Updated: Jun 25, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This month our legislature began meeting in appropriations subcommittees for the first time this interim. One of the most important responsibilities of the Utah State Legislature is reviewing and approving funding for every function of state government. Most importantly, we balance the budget, a constitutional requirement and a responsibility that none of us take lightly.
This is also a great time to reflect on the blessings of living in the greatest nation in the world. It is a nation made up of so many people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and political persuasions. For the most part, we live peacefully. What is most important to me, is that we have the freedom to disagree, to openly question our elected leaders, to criticize the actions of government without fear of reprisal. As a duly elected Senator, I am happy that constituents can contact me to ask questions about my votes, to give me input into their daily lives and to disagree with me. None of us are so old that we stop learning. I make mistakes, but I continue to learn. I appreciate the opportunity I have to work on your behalf, and I need your insights and input to do it properly.
Every ten years, the U.S. Constitution requires the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct a count of every person who lives in the United States. The results of the census are used for redistricting, which is the process of drawing new district boundaries for congressional, legislative and state school board districts based on the state’s resident population.
In Utah, the Legislature is responsible for redrawing district boundaries. Once the state receives the data from the U.S. Census Bureau, members from the Utah Senate and House of Representatives will hold town hall meetings across the state. Members of the public are encouraged to attend these meetings and provide input and feedback. In addition to participating in town halls, all Utahns will be able to use a state-of-the-art map drawing tool to create their own maps for the legislative committee to review. Learn more on the redistricting website here.
Participation in Women’s Sports
Earlier this year, the Legislature considered legislation pertaining to transgender youth competing in girls sports in public schools. Topics like this are typically studied and take time to find common ground. This month the Health and Human Services Interim Committee dedicated the majority of their meeting to listening to various experts and perspectives on this matter. There is currently no legislation on this, but as a Legislature, we will continue to research and study out this rising concern. You can listen to the presentation here.
This week, the Legislature met for interim committee meetings and appropriations subcommittee meetings. Appropriations subcommittee meetings occur about once every other month and include members from both the Senate and House. During these meetings, subcommittees review funding for the state government and balance the budget. After the subcommittees meet, they give their funding recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Subcommittee, where final budget decisions are made. Some of the items discussed during the most recent subcommittee meetings include funding for a mental health research facility and education. These meetings are open to the public and links to past meetings can be found here.
During the special session in May, the Legislature appropriated $90 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to help build the Utah Mental Health Translational Research Building on the University of Utah campus. These funds will be combined with $65 million from Utah’s philanthropic community, and together will build a leading research center focused on solving mental health challenges like suicide, child and young adult mental health, rural mental health, stigma, workforce shortages, and the unknown neurological, psychiatric, and social factors created by COVID-19.
During the Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, the University of Utah presented a utilization plan and outlined the foundation for creating a system-wide approach to resolving Utah’s mental health crisis. Listen to the presentation here.
With Utah’s current severe drought conditions, our state needs to take extra precautions to prevent wildfires. This means making smart and responsible choices when it comes to fireworks safety throughout the July holidays. The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands reported 364 fires, 315 of which have been human-caused, during the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee. Utah currently has four large fires, including the largest, the Bear Fire, which has burned over 11,000 acres. Listen to the report here.
Critical Race Theory Update
During the first extraordinary session in May, the Legislature passed S.R. 901 Senate Resolution on Critical Race Theory in Public Education, which encouraged the Utah State Board of Education to make sure standards for curriculum don't include the following concepts:
That one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race
That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual's race
That an individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race
Shortly after the resolution passed, the State Board of Education took action to approve administrative rules that address educational equality and how it is included in learning and instructional materials. The State Board of Education shared their next steps, which include a public comment period, a training checklist and a timeline for implementation and developing model training. Listen to the presentation here.
Below are some takeaways that the board will continue to work.
The Legislative Auditor regularly sends the Legislature comprehensive audits of entities that receive public funds. The audits serve as a way to improve programs, reduce costs and promote accountability in government. Find all recent audit reports here.
Below are a few highlighted audit reports:
Utah Rural Jobs Act
The Utah Rural Jobs Act took effect in 2017, enabling eligible small businesses located in rural Utah to expand and create high wage jobs. This program provides capital to rural investment companies that contribute to business development and expansion needs. The Utah Rural Jobs Act Audit Review indicates that as of this year, nearly 70 percent of capital funds have been invested in rural counties in Utah. Listen to the presentation here.
