SOUTHERN UTAH — The 2016 session of the Utah Legislature concluded Thursday with many bills being passed, defeated or unheard. Among the lawmakers representing Southern Utah during the 45-day session was Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, whose district covers Beaver and Iron counties and the eastern portion of Washington County.
With the conclusion of the Legislature, the senator sent St. George News a wrap-up of this year’s session:
The 2016 Utah legislative session is now complete, with lots of good things accomplished and a balanced budget achieved. There were tough policy issues decided on concerning topics like Medicaid coverage for people without insurance, medical marijuana, water infrastructure, funding for future projects, wildland fire policy and funding and critical school needs, to name a few.
Public education once again was a significant portion of the budget. Overall there was $440 million in new funding to public education, including $90 million for new student growth, a 3 percent increase in the WPU (weighted pupil unit) which is the basic funding mechanism for public education, $3 million to the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Program, $6 million to teacher supplies, $2 million to the Upstart pre-kindergarten program (an amazing program by the way) and $23 million to digital learning. The increase is $22 million more than was requested in the governor’s budget.
Additional funding was added to performance-based funding in higher education. This money, which has been championed by Sen. Steve Urquhart from St. George, will be used to encourage our higher education institutions to improve graduation and retention rates of students. Sen. Urquhart has been the senate chair of the higher education appropriations committee for the past four years and has done a remarkable job. He has chosen to retire from the senate this year and will be sorely missed.
Dixie State University, in cooperation with the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare, received $1.5 million to begin a physician assistant school in St. George. There was also additional program funding given to the applied technology schools including DXATC in St. George and SWATC in Cedar City.
Southern Utah University’s request for a new business building was approved, which is also exciting news. Supplemental funding was appropriated to the Utah Summer Games, Utah Shakespeare Festival and Tuacahn.
In the natural resources area, funding was given to continue the very successful prairie dog management program in Iron, Beaver, Garfield, Kane and Wayne counties. Senate Bill 122: Wildland Fire Policy Updates and Senate Bill 212: Wildland Fire Suppression Fund, of which I was the sponsor, both passed and will significantly change the policy and funding approach to fighting wildland fires in the state. Funding was also allocated to continue the efforts to keep the sage grouse from being listed on the endangered species list.
Senate Bill 89: the Cannabis-based Medicine Amendments, which was the medical marijuana bill that I sponsored with Rep. Brad Daw of Orem, was not voted on the last night of the session in the house. There was no consensus on the policy so this will be discussed during the interim and we will bring back the idea next year. The house defeated the other medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 73: the Medical Cannabis Act from Sen. Mark Madsen, in committee.
A few others of note: House Bill 437: Health Care Revisions, passed and will allow 16,000 low income patients who currently don’t have insurance to have coverage through Medicaid. A controversial bill to allow the state to start collecting sales tax on those internet sales that we currently don’t collect did not pass all the way through the senate and will be discussed during the interim. Senate Bill 189: the Death Penalty Amendments which would have done away with the death penalty in Utah did not pass nor did House Bill 65: Exemption from Daylight Saving Time, to do away with daylight saving time.
All in all this was a very good session with sound decisions and outcomes. Thank you for allowing me to serve you and please continue to give me your input on issues important to you.