2016 Legislative Remarks
Good morning! What a beautiful day!! I love the buzz that we feel on the morning of the first day of our General Session. What an incredible honor it is to represent the hard-working and industrious people of this state. Our constituents, who have sent us here to get to work, are the ones who have made us the strongest economy in the country. The people we represent are the ones out there making our communities better — volunteering in our children’s schools and serving in countless ways. Recreational opportunities abound. We all enjoy a quality of life that is second to none! Utahns take their quality of life, clean air and stewardship of the environment very seriously. I am proud to be a Utahn and I know we are all proud to serve the citizens of this state.
A year ago I stood before this body filled with anticipation for the 2015 Legislative session to unfold, much like the expectations of a coach embarking on what he believes can culminate in a championship season. My excitement was based on the belief that I was about to roll up my sleeves and walk onto the field with as talented a group of lawmakers as I had known during my time of service.
Today, I stand before you feeling similar emotions, but my enthusiasm for this session is no longer simply a belief of what we can accomplish, but a knowledge of what we have accomplished, coupled with the anticipation of greater work that we have yet to do.
Last year, I spoke of no longer wanting to plow around problems, but rather to dynamite boulders that hamper and block the path forward. But boulders aren’t the only obstacles we face. Resources always lag needs; so today I approach you, expressing a desire to continue working together to find better ways of using what we have, to do even more — to make our state run better, more efficiently and to allow for greater freedom and growth.
Today is not Groundhog Day. If my legislative experience is a gauge, you will never confuse our last session with any other that you spend here in the House of Representatives. Appreciate for a moment all that we accomplished together.
We passed landmark non-discrimination and religious liberties legislation that has proven to be an example to other states, and considered best-practice in terms of how to respect the beliefs of others and allow for freedom in how individuals choose to form their households. People and organizations on opposite ends of the spectrum were able to come together and, in a very bipartisan way, find solutions.
For the first time since the ‘90s, we innovated and passed long-term reforms for funding transportation and for the first time, multi-modal transportation infrastructure.
After years of talking about equalization of school funding, we finally accomplished it last session. As a result of this legislation, every public school student in the state is treated the same with regard to our state dollars and our efforts, combined on education, led to the largest increase in funding in a decade.
We did something that politicians have been talking about for over a decade by finalizing plans to rebuild the prison in a new location while introducing dramatic solutions for critical and historic justice system reforms. These solutions wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the many stakeholders involved or the commitment of Representative Eric Hutchings – and he’s just getting started. The results from these efforts will improve our criminal justice system, reduce recidivism and lead to safer communities for all Utahns.
I know I speak for all in this room when I express my gratitude and sorrow to the family of recently-slain Unified police officer Doug Barney and his injured colleague, officer Jon Richey. I want the Barney family to know that we stand with them and will do what we can to assist them during this difficult time. Last year, because of the selfless determination of a constituent of mine, Shante Johnson and Nanette Wride, both of whom tragically lost their husbands in the line of duty, we were able to increase death benefits and extend health insurance for families of slain police officers. To officer Richey we wish you a full and healthy recovery and appreciate your courage. We remain committed to supporting the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to ensure we all live in a safe environment. Let’s all take a moment to thank them for their service.
Let’s not forget that these big issues were the result of hard work, compromise and yes, bipartisanship. Because of the collaboration and dedication from each of you, we have been effective, and that is a fact with which nobody can disagree. In the Utah House of Representative we are thorough and we let good information drive good decisions. We don’t subscribe to the ‘do nothing to offend no one’ formula. Not once did we take the easy way out, even in the face of strong criticism by the media and special interest groups seeking to create false narratives. I want the public to know they can take comfort knowing that your votes have been, and will continue to be, driven by that good information. I take great pride in being a member of this body.
From my vantage point as Speaker, I’ve been able to observe quiet acts of leadership, selflessness and political courage that, in the flurry of a general session, largely go unnoticed and unmentioned. I want to pull two names out of the history books — King Leonidas of the Spartans and a man named Hercules Mulligan.
King Leonidas was a leader who didn’t stand back and lead from afar. He stood shoulder to shoulder with his men as he put the needs of his nation ahead of himself. I saw this same selfless commitment from a freshman lawmaker, representing a swing district in which he won by a very narrow margin. He defended the process within this body when there was an attempt to disrupt the typical rules and procedures we follow, even on an issue that he cared about and supported. He showed great courage in defending our process though it meant that some would not understand the purpose for his opposition. That House member is Bruce Cutler.
Hercules Mulligan is a name I’ve only recently learned. He was a person whose acts of patriotism have gone largely unknown and unappreciated, but whose efforts were critical to the survival and success of General George Washington and America’s War of Independence. He was an unsung hero. I see these types of unsung heroes all around us.
I would like to recognize just one of these individuals who exemplifies the attributes of Hercules Mulligan. His work on the landmark anti-discrimination/religious liberties bill last session is largely unknown and few will ever understand the extent of his input, which was critical to the success of this legislation. This award goes to Lavar Christensen.
These two lawmakers are just an example of the many leaders we have in this body who show courage, and whose selfless approach leads to good governance. Never before can I point to such a willingness for collaboration to achieve better outcomes on pressing state issues than I think we have right now.
It’s difficult for me to imagine a better working relationship with Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and his leadership team. And while some in the media seek to create news by pitting Governor Gary Herbert and me against each other on the occasional issue, this is not an accurate portrayal of our relationship because it fails to show how often we agree on most major issues facing our state.
Seated above me in the gallery is Canyons School District Superintendent Jim Briscoe and Canyons District Board members, in addition to members of our State School Board. Their presence here today represents an exciting new chapter in which the Legislature enjoys a more productive relationship with the leaders of Utah’s public schools.
