ST. GEORGE – Area legislators met with members of the community during the 2013 Washington County Economic Summit in a pre-legislative forum. The purpose of the forum was to give the public an idea of the priorities their local legislators would be pursuing during the coming 2013 legislative session that begins Jan. 28.
State Senator Steve Urquhart, along with state Reps. Brad Last, V. Lowry Snow, Jon Stanard and Don Ipson gathered at the Dixie Center St. George Wednesday afternoon to discuss their focus for the next legislative session.
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St. George News reporter Mori Kessler with excerpts from Pre-Legislative Forum with State Senator Steve Urquhart, along with state Reps. Brad Last, V. Lowry Snow, Jon Stanard and Don Ipson, Dixie Center St. George, St. George, Utah, Jan. 16, 2013 | Videocast by Sarafina Amodt, St. George News
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Urquhart, who will be serving in his 16th legislative session this year, said his focus is on higher education and making sure Dixie State College continues the transition from college to university.
Stanard, who is a newly elected legislator, said his priority is to “keep and protect the strong business climate that we have in this state.”
Snow, who will be serving in his second session, said his interest lies in the fiscal issues the state faces. Sales tax revenue is expected to be flatter than before due to a lack of consumer confidence caused by worries over the fiscal cliff, he said. Projecting state revenues will be tricky too, because no one knows what federally-funded programs the state utilizes may be cut as Congress deals with the looming debt crisis.
“We don’t know what revenues are going to look like,” he said.
Last, who is about to enter his 11th legislative session, shares Urquhart’s focus on education and praised the senator for his work at the state level. “He’s trying to make a real difference,” Last said.
Funding for public education will be an issue this year due to potentially lower revenues, Last said. As well, communication between the legislature and public education officials needs to improve.
Ipson, who has served in the legislature since 2009, also placed emphasis on education and its role in Utah’s future.
As the forum opened for questions, education quickly became the dominant topic of the hour.
Urquhart was asked: If there is such a demand for individuals trained in technological fields, then why isn’t there more tech-geared training available in area schools?
“We’re increasing the availability technology in our classes,” Urquhart said. However, the move towards a more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics)-focused curriculum in the public schools isn’t being pushed much because officials in public education don’t see a need to change the “status quo.”
Urquhart said the legislature is trying to get more colleges to raise their student enrollment requirements as well in order to motivate high school students to be more motivated in their studies. Southern Utah University has done just that, he said, and it has done wonders for the incoming students.
Still, training students in technology can only go so far if the students can’t understand basic mathematics. During his speech at the economic summit, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said 65 percent of college freshmen in the state had to take remedial math courses before moving on to classes that actually count for credit.
“We’re really failing these kids,” Urquhart said. If they can’t do the math, then putting more technology-based courses in the public schools is a wasted effort, he said.
Last added that higher education has the same problem as public education, namely that some officials don’t see the need to push STEM-based degrees. “They’re not necessarily focused on the job market out there,” he said.
Utah’s applied technology colleges also need to be promoted more, he said.
Charter schools also became a topic of discussion as questions of funding and school choice were raised.
“Choice in education is a good thing,” Urquhart said. He also said charter schools don’t take money away from public schools as public school advocates suggest.
Concerning school choice, Stanard also chimed in: “Parents need to have the power to choose (in education),” he said.
Snow said the legislature will look at the charter schools as they are evaluated and see what works and doesn’t. If there are programs in those schools that are having success, then perhaps they could be adopted by the public schools as well.
“We all want what’s best,” Snow said, but reiterated the need for better communication between the legislature and public school officials.
A question on illegal immigration was asked, and focused on whether or not the legislators would support making E-Verify (an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine U.S. work eligibility of employees) a statewide requirement for businesses.
“This is something I feel strongly about,” Snow said, adding he would support the measure.
“I’m confident we’ll have statewide E-Verify by the end of the session,” Urquhart said.
On the matter of gun control, particularly related to a series of executive orders passed by President Barak Obama Wednesday morning, it was asked if any of the legislators would support a state-level resolution reaffirming Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
Stanard said he has been flooded with communications from contingents regarding the matter within the last five days alone. “People are asking us to do this,” he said. “… I do support the state passing (a resolution).”
Urquhart also said he would support such a resolution.