A short week for lawmakers, who took Monday off to recognize Presidents Day, as snow whiter than Washington’s hair-piece dumped all over the state. No worry, they packed the four remaining days full of business. Lawmakers were in such a rush to get to work, probably, that they didn’t even want to wait for the streetlights to turn green before they punched the gas to the statehouse:
Red means go ... if you want
For those who wished they could apply traffic laws discretionary, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, feels you. He’s tired of waiting at an empty intersection as dozens of seconds are wasted. Dozens! At least that’s what House Bill 416 indicates. Ivory’s bill, made its way through the rules committee this week, would allow motorists to ignore red lights if they’d waited long enough and had determined moving on wasn’t a safety risk.
Stop the quotas
Until that passes, you’ll still get pulled over and ticketed and maybe subjected to a field sobriety test, so wait for the green light. But, if Senate Bill 154 succeeds, you can be assured that the stop wasn’t initiated because the officer has a ticket quota to fill. The legislation bans law enforcement departments from imposing ticket and arrest quotas, a suspicion anyone who’s been pulled over has griped about. “There are 18 states that already ban quotas,” Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said. “They realize that having policing for cash is not appropriate.”
The bill passed the Senate but not without some pushback.
Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, opposed the bill, arguing it was another example of government overreach. “You’re mandating things in the cities and in the police department that I don’t think we have any business in the state doing,” he said.
The GOP case against capital punishment
Going against the grain, House Bill 379 to abolish the death penalty in Utah is sponsored and supported primarily by conservative lawmakers. The GOP backers are framing, at least partially, the death penalty as fiscally irresponsible. Capital punishment, as is often argued, is more expensive than sentencing prisoners who have committed the most heinous crimes to spend their lives behind bars. But what exactly is the monetary cost? The House voted unanimously for another bill, House Bill 70, which will authorize the state to conduct an audit examining the price of capital punishment.
Dinos v. fossils
The House passed Senate Bill 43, designating the Utahraptor as the state dinosaur. About time. The bill was originally drafted to replace the Allosaur as the state fossil by giving the Utahraptor that distinction, but the Allosaur lobby wouldn’t stand for it. So instead we’ll have one as the fossil and the other as the dinosaur because they’re different.
“The Utahraptor has been waiting millions of years for its true designation,” Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, proclaimed.
Perhaps next year lawmakers will finally get around to designating the Stegosaurus as the official state prehistoric quadruped, and the Pterodactyl as the state flying creature (fingers crossed).
House Bill 136 that asks state employees and other public figures who want to advocate for things like national monuments to first go before a state legislative committee and make their case. The measure, which went to the House floor on Tuesday, had been criticized by advocates in the press.
“I rise to explain this bill and to waylay all your greatest fears that you’ve seen come forward in the local newspapers and also the hundreds of emails that I’ve been getting at my home,” said bill sponsor Mike Noel, a Republican from Kanab, the rustic town where emails are still delivered to home addresses.
The purpose, Noel explained, is simply to educate each other on possible land designation ramifications and make advocacy decisions on information generated by the discussions at the state legislature.
Importantly, Noel added, the bill has no penalty for those who don’t follow the law. It moved on to the Senate after a 59 to 11 vote.
In the meantime, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Noel is mired in conflict-of-interest allegations regarding his own land holdings in the Grand Staircase-Escalante region, a federal designation he ardently opposed.
Senator Lee on guns
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, visited the House and Senate on Thursday. Among the lawmakers’ inquiries, Lee was asked about Congress’ unwillingness to ban semi-automatic weapons, which have been used to indiscriminately slaughter humans in many of this country’s mass shootings, most recently in a Florida high school where 14 students and three adults were killed.
Lee, however, says sweeping gun control is unlikely. First, he said, differentiating AR-15s, for example, from other hunting rifles is challenging, and you don’t want to overstep and ban weapons folks use to hunt. Another problem posed by a ban is figuring out what to do with the weapons that already exist, he added.
“If the banning of the AR-15 makes sense, why would it not equally make sense to ban all rifles that are semi-automatic and can carry a comparable number of rounds, which can include a whole host of hunting weapons,” he said on the Senate floor. “I don’t believe most Utahns would believe that is necessarily the answer.”
It’s the law
The executive office said on Thursday that Gov. Gary Herbert has signed his first crop of bills into law—13 so far—most of which authorize base budgets for government departments. Entering Week 5, expect more substantive bills to hit the governor’s desk soon.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, announced this week he won’t seek re-election when his term is up. Curiously, the news comes mere weeks after his successful one-man show. So let’s take a moment to collectively imagine Dabakis contracted an acting itch, and he’s headed to Broadway to audition for the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon! Just lay off the mimosas before you take the stage, Senator.