Week two of the 2018 Legislature is all but said and done and the reality of the session’s work is sinking in. At least it’s sinking in for Gov. Gary Herbert’s office, which was put on the defense this week by rising prison-relocation costs.
Reports came out in the past week regarding increased costs to move the prison out near the airport. The cost has grown from $550 million in 2015 to $692 million and could go even higher next year. That timeline doesn’t include an original $860 million cost estimate reported by The Salt Lake Tribune and raised questions whether the low price was done to curry the public’s favor. Let that sink in.
“This is a pricing process,” said Kristen Cox, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, during a Thursday news conference. “There is an initial estimation process done by the Legislature saying, ‘Let’s just put a tag on it—what does it look like at a beginning point so we understand the liability of this?’ and that started with just the prison alone … that did not include infrastructure.”
Infrastructure or not, Cox and other legislative leaders defended the move to Salt Lake City, saying the 700 acres near the Point of the Mountain would be developed to be a part of the Silicon Slopes high-tech area. The dollar signs from companies such as Amazon seem to be too tempting, though, no matter the cost.
The prison was also projected to have 4,000 beds. That number has now sunk to 3,600 as the governor’s office predicts new prison reforms along with the move will reduce recidivism rates—currently about 70 percent.
While Herbert continued to recover from kidney stone surgery, the Legislature ticked on. Here are a few other items of note:
No, no legislators are mentally incapacitated no matter how many times you might say, “WTF?” On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB38, which would allow for the removal of a mentally incapacitated elected official in certain counties. The bill arose from last year’s Gary Ott saga in Salt Lake County. Legislators want to be sure they set the bar for “mentally incapacitated” high enough, though. The bill now moves to the House.
Senate Bill 54 in danger?
A House committee gave initial approval to HB68, which would allow political parties to limit the options to get on the primary ballot. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, told a committee it would let parties choose whether they were “dual-path” or “single-path” parties. Currently, under the law from 2014’s SB54, candidates can get on the ballot through the caucus or by gathering signatures. This bill would allow a party to choose whether it wanted to accept both or only one.
The move appears to be a shot at the Count My Vote ballot initiative going around the state this year, which would lower the signature threshold. Hey, what was wrong with the original compromise?
“There's been a group of people who believe there's only one legitimate way to get on the ballot and they have been consistently attempting to litigate, agitate, go through the [political] parties to modify or ameliorate the effects of SB54," Rich McKeown, County My Vote's executive chairman, told City Weekly last month.
It’s a statue thing
Who do you want representing Utah in Washington, D.C.? No, I’m not talking about your elected leaders. Instead, I’m asking about the statues. Yes, there’s Brigham Young. But for years, Philo T. Farnsworth, who helped invent the television, has been Utah’s No. 2.
That’s about to change. The Senate passed a resolution this week that would replace Farnsworth’s statue with that of trailblazing suffragist Martha Hughes Cannon, born in Beaver.
You have likely heard of or been asked to sign the medical-marijuana ballot initiative. While the Legislature hasn’t made any moves to circumvent that proposal making it on the 2018 ballot, it still is getting its hands in the stash, figuratively speaking of course.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved two medical marijuana-related bills this week. One would promote in-state research of the plant while the other would permit its use for terminally ill patients. It certainly doesn’t go as far as the ballot initiative, but is a start.
Get them voter numbers up
SB112 has received near universal praise in the Legislature this week for its push to register more voters. Under the bill, those who receive a new Utah driver’s license would be registered to vote unless they opt out—the opposite of today where people have the option to check a box to register to vote.
If the bill were in place in 2016, it would have resulted in as many as 300,000 more voters, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. It passed unanimously out of the Senate committee.