Since the day I arrived in the Legislature, when we talk about public education there has been an ongoing debate of local control v prescriptive education funding and programs. This isn’t an either/or proposition and is designed to be collaborative. We need to continue building trust to work together effectively, as both are equal partners.
Technology is all around us, in every facet of our lives, but our schools seem to be stuck behind. How ironic that the technology natives, our children, are spending their days learning in an environment that we, the technology immigrants of today, have already left behind.
It’s time to change that. It is up to us to innovate and capitalize on the infrastructure delivered through the Utah Education Technology Network. Let’s complete the vision of our late Speaker, Becky Lockhart, and make technology a more central part of our educational system. This year we will consider legislation from Representative John Knotwell to do just that. The product of many years of hard work, this legislation is a top priority of our State Board of Education and is endorsed by many key education leaders. It will establish a framework for success. When properly implemented, technology in our public schools will enhance the work of our dedicated public school teachers, who sacrifice so much for our students. Passage of this legislation will lead to a more efficient, more effective learning environment and will make individualized learning for our children a reality.
Our Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands has assembled a Dream Team of constitutional scholars and lawyers who have, in my opinion, developed the most compelling argument yet to fight the Federal Government to get our lands back. Their efforts, combined with those of our federal delegation led by Congressman Rob Bishop, give me confidence that this fight could soon result in reality. If you think this argument is frivolous then you don’t understand the issue. If you think this issue doesn’t matter to you, then you need to think again. If you care about education, if you care about clean air, if you care about the economy, if you care about energy independence and if you care about fairness and freedom then you should care about this issue.
For far too long Washington DC has controlled the West – well I’m here to tell you that I’ve had it. I’ve had enough of their mismanagement, I’ve had enough of them blocking our ability to responsibly manage OUR lands and I’ve had enough at their attempt at population control. Over 65% of our state is controlled by the Federal government. 90% of Utah’s population lives on 1% of our ground. We are one of the fastest growing states in the nation yet we aren’t able to properly plan our infrastructure needs to support this growth, are limited in our efforts to expand commerce and restricted in our ability to fund our schools.
Why is it that 38 states have been recognized as sovereign, yet 12 states in the West remain under federal control? It represents the worst gerrymandering in the history of this country as those in DC seek to limit our representation and influence. And what do we get as a consolation prize? It is called PILT which is the acronym for Payment in Lieu of Taxes – in my mind, a more appropriate term would be Pennies in Lieu of Trillions. And speaking of trillions, I’m done listening to a dysfunctional Federal Government that is $19 trillion in debt and telling us they can manage ANYTHING better than we can. I have a message for them – in Utah we get things done and we will always manage EVERYTHING better than they do.
We can look to our past to guide us forward into the future. Thanks to the foresight and planning of leaders decades ago, we have been able to absorb and accommodate a rapidly-growing population with minimal disruption.
The majority of Utah’s water infrastructure, supporting 3 million residents, is more than fifty years old and now is the time to get serious and prepare for future growth and development. As we see too often on many critical issues, the federal government’s commitment can be fleeting. Major water projects are just the latest commitment the federal government has forsaken, leaving states, particularly those in the west, literally high and dry. It is now falling upon the states and local jurisdictions to fund large water projects and to expand and maintain an aging, but necessary, infrastructure, largely without federal dollars.
Historically, various stakeholders in water projects have had competing interests on the local and regional level. That is not what we are seeing today. Following a significant effort to align priorities, our stakeholders have come together and developed a long-range master plan for water infrastructure, and we should be a partner in their efforts. Implementation of these solutions will allow our present trajectory of growth and prosperity to continue.
As I already mentioned, 90% of our population is crowded onto 1% of our land, and because of the geography of our state, we struggle with air quality issues. However, from 2002 – 2011 the state decreased emissions by 35% while adding 350,000 people to this valley. Since 2002 we have 29,000 tons in reduction of pollutants to national parks. Because of the work of many of you in here today, specifically members of the Clean Air Caucus, we’ve done more to improve air quality in the past five years, than in the previous 25 years combined. We have taken steps to encourage innovation, established incentives and invested in collecting accurate data to help guide our decision-making.
But we can do better and we all have a role to play.
I’m calling on the media, the business community, members of the public and each of us to lead by example to make improving our air quality a top priority. Let’s collectively come together with the goal of completely eliminating red air days in our state. Now, we can’t legislate our way out of this problem; we must focus on education if we are going to have a lasting impact. But there are things we can do to lay the foundation for a Future Utah, free of red air days. Let’s focus resources to invest in our Division of Air Quality to ensure they have the tools necessary to monitor and study the causes of bad air. Doubling the money we designate to increase public awareness must be a priority. Advancing clean air and expanding industry are not mutually exclusive and I encourage each of us to continue our efforts to bring all sides together. Improving our air will lead to a better quality of life, increased economic development and improved health for Utahns.
Lastly, we’ve got to take care of ourselves. I’ve come to a point in my life where the pins and plates in my leg are causing me pain. My doctor has one message for me – lose weight. We need to start paying attention to the stresses and demands we have on ourselves and on our bodies, especially as we go through the pressures of this session. In addition to introducing a healthier menu option for our lunches and always taking the stairs, this year I will be doing something a little bit different in this chamber. Because I’ve recently learned that sitting is the new smoking, this podium is not just here for this speech; it has now become a standing desk. These are just a few ways that I hope to improve my personal health and lead by example, and I encourage each of you to embrace your own small changes that will lead to better personal health outcomes.
Let us always remember that we are the voice of the people, let’s take care of each other and let’s all make an effort to better ourselves.
Working together we’ve already accomplished great things.
Working together we’ll continue doing great things.
We coordinate, we collaborate and we let good information drive good decisions.
God bless America and God bless the greatest state in the Union!