethic perhaps greater than anyone who had ever held the position. He was a workhorse for Governor Huntsman. But, in my opinion, being a workhorse Lt. Governor didn’t necessarily prepare Gary (or any other Lt. Governor) to be an effective governor.
I was worrying about this concern shortly before Governor Gary Herbert’s inauguration, and I asked my seatmate during the last General Session of the Legislature, Lt. Governor designee, Senator Greg Bell, “Why on earth would you accept a position which demands twelve and eighteen hour days, a relentless speaking schedule, countless rubber-chicken dinners and a significant pay cut?” Without hesitation he replied that after meeting at length with Gary Herbert and coming to know Herbert’s character, it wasn’t a hard decision at all. As Bell spoke I recalled an earlier chat I had had with then-Lt. Gov. Herbert.
Four days after the June 13 Republican State Convention I spoke with Herbert about what I thought was his lackluster convention speech to more than 2,000 delegates who were there to hear from their Governor-to-be. In my usual frankness (sometimes mistaken for rudeness), I told him it had been a mistake to talk so much about how great the Huntsman-Herbert administration had been. I thought he should have spoken of his vision for the state. He failed to identify for the delegates and the public what he was going to do about the “$700 million elephant in the room” (meaning the deficit the state faces from using the federal stimulus money to “back-fill” what would otherwise have been budget cuts in the 2010 budget).
I also took license to advise Herbert that if he was to survive in-party challengers in the 2010 election he shouldn’t choose a running mate now, but instead bring on a Lt. Governor with experience in disaster cleanup, to cut the budget before the January session of the legislature. I suggested Fraser Bullock, who cleaned up the financial mess of the Olympics, or R. Todd Nielsen, who has spent his life as a forensic auditor cleaning up corporate disasters. I told Herbert he should have pledged to balance the budget without a tax increase. If he did not present a balanced budget for the 2010 General Session of the Legislature without a general tax increase, I said, he couldn’t make it out of convention in his re-election bid.
As I today consider my brusque, (yet obviously) wise counsel, I recognize that he was displaying another of important leadership quality: patience. He listened politely while I vented and then told me thanks and that he would consider what I had said. Full of my own wisdom, I wondered whether Gary Herbert had what it takes to be Governor.
On August 11 Governor Herbert began proving me wrong. His inaugural speech was visionary, and inspiring. Then on September 3 he announced the creation of the Utah Advisory Commission to Optimize State Government. He charged the commission to improve efficiency, enhance effectiveness and optimize performance.
The Commission is chaired by former Governor Norman H. Bangerter (who as governor faced the challenge of balancing the state budget in similar economic times in the 1980s) with three vice chairs: Nolan Karras (former speaker of the house), Charlie Johnson (former chief of staff t0 Governors Bangerter and Leavitt) and Fraser Bullock (businessman who is credited by Mitt Romney for saving the Salt Lake Winter Olympics). The commission also includes Pamela Atkinson, Neal Berube, Natalie Gochnour, and Ellis Ivory, Gayle McKeachnie, Steve Starks, and Lynne Ward. Ex-officio members will also include two Republicans - Senator Daniel Liljenquist, Representative Ronald Bigelow, and two Democrats - Senator Pat Jones and Representative David Litvack. Others will be asked to assist in selected components of this review.
The work of the Commission will be in two phases. Phase One Includes an immediate, timely and targeted review of near term activities. This phase is expected to last 10 to 12 weeks and will aid Governor Herbert in his FY2011 budget recommendations.
Phase Two Includes a more in-depth review, assessment and rethinking of state government activities and ways to improve the long-term effectiveness of state government. This phase is expected to take up to 12 months. The scope and people involved in the review will be refined on an ongoing basis. The Commission will formally involve others in this more in-depth review.
I was wrong to pre-judge the Lt. Governor who, I realize now, knew his position and didn’t feel it appropriate to jump the gun until he was actually inaugurated. For me this shows that Governor Herbert has other qualities that I suppose are best described as prudent, confident, and able to keep his head when at least one about him was losing his. And all of those qualities show that Gary Herbert definitely has what it takes to be Governor.
A few weeks ago I posted concerns about the health care bill. A group of local Democratic Party activists have spent some time preparing a response to those concerns. I don't agree with their point of view but I respect them for their interest and believe all sides should be heard - so we're posting their response here.
