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A Brief 2015 Session Recap from Senator Henderson
First of all, I offer my sincere gratitude for allowing me the opportunity to represent you in the Utah State Senate. Serving in the legislature is one of the greatest honors of my life. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
Out of the thousands of votes I take, I will inevitably cast some with which you may disagree. But that’s not a bad thing. As the saying goes: if we agree with each other 100 percent of the time, one of us is not thinking. I appreciate those of you who have heard me out and even called me out. Learning your perspective not only makes me a better legislator, it makes me a better person. So thank you to each of you who care enough to make your voice heard.
We grappled with some weighty issues, especially during the last two weeks [of the 2015 Legislative Session]. We also passed a balanced budget—the single most important thing we do each year.
A Few Highlights
832 bills were introduced (332 Senate Bills, 500 House bills), 528 bills were passed (232 Senate Bills, 296 House bills).
I received lots of communication from constituents who were both for and against SB259, the bill to legalize medical marijuana. Last year I voted for a measure legalizing cannabis (marijuana) oil for a small number of children who suffer from debilitating seizures. That particular bill underwent months of significant input, scrutiny and change—being substituted nine times before passing unanimously in the Senate. I have a great deal of compassion for people who may benefit from medical marijuana. I don’t oppose taking responsible steps to expand what we did last year so more people can benefit.
Unfortunately, SB259 would have repealed last year’s law in order to implement an entirely new system to legalize the growing, processing, distributing, dispensing, and prescribing of not just cannabis oil, but also marijuana leaves and various edible products. The bill was a massive policy shift for the state of Utah, full conceptual and procedural flaws that ultimately prevented me from supporting it.
The bill was unveiled at the very end of the legislative session with little to no input from fellow legislators, law enforcement, doctors, and state agencies charged with prescribing the drug and implementing the program. It required cities to allow “dispensaries” to set up shop anywhere they wanted within commercial zoning. We don’t even allow such loose regulations for restaurants hoping to obtain a liquor license. For example: even an Olive Garden restaurant has to be a certain distance away from a school, playground, or library. Not so, according to this bill, for marijuana retailers. The bill prohibited people with violent or drug-related felony convictions from engaging in marijuana commerce, while oddly allowing people convicted of crimes like theft, fraud, embezzlement, burglary, counterfeiting, and DUI to grow and sell the drug. Furthermore, the list of “qualified illnesses” was so long and broad that almost anyone could be eligible under the definitions.
Of course, the overshadowing complication with legalizing medical marijuana in Utah is the fact that no matter what we say, it is still against federal law. That reality is tricky to navigate. In addition to installing a massive new regulatory bureaucracy, we would also have to implement an entire money-laundering scheme, because banks won’t touch “drug” money. There were simply too many complications and problems, and not enough time to fix them. It’s almost always a mistake to quickly shove huge policy changes like this through at the tail end of a legislative session. I expect the bill sponsor and supporters will work hard during the interim to bring new legislation to the table next session that will be more likely to merit wide support.
Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination
For many years, activists in the LGBT community have been fighting for a statewide non-discrimination law in Utah. Year after year, such measures have stalled in the legislature over concerns that such a mandate would infringe upon individual religious freedom. However, many communities in our state have adopted their own versions of anti-discrimination ordinances.This year, top leaders from the LDS church joined with legislators to write key legislation that takes a “fairness for all” approach.
Elders L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson joined several lawmakers in a press conference (See it here) to unveil SB296, which is a careful balance between LGBT rights and religious liberty rights. With the passage of this bill, along with SB297, which brings religious liberty protections to gay marriage issues, and HB447, which gives parents ultimate say regarding sex education in schools, Utah has by far the most robust religious liberty protections in the nation. Read the LDS Church’s statement about these bills here.
Balanced Budget Amendment
Our Utah State Constitution requires the state legislature to balance the budget each year. And we do. We have a constitutional debt limit as well, preventing us from borrowing too much money. We take pride in being the best-managed state in the nation. It’s not always easy. There are lots of things we do without, sacrifices and priorities we have to make. But in the end, it is worth it to bring stability and certainty to our economy, and most importantly our citizens.Contrastingly, each year our national debt grows because of deficit spending. Right now it tops over $18 trillion. This debt threatens our prosperity, our national security, and our children.
We’ve called on Congress to control its spending for years, with no success. The status quo is simply unacceptable. We cannot maintain the current trajectory forever. HJR7 is a resolution that calls for a convention of the states for the purpose of considering a balanced budget amendment, which would then require ratification by 38 states.
Have something to add? Comment below or contact your senator.
*Photo from the Herald Extra.
*Article from DeidreHenderson.com