You might think radioactive waste spews from the Legislature. It doesn’t. At least not yet.
In the session’s third week, the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee advanced House Bill 220, which would give the go-ahead for EnergySolutions to accept shipments of a type of low-level radioactive waste at its Tooele County landfill.
The bill already flew through the House. And the Senate committee’s 7-2 vote amounted to what KUER 90.1 FM called a “snub of the Utah governor’s office.” According to the station, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality Director said Gov. Gary Herbert was uncomfortable with parts of the bill and was hoping lawmakers would slow down to address some of its language.
Environmental groups such as HEAL Utah and the Sierra Club have voiced strong opposition to the bill, asking lawmakers to wait until the DEQ’s seven-year performance assessment of Energy Solutions’ facility is completed.
“The Legislature and the governor already made the policy decision that class B & C waste were too much of a danger to public health when the 2005 ban was passed … Please don’t let this Legislature be the one to reverse a 14-year policy on nuclear waste in Utah,” HEAL tweeted last week, referring to a bill passed in 2005 that banned those classifications of waste from coming into the state.
EnergySolutions, however, claims its facility can safely handle those types of toxic waste.
Donating more than $67,000, the energy company ranks as the single-largest donor to Utah lawmakers, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. It also recently received a $1.7 million tax break on regulatory fees from the state.
So long, Prop 3
Not to be outdone by radioactive waste, the Legislature and governor completed their overhaul of Proposition 3, the initiative that would have expanded Medicaid to nearly 150,000 Utahns.
On Monday, Herbert signed the bill, which caps the expansion at 100 percent of the poverty line instead of 138 percent. The revamped legislation also will cost the state more initially, as City Weekly reported last week.
“This bill balances Utah’s sense of compassion and frugality,” Herbert tweeted. “It provides quality coverage to the same population covered by Proposition 3 in a meaningful, humane and sustainable way.”
The tweet was promptly followed by more than 100 responses decrying changes to the initiative, which passed by a 53-percent margin.
Finally, a sculptor
Following up on last year’s decision to replace the Philo T. Farnsworth statue in Washington, D.C., with one of Martha Hughes Cannon—the nation’s first female state senator—the Legislature announced Ben Hammond of American Fork will sculpt the new work.
The state’s 25 female lawmakers gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to celebrate the announcement, exactly 149 years after the first female cast a vote in the U.S. Seraph Young first cast a vote in the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1870. However, a later anti-polygamy law stripped women the right to vote until it was restored in 1920 with the 19th amendment.
No more gender bills
To the relief of many in the LGBTQ community and beyond, lawmakers decided to abandon Rep. Merrill Nelson’s bill to prevent persons from changing the gender on their birth certificates.
“After discussions with various groups and individuals, Rep. Nelson and Sen. [Todd] Weiler, sponsors of the two vital-statistics bills, have agreed to hold the bills and refer them and related issues to interim study,” according to a House statement.
Weiler, R-Woods Cross, had introduced a bill establishing a specific process for persons to change their listed genders on their birth records. Nelson, R-Grantsville, amended his bill to allow people to change their gender on their driver’s license but not on their birth certificate. Citing too many hurdles to tackle this session, the two lawmakers elected to scrap their plans until later.