Audit of Charter School Governance
The State Auditor’s Office recently conducted a review to discuss improvements to the governance structure for charter schools in Utah. Current structure gives authority to both the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) and State Charter School Board (SCSB) over charter schools. Although the Legislature did address some authority concerns with H.B. 242 Charter School Operations and School Accounting Amendments in 2020, there is still room for improvements.
The Auditor Office recommended three primary changes the Legislature could make to help alleviate some of the confusion regarding charter school governance and help achieve better educational outcomes. The first plan of action is to designate the SCSB as a hybrid LEA, somewhat akin to its own district. Second, establish the SCSB as its own independent entity. Third, define the SCSB as a state agency under USBE’s supervision, relegating the SCSB to an advisory role. They also recommended the Legislature add a formal renewal policy and create standardized procedures.
Utah is currently experiencing extreme drought. Earlier this year, the Division of Water Resources (DWR) recommended that the state drought coordinator and Utah’s Division of Natural Resources (DNR) convene the Drought Review and Reporting Committee. The committee recommended an executive order should be issued declaring a state of emergency due to the drought. Gov. Cox released the declaration on March 17. In May, the Legislature extended the drought declaration through October. On June 8, the state issued another drought declaration to further restrict water use at state facilities and prohibit fireworks on state lands.
Though we have no control over droughts in our desert state, we do have control over our water conservation efforts. Learn about your role in water conservation here. Find a helpful lawn watering guide here.
Road Usage Charge
Utah has been utilizing a fuel tax to pay for the construction and maintenance of state roads since the 1920s. At the time, this was a fair and effective way to fund roads since all vehicles were relatively equal in regards to fuel efficiency. However, over the last few decades, innovation has increased fuel efficiency for hybrid and electric vehicles. While this is a positive change overall, it has contributed to declining funds for our roads. In 2019, the Legislature passed legislation that established a framework to allow an ongoing Road User Charge program for electric and hybrid vehicles—as these vehicles do not contribute significantly to the fuel tax.
This week during the Transportation Interim Committee, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) presented on the Utah Road Usage Charge program which was established in 2020 as a voluntary alternative for hybrid and electric vehicles. This program allows drivers to pay by miles driven rather than fuel purchased. There is a cap on cost so that drivers who opt to pay by mile, never pay more than they would have otherwise paid through a flat fee. By the end of 2020, over 3,600 vehicles were enrolled in the program and UDOT has a plan in place to continue expanding participation in this program. Listen to the presentation here.
The fuel tax that is generated is not shared equally by road users, as shown in the graph below.
Alternative Voting Methods
The Government Operations Interim committee continues to have ongoing presentations and discussions on alternative voting methods, in part to address the issue of plurality in traditional elections. In 2018, the Legislature passed H.B. 35 Municipal Alternate Voting Methods Pilot Project, which authorized a pilot program to allow cities to use ranked-choice voting in municipal and non-partisan elections. In 2019, Payson and Vineyard both tried this alternative voting method and found significant citizen support in their cities. Now, 23 cities are set to pilot ranked-choice voting in a municipal election.
This week, in addition to an update on the ranked-choice voting pilot, the committee received a presentation on the benefits of approval voting. Approval voting allows voters to select each candidate they would feel comfortable supporting. It is important to note that there is currently no legislation looking to implement this alternative voting method, rather this presentation was for discussion purposes only. Listen to the presentation here.
Probation and Parole Absconders
The Judiciary Interim Committee heard two presentations regarding adult probation and parole. The U.S. Marshall in Utah testified that we are seeing a pattern of repeated “catch and release” arrests for repeat offenders and fugitives. The Board of Pardons and Paroles shared challenges they face with probation and parole fugitives and how they are working to address the issue. Listen to the presentations and discussion here.
I Look Forward to Hearing From You!
I'll try to continually keep you informed about my work on the Hill – likewise, please keep in touch – I’d love to hear your insights and opinions.
I can be reached by email at email@example.com. You’re also welcome to join me at the Capitol and if you’d like to meet with me in person outside of interim or the legislative session, you can reach Jason Gould at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’ll help us get in touch.
I’m truly grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation – and thanks for paying attention.
Until next time,
Senator Dan McCay
Utah Senate District 11