Answering Senator Buttars' Health Care Questions By Craig Blanch Co-Editor, The SideTrack
First, let me say thank you to The Senate Site for allowing us to respond to the questions and concerns offered up on these same pages by Senators Buttars and Valentine regarding the Health Care Reform Bill (HR3200).
It's very encouraging to know that they are listening to what our group of bloggers, volunteer researchers, and policy wonks have to offer this discussion. We feel such a response is important to the integrity of the debate as our research quickly led us to the believe that both Senators Chris Buttars and John Valentine are guilty of either 1) not reading the bill, or 2) not understanding the bill, or 3) willingly spreading misinformation about the bill to generate fear rather than promote understanding. The answers to their "questions and concerns" were not difficult for us to find.
Below are the 22 questions posed by Senator Buttars, and the answers culled from multiple sources, including CQ Politics, the CATO Institute, the Kaiser Foundation, the Education and Labor Committee, local legislative experts, and our own reading of the text of bill itself.
Page 124, Lines 24-25: Does this ban anyone from suing the federal government? And does it ban the entire judicial system from hearing cases on the legitimacy of the proposed plan?
No. It doesn't ban someone from suing the federal government, or ban the judicial system from hearing cases on the proposed plan. It bans anyone from suing the government over the payment rates set in the public option. If your doctor doesn't like the rates set by the public option, they don't have to accept it, and can opt out (similar to Medicare). If you don't like that your doctor doesn't accept it, you can also opt out of the public option and find different insurance. If the insurance industry doesn't like the rates because the public option pays too much, they'd better find a way to compete.
Are all federal employees exempt from the proposed national health care program(s)?
Not addressed specifically in the bill, but theoretically they wouldn't fall under the public option, since they (like a State Senator) already have excellent insurance from their government jobs. That doesn't preclude them (or a State Senator) from falling under the public option at some point, if their benefits planner decides the public option is better than what is offered by private insurance companies.
Pages 272 & 452: The entire bill is loaded with the comment, “As determined appropriate by the Secretary.” What does this mean?
It does come up often. As it does in homeland security laws, department of defense laws, agricultural laws, etc. When a law is put in place that deals with a particular federal department (HHS in this case) then a lot of the discretionary decisions get placed on the secretary in charge of that cabinet. Utah government functions in much the same way (i.e. "as determined by the division head" or "the division head may...").
Page 429, Lines 10-11: In addition to almost everything being subject to the Secretary’s approval, the words the “Secretary may” are also peppered throughout the bill. What does this mean?
See previous answer.
Page 226, Lines 12-22: An example of “governmentese.”
Despite any vast experience reading legislation, our research group was able to sort out the meaning of the bill language without much trouble, and the language is not vastly different from the legislation that makes it way through our own legislative sessions. These specific lines seem intended to apply consistency to interrelated agencies and previous laws.
Page 58, Lines 11-13: Will everyone be issued a government health care ID? Will it outline limitations of services we can receive?
The answer to the first question is yes, those who choose the public option would receive an ID card similar to the insurance company ID card those of you reading this lucky enough to have insurance currently carry. Even the coverage offered to state legislators in Utah issues you such an ID card which outlines -- for doctors and hospitals -- what type of coverage you have.
Page 317, Line 13-20: Prohibits doctors from purchasing or investing in health care facilities from the point of plan implementation.
The practice is not outright prohibited in this section, but made much more difficult to do (i.e. a person wishing to do so would have to apply for an exemption and show justified safety nets against abuse). The reasoning is pretty straight forward: If you could get paid twice for something, might there not be incentive for you to abuse that loophole? If you are both a physician and an investor in the facility you practice in, might there not be incentive for you to direct a patient to your facility, even if it's not in their best interest, to double dip? The risk is there, at least. But again, it's not a blanket prohibition in the language of the bill.
Page 91, Lines 4-7: Mandates that health care providers pay for interpreters for illegal aliens.
Completely false. The bill does require "culturally and linguistically appropriate communication and health services", but doesn't mandate that they only be used for illegal immigrants. There are legal citizens of the united states who's primary language isn't English, and in times of medical need would need to be able to communicate in their own language not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of doctors and hospital staff as well.
Page 170, Lines 1-3: Stipulates that all nonresident aliens are exempt from the tax penalty presented in this chapter. Does that mean nonresident aliens will pay nothing for their health care?
