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Annual Report Card on Utah Legislature
PDF versions: Color, Black & White (Contains ratings charts and rankings)
How Did Your Representatives Represent You in 2015?
The Year of the Tax Increase
Going into the legislative session, the state of Utah had a $740 million budget surplus. Generally when a state has a large budget surplus, tax increases would not be on the table. Unfortunately that was not the case during the 2015 session as the legislature passed at least three tax increases (S.B.97, H.B. 362 and H.B. 454). S.B.97 raises property taxes by $75 million and H.B. 362 raises gas taxes a similar amount. H.B. 454 allows the city chosen to host the new prison to raise sales taxes and authorizes issuance of $470 million of general obligation bonds. The House did pass a bill which would have reduced property taxes up to $3.3 million but it did not come up for a vote in the Senate. You can learn more on Page 8 of our report.
There were some wins for personal freedom as legislators passed bills making it easier for parents to opt their children out of national and state mandated tests (S.B. 204) and requiring parental approval before human sexuality instruction (H.B. 447), and protecting fourth amendment rights (S.B. 119 and S.B. 226). Also H.B. 396 protected citizens from actions of an unelected board that might have infringed on their right to heat their property.
While there were wins, GrassRoots is concerned about the growing tendency of government to regulate every aspect of our lives. Bills were passed which took away property rights (S.B. 296) and increased the authority of unelected boards (H.B. 31). Barriers to entry were created (S.B. 246). Police can now stop you for not wearing a seat belt (H.B. 79)
Also of growing concern is the increasing number of bills passed each session. According to Utah Data Points 528 bills were passed during the 45-day session, with 831 introduced. This was a record. Of these 528, 119 were passed on the last day and 222 were passed during the final two days. Such a rush of last- minute bills seems inconsistent with a deliberative body.
Roberts and Greene Top House; Dayton Leads Senate
House Summary: Mark Roberts (R-UT) and Brian Greene (R-UT) tied for the top score on this year’s GrassRoots Report. Rounding out the top ten were Daniel McCay (R-SL), Francis Gibson (R-UT), John Knotwell (R-SL), Val Peterson (R-UT), Mike McKell (R-UT), Dean Sanpei (R-UT), Kevin Stratton (R-UT) and Jacob Anderegg (R-UT).
Senate Summary: Margaret Dayton (R-UT) received the top score in the Senate. Rounding out the top five in the Senate were Alvin Jackson (R-UT), Mark Madsen (R-UT), Diedre Henderson (R-UT) and Scott Jenkins (R-WB).
Governor: Governor Herbert received a score of 41% which was below his lifetime average of 50%. Last year Governor Herbert received a score of 27%.
Averages: The House received an average score of 48% compared to members’ lifetime average of 49%. The Senate received an average score of 45%; compared to members’ lifetime average of 53%.
GrassRoots has been issuing an annual legislative report card since 1992. The Constitutions of the nation and state are the guides which GrassRoots uses in picking issues for its legislative report card. Bills are picked without regard to any particular individual. GrassRoots has no paid staff.
Analysis of Bills for 2015
Bills are listed by number with house bills listed first. The sponsor(s) of the bill is in parentheses with the primary sponsor listed first. The tally on bills from each house is listed by Yeas, Nays and those Absent or Not Voting. Text of all bills can be found at http://le.utah.gov. Also, on our website, we give more in-depth coverage of those bills marked by an asterisk than permitted in an eight-page newsletter.
A) H.B. 31 (S. Handy, K. Van Tassell) Grants the Public Service Commission of Utah greater power to impose civil penalties and doubles possible penalties up to $1 million. This is problematic because the commission has no direct accountability to the public and civil proceedings carry a lower standard than criminal proceedings, hence an individual’s rights are not as protected. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (52-20-3), Senate 19-5-5 and was signed into law by the Governor.
B) *H.B. 79 (L. Perry, C Bramble) Increases police power by allowing a police officer to pull over a motor vehicle for anyone in the vehicle not wearing a seat belt. While wearing a seat belt is a good thing, does government need to control every aspect of our lives? GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (41-32-2), Senate (17-11-1) and signed into law by the Governor.
C) H.B. 197 (K. Coleman, S. Adams) Would allow a school administrator to hold that position without holding a teaching license or a graduate degree in education. School districts should have the latitude to pick qualifying candidates without being restricted and individuals should not be restricted if they are qualified. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (42-22-11), Senate (16-12-1) but was vetoed by the Governor.
D) H.B. 328 (D. McCay) Would limit government’s ability to increase property taxes in the future. Would have led to an overall reduction in property taxes of up to $3.3 million in 2016. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (40-30-5) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
E) H.B. 330 (J. Anderson) Would allow interlocal agencies to grow government by granting more latitude to issue general obligation bonds and increase property taxes. May circumvent Utah Constitution, Article XIV, Section 4 which limits the amount of debt counties and cities can take upon themselves by having the interlocal agency take on the debt. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Failed in the House (30-42-3).
