ST. GEORGE — Local legislators met with constituents over breakfast to take questions on pending issues in the upcoming legislative session starting later this month.
Hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, the “Issues Over Eggs” breakfast allowed members of the chamber and the public insights into the issues elected officials feel will be primary during the session.
Legislators in attendance were Reps. Don. Ipson, R-St. George; Brad Last, R-Hurricane; V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, and Jon Stanard, R-St. George. Among the main issues discussed were medicaid expansion, medical marijuana and the ongoing issue of funding education.
Medicaid expansion is “probably the biggest issue looming this year,” Snow said.
“We’ve not been able to find a solution, a resolution on how that can be handled,” he said. “… You’re going to see that debated.”
The matter was discussed heavily during the 2015 legislative session, yet no bills were passed regarding the matter.
Currently, it is estimated that anywhere between 50,000-60,000 Utahns at or below 138 percent of the poverty line are caught stuck in a coverage gap created by the Affordable Care Act and the state’s Medicaid limitations.
“We need to provide the care to those people that are the most vulnerable,” Ipson said, yet also noted it was a matter of funding and how much of that funding Utah may ultimately be left with.
“You’ve got to have a way to pay for this thing,” Last said.
Lawmakers who opposed Medicaid legislation last year are still in the Legislature this year, Stanard said. He also said that, depending on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, issues surrounding the ACA and Medicaid expansion could change a great deal.
The legislators said they weren’t exactly sure which way they would go with proposed bills dealing with making medical marijuana legal in Utah. However, they expressed worry making the medicinal aspects legal could potentially lead to legal recreational use.
Currently two bills are proposed. One is from Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, while the other is proposed by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs. A difference between the two bills is that Madsen’s bill allows THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, to be used in medical cannabis and related products.
There are groups of people who push for medical cannabis with the ultimate goal of getting society comfortable with the idea of medical cannabis so they can ultimately push for recreational use, Last said.
“I have grave concern where it leads,” Stanard said. “It has plenty of negative side effects,” he said, speaking of marijuana in general.
Nobody likes to see people suffer, Ipson said and, “I think we need to do everything to make that process available.”
“I think education is always on the forefront,” Snow said. “That’s both with respect to legislation and funding.”
One of the challenges is making sure funding keeps up with population growth, Snow said; adding, “our funding is not keeping up with the need,” he said.
With the funds the state extends to education, Ipson said, Utah schools do an incredible job.
Last year the Legislature approved $500 million in new spending for public education, Ipson said.
The 2016 session of the Utah Legislature begins Jan. 25 and concludes March 10.
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