No. While the section listed does exclude nonresident aliens (read - not illegal aliens, just nonresident aliens) from the tax penalty, that doesn't say anything about how they'll pay for their health care. It simply gets them out of the 2.5% income tax penalty for not having insurance. So how do they pay for their health care? The same way everyone else who is exempt for other reasons (religious belief, cons. objector, etc.) or those not exempt from the 2.5% penalty will: out of their own pockets.
Page 272, Section 1145: Cancer treatment rationed “as determined appropriate by the Secretary.”
Not. Even. Close. This section includes not a single reference to rationing of any kind. What it says, in a nutshell, is that cancer treatment facilities are more costly and have greater expenses than hospitals that don't offer such treatment, and therefore payout rates can be adjusted. Instead of rationing, it's actually taking higher cost cancer treatment and paying for it (and allowing Medicare to do the same) more quickly and completely. It's worth looking at the exact text on this one, to see how far off the Senator's assertion is:
"‘‘(A) STUDY.—The Secretary shall conduct a study to determine if, under the system under this subsection, costs incurred by hospitals described in section 1886(d)(1)(B)(v) with respect to ambulatory payment classification groups exceed those costs incurred by other hospitals furnishing services under this subsection (as determined appropriate by the Secretary). ‘‘(B) AUTHORIZATION OF ADJUSTMENT.— Insofar as the Secretary determines under subparagraph (A) that costs incurred by hospitals described in section 1886(d)(1)(B)(v) exceed those costs incurred by other hospitals furnishing services under this subsection, the Secretary shall provide for an appropriate adjustment under paragraph (2)(E) to reflect those higher costs effective for services furnished on or after January 1, 2011.’’"
Not so much rationing as better payout structure for facilities providing cancer treatments.
Page 280, Section 1151: Imposes penalties and fines on hospitals for “preventable” visits.
Calling what is defined in this section a "penalty" is like someone saying they were "penalized" by their employer when they weren't payed for skipping a week of work. The design of this bill is to make health care more affordable and more efficient. Incentives for "first time fix" speak directly to that improved efficiency.
Page 298, Lines 9-11: Could impose penalties and fines on hospitals for re-admission after first treatment (fix on the first try or suffer the consequences).
See previous answer.
Page 341, Lines 3-9: Does this grant federal power to arbitrarily disqualify HMO’s, thereby forcing people into public health care at random?
There is nothing arbitrary in how these qualifications are defined. In fact, there is a clearly outlined set of rules for qualification/disqualification. It does give the secretary the ability to disqualify a Medicare Advantage Plan if "if the Secretary has identified deficiencies in the plan’s compliance with rules for such plans under this part", but could hardly be called arbitrary if there are rules that are written out before hand. The rules defined are also quite reasonable in terms of consumer protection.
Page 149, Lines 16-24: Imposes an 8 percent payroll tax penalty for any employer that makes more than $400,000 and fails to offer to its employees the option to enroll in a qualified health care plan.
Here's where we get to the ideological debate rather than hearsay and misleading analysis of the bill. Another goal of this bill is to decrease the number of uninsured. Reducing health care costs while providing such an incentive to employers to offer insurance would be a way to achieve this. If a company pays 10 people $40k a year, they would pay $3200 in taxes if they don't offer insurance. The money of course goes to the health insurance exchange trust fund which would help in funding the public option, so if the employer doesn't offer insurance, they still have to pay something for their employees health care (wasn't that the point of this employer based health care system to begin with?). As example, take a look at what Romney did in Massachusetts. You'd be shocked to see that his health care plan for that state included such provisions to prevent "free riding employers." If employers know there's a public option, what incentive do they have in offering a private plan to their employees? It would only cost them more money. This makes the public option cost them money if they choose to not offer a private plan. This clause will help the private sector remain competitive with a public option.
Page 195: The Secretary will have full access to every citizen’s most private records.
Misleading. ID number, filing status, modified AGI, number of dependents, other information as prescribed by the secretary "as might indicate whether the taxpayer is eligible for such affordability credits." Summary: If you can reasonably afford insurance, of course they're going to need to know a little bit about you. We would stop short of calling this "your most private records." It's worth noting that the data collected would be no different than what your current insurance provider collects about you for the exact same purposes (plus some, in the current system, i.e. justification for dropping you for existing conditions, or raising your premium if you actually use your health insurance to obtain health care).
Does everyone have a right to government health care? Where and when was that right established?