F) H.B. 350 (N. Thurston) Protects Second Amendment rights by eliminating current (3rd degree felony) prohibition of carrying a firearm on a bus. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (72-0-3) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
G) H.B. 362 (J. Anderson, A Jackson) Raises the gasoline tax in the state of Utah by an estimated $75 million per year, with most of the funds going to the Transportation Fund and about $1 million going to the General Fund. Also would authorize local tax increases for subsidizing public transportation. This is a substantial tax increase without a compensating tax cut, when the size of Utah government is already too big. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (44-29-2) Senate (20-8- 1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
H) H.B. 394 (K. Coleman) Expands the free market by allowing new car dealers to conduct business online and exempts licensed online dealers from provisions of the New Automobile Franchise Act. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Failed in the House (32-41-2).
I) H.B. 396 (B. Dee, R. Okerland) Prohibits the unelected Division of Air Quality from imposing a seasonal ban on individuals burning wood to heat their homes. Wood burning allows individuals to be self-sufficient and many individuals do not have the ability to heat their homes with more expensive methods. Individuals have a right to heat their property as to protect their life. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (56-12-7), Senate (17-7-5) and was signed into law by the Governor.
J) H.B. 447 (B. Dee, J.S. Adams) Protects parental rights by requiring a school to obtain prior written consent from a student’s parents before a school can provide human sexuality instruction to a student. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (40-31-4), Senate (21-7-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
K) H.B. 454 (B. Wilson, J. Stevenson) Allows the city in which the new prison will be built to raise sales taxes. Fails to reconsider the current location (as proposed in HB 262). Authorizes the issuance of $470 million of general obligation bonds for the prison move. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (59-14-2), Senate (19-10-0) and was signed into law by the Governor.
L)* S.B. 43 (S. Jenkins) Protects freedom of association by allowing political parties to choose who will represent them in the general election. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Failed in the Senate (9-19-1).
M) S.B.97 (A. Osmond, R. Cunningham) Raises property taxes $75 million per year to equalize funding for public education. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (43-31-1), Senate (20-9-0) and was signed into law by the Governor.
N) S.B. 119 (T. Weiler, B. Daw) Protects a citizen’s right to privacy by requiring law enforcement to use a search warrant to get information from the controlled substance database. Also allows individuals to request and correct data about them in the database and to see who has accessed their information. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (55-17-3), Senate (27-0-2) and was signed into law by the Governor.
O)* S.B. 164 (B. Shiozawa) Expands Medicaid (and the number of individuals on Medicaid) in Utah by applying for and accepting an estimated $890 million of federal funds over the next 3 years. Expands federal government spending and debt for health care entitlement, which GrassRoots believes is not an enumerated power of the federal government (see United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8). GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the Senate (17-11-1) but did not come up for a vote in the House.
P) S.B. 194 (J. Dabakis, V.L. Snow) Creates the Arts and Culture Business Alliance. Creates the Arts and Culture Business Alliance Account and provides for funding and uses of account funds. Public-private partnerships typically lead to increased government spending and unfairly compete with, and take away from, private enterprise. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (44-30-1), Senate (24-0-5) and was signed into law by the Governor.
Q) S.B. 204 (A. Osmond, R. Cunningham) Improves the ability of a parent to get their child excused from national or state mandates or tests. Parents should have the ultimate say in their child’s education; this bill helps protect this right. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (54-19-2), Senate (26- 0-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
R) *S.B. 214 (P. Knudson, P. Ray) Authorizes special courts for veterans and seeks federal involvement and funding to help pay for them. An aspect of our judicial system is that all men and women are treated equally in our system. Creating special courts violates this principle. Involving federal Department of Veterans Affairs in Utah’s courts relinquishes state sovereignty. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (58-1-16), Senate (25-0-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
S) S.B. 226 (M.Madsen, J. Knotwell) Requires government to obtain a search warrant before utilizing an imaging surveillance device, thus protecting an individual’s fourth amendment rights. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (68-0-7), Senate (25-0-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
T) S.B. 246 (B. Shiozawa, J. Dunnigan) Increases government by creating a license for behavior analysts and requiring them to register. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (62-9-4), Senate (28-0-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
U) S.B. 256 (D. Hinkins) Protects an individual’s second amendment rights by exempting those 21 years of age or older from a current (Class B misdemeanor) prohibition on carrying an unloaded concealed firearm. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the Senate (21-6-2) but did not come up for a vote in the House.