According to the Declaration of Independence everyone has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Health care aides in all three of those much like food and drug safety, fire departments, transportation safety, police, and bank account guarantees. Should the federal government stop all of these protections to life because you can't find the direct designation as a right in the Constitution? We think that would be self defeating. We would designateing health care an "indirect right" which aides in protecting other rights. (Kind of hard to utilize that concealed weapons permit if a person can't afford to get treatment for that pneumonia, eh?)
Page 429, Lines 10-12, & Page 430, Lines 12-14: May seniors opt out of end-of-life consultations?
Nope. Mandatory based on age and last time you yelled at a kid to get off your lawn. The bodies of these "consulted" seniors will then be recycled into meal, which will be used in school cafeteria lunches and as mulch for the White House organic garden. All clothing and possessions of these "consulted" seniors will be sold, each Saturday, at the White House garage sale... No, Senator, of course seniors can opt out. That is why the word "voluntary" is used in this section. (For clarity, the page and line numbers the Senator references in his question do not match the relevant section discussing these consultation and how they will be paid. But we knew what he was getting at. We get Sarah Palin's Facebook updates too.)
Page 429, Lines 10-12: Empowers federal government to create physician payments for end-of-life plans under something called “advance care consultation.” Can decisions by the patient be overridden by the Secretary in an advance-care consultation plan?
Similar to previous question. There isn't a relevant section that could be found to even be partial construed as saying such. In fact, the portion of the bill discussing "end of life" consultation deals with paying doctors for being more directly involved in the consultation should a patient request it. Voluntarily.
Page 429, Lines 13-25: The health care bill is 1,018 pages. I would venture that the rules to implement these pages would, at least, double the size of the bill.
For a little perspective: A single volume of the Harry Potter series averages 255 words per page This bill averages 150 words per page. Do the math (Hint: This bill is shorter than a Harry Potter book!). Also, in 2007, President Bush's budget bill ran to 1,482 pages. Not a relevant criticism of such broad legislation, in our opinion.
One of the foundational reasons for the Affordable Health Choices Act is to reduce health care costs. Since the most conservative estimate to implement this program is $1 trillion (some say it will be multiples of that), how, then, can a dramatic rationing of health care services be avoided? How drastically will health care services be rationed?
Straw man argument, but it does stem from a valid ideological argument we should be having, rather than repeating the unfounded foolishness circulated in chain emails and shouted out at townhalls. If this were a single payer style solution being presented in this bill, then you would have a legitimate concern in need of addressing. But it's not, and there will be more money spent on health care outside of this bill, there will still be people in private insurance, and people will still be paying co-pays and deductibles. The question also neglects the fact that rationing of quality care does exist in our current system, where doctors are paid by quantity, not quality and your insurance company has every incentive to dump you or deny you coverage. This bill reverses that.
(Bonus Question) Page 768, Lines 20-24, and Page 769, Lines 1-3: Is the language concerning increasing the birth intervals between pregnancies mandatory?
No. We gathered this from the following lines in the bill (emphasis ours) - "SEC. 1713. OPTIONAL COVERAGE OF NURSE HOME VISITATION SERVICES."; "such services are effective in one or more of the following"; "Improving maternal or child health and pregnancy outcomes or increasing birth intervals between pregnancies." Key word there: Optional.
Page 1018, Lines 6-19: In regards to “subtitle E, limitation on federal funds,” does this require compliance by the state to the entire bill or federal funds will be withheld?
States qualify for federal funds provided they follow the rules in division A, if you want to break the rules of division A, then you'll be denying Utah money. This how all federal funding to states works. There are always strings attached, and the only alternative is refusing federal funds or... well, secession.
(For those who would like to know more, or inquire about our sources and research, feel free to email us directly via The SideTrack, and thanks again to The Senate Site for taking interest in an honest discussion by allowing us to post our responses to the questions raised.)
"Addressing questions posed by the Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee, the panel released results Thursday that found that while raising the current rate of 69.5 cents levied on a pack of smokes could add tens of millions to state coffers, the tax would target a narrow base of taxpayers, is regressive in nature and squeezes dollars from those saddled with an addiction."
"The panel's report cites numerous studies that claim a link between the urge to smoke and the price of cigarettes — when costs go up, tobacco use goes down. However, the information was qualified by the recognition that many factors contribute to the habits of smokers, and the study noted, "we cannot precisely determine the extent or strength of the relationship between price and demand for cigarettes and other tobacco products.""