V) S.B. 259 (M. Madsen) Increases patient choice by legalizing medical cannabis in the state. While some argued this law violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government does not have the constitutional power to regulate intrastate commerce. This bill would have exerted Utah’s 10th amendment rights. A patient and their doctor should determine the best course of treatment, not the government. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Failed in the Senate (14-15-0)
W) S.B. 278 (C. Bramble, B Wilson) Increases the cash rebatemotion picture project could receive from $500,000 to $2.5 million. Having laws like this would seem to increase government power to pick winners in the marketplace. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (62-8-5), Senate (21-0-8) but was vetoed by the Governor.
X) S.B. 290 (M. Madsen) Repeals provisions that an operator of a marked authorized emergency vehicle owes no duty of care tofleeing crime suspect nor to others in the car with the suspect. Under our system of justice, an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Law enforcement personnel should be held accountable, as other citizens would be, when they act outside of the law or with serious negligence. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the Senate (18-9-2) but did not come up for a vote in the House.
Y)*S.B. 296 (S. Urqhart, S. Adams, B. Dee) Prohibits housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, thus infringing on the right to control property (see United States Constitution, Fifth Amendment; Utah State Constitution, Article I, Section 7). Exempts religious organizations and the Boy Scouts of America from some of the discrimination prohibitions. (It is also noteworthy that, under Utah’s pre- existing antidiscrimination code, smaller employers (with less than 15 employees) would be similarly exempt.) Thus creates unequal treatment under the law (see US Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment; Utah State Constitution, Article I, Section 24). GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (65-10-0), Senate (23-5-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
Z) S.B. 297 (S. Adams, L. Christensen) Government employees who object to performing certain marriage ordinances because of their religious beliefs, are protected from performing these ordinances. Act requires county clerks to find a willing designee to be available to perform marriages. Act provides a balance between respecting one’s first amendment rights and government doing its court ordered duty. GrassRoots supports a YES vote. Passed the House (66-9-0), Senate (25-3-1) and was signed into law by the Governor.
AA)*S.J.R. 6 (W. Harper, S. Eliason) Resolution urges Congress to pass legislation, for the collection of state and local sales and use taxes, which will require similarly situated purchasers to pay the same sales and use tax rates: a) regardless of which type of retailer (brick-and-mortar or internet) they make their purchases from and b) regardless of where that retailer is located (in-state or out-of-state). State and local governments can already collect sales and use taxes on sales by retailers in their own jurisdictions. There is no need for federal intervention to squeeze more taxes out of purchasers. GrassRoots supports a NO vote. Passed the House (66-4-5) and Senate (25-0-4).
The Power to Destroy
“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” said John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Today we are taxed on nearly every activity in which we engage. Go to the store? You pay sales tax. Fill up your tank with gas? You pay a gas tax. Work? You pay an income tax. Own property? You pay a property tax.
Some taxation is necessary for government to fulfill its proper role. For example a proper role of government is for our defense, and government mustfind a way to fund this. But while funding the proper role of government,the words of Marshall should be kept in mind.
All too often taxes today are used as a method to create equality of results. The goal might be to equalize wealth as government taxes the rich and gives to the poor, or as occurred during the latest legislative session it may attempt to create equality ofeducation or transportation.
S.B. 97 which raised property taxes by $75 million per year was passed because legislators wanted to equalize budgets among school districts. H.B. 362 raised gas taxes by $75 million because of the need to improve roads.
Are both worthy goals? Maybe. But will those bills accomplish these goals? And is additional government force (in the form of taxes) the most appropriate method?
Property taxes are a very dangerous tax; because of these taxes you do not fully own your property. You may have paid for your property with cash or have paid off a loan, but if you do not pay your property taxes the government will come and take your property away from you.
Gasoline taxes are seen as a use tax and generally are the right way to pay for our roads, but a portion of H.B. 362 went to pay for public transit and a small percentage went to the general fund.
Instead of raising property taxes, wouldn’t a better solution be to increase parental choice within our schools? If we believe that parents should direct their children’s education, then a sensible step might be nonrefundable tax credits for those who take their children out of public schools, thus reducing the penalties for home-schooling and private schooling. Such a step would naturally increase accountability to parents in school districts which have become top heavy with administration. This option should be looked at before asking a senior citizen on a fixed income to pay more into the system.
The same concept applies to increasing the gas tax. Before more money is poured into public transit, shouldn’t a plan be in place to make public transport self-sustaining? We might even experiment with toll roads and other methods of directly billing the user.
Every dollar we tax citizens is one more dollar they do not have to pay for the basic necessities of life. One more dollar that they cannot pay for food for a child or essential medicine. Every property tax increase, puts a citizen on the brink of losing his home.
Increasing taxes to compensate for inflation may hold the state harmless, but it hurts citizens whose paychecks have not kept pace with inflation.
Taxes can destroy lives.
Let us hope that future legislators will remember Marshall’s warning.
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