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Legislative Updates - 22 February 2016
This is GrassRoots’ fifth weekly legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.
At this time (five weeks into the session), there are about 770 numbered bills for this session. Here are some bills that we consider to be noteworthy.
Proposals to Expand Medicaid in Utah
We have identified at least three bills this year (HB302, HB411, and SB77) proposing to expand Medicaid in Utah, and to do so with lots of federal funds. Starting with fiscal year 2017, the proposed spending increases in these bills range from $1.4 million/year to $1.3 billion/year depending on the bill, the year, and how many individuals apply for Medicaid. Federal funding is envisioned to cover 91-100% of the costs of these proposed expansions.
It is understandable that some might want to take advantage of federal funds that are there “for the taking” if only we make the necessary applications. The amount of money that might be brought to our state appears to be substantial. Still, is it wise to apply for and accept these federal funds?
What is the effect on Utah’s sovereignty when Utah accepts funds from the national government? Former US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson expressed the opinion that “[N]o State or local government can accept funds from the Federal and remain independent in performing its functions, nor can the citizens exercise their rights of self-government under such conditions” (speech entitled “The Proper Role of Government”). Was Mr. Benson correct? It seems the evidence clearly indicates that he was correct; in case after case, it seems that state governments are succumbing to the temptation to spend tax-dollars inappropriately because of the lure of federal funding—even with the strings that are attached to the “free money.”
Other questions should also enter into the Medicaid expansion debate.
What is the proper role of government? This is a moral question—and a very important one, given that government wields force in ways that few other institutions do, and given that improper use of force can and does damage people’s lives, liberty, and property.
A traditional American view is that government is properly an agent of the people, ordained by the people. This view is enshrined in the Preamble to The Constitution of the United States: “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” If We the People ordain the government, it would seem that we can only give government authority that we ourselves have . . . and that moral authority is limited—especially when it comes to the use of force.
This view, that the government’s authority to use force is limited, is dominant in the US Constitution, as reflected in the powers of Congress that are enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of that document. James Madison wrote: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined” (Federalist No. 45, Paragraph 9). Alexander Hamilton further wrote:
“The plan of the convention declares that the power of congress or in other words of the national legislature, shall extend to certain enumerated cases. This specification of particulars evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority; because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd as well as useless, if a general authority was intended” (Federalist No. 83, Paragraph 7).
Provision of health care is not enumerated in Article I, Section 8, and appears to be a usurped power. We should be nervous about encouraging such exercise of usurped power—an exercise that greatly contributes to heavy taxes, and to a heavy burden of debt.
Is provision of health care a proper role of state government? This question may not be answered quite as clearly by our state constitution, though some might say that use of tax-dollars for redistribution to health-care consumers is contrary to our Declaration of Rights: “Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation” (Utah State Constitution, Article I, Section 22).
And, maybe the most fundamental question: Do the same moral standards that apply to us as individuals also apply to our government?
Should we help those in need of health care? Most would probably agree that the answer is “Yes.” But by what means? By force? Would it be right for Don or Steve [or insert your own name] to forcibly take money from a neighbor and use it to pay another’s health care bill. We would not condone such a use of force—and we would therefore consider it wrong to instruct our agent (the government) to do this for us.
We may not always agree on the answers to questions of morality in our various debates. Nevertheless, “charity” by force does not feel right to us—and seems not to be a legitimate subject for delegation to our agents, our state and national governments. We would encourage each fellow-citizen to consider what is and is not rightful use of force for him or her as an individual. Your judgment may or may not agree with ours. But we hope most people would agree that the same moral standards that apply to us as individuals, should also be applied to our agents in the various levels and departments of government.
Now, here are some bills proposing to expand Medicaid in Utah. GrassRoots opposes all of these bills.
SB77, “Medicaid Expansion Proposal”, sponsored by Senator Davis, would:
According to the fiscal note, it is envisioned that Medicaid expenditures would increase by $449 million by fiscal year 2018, and that federal funds would pay about 97% of those increased expenditures.
SB77 passed the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee 5-1 on Feb 23rd, and awaits consideration by the full Senate on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.
GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB77.
HB302, “Utah Medicaid Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Ward, would:
According to the fiscal note, it is envisioned that Medicaid expenditures would increase by $461 million by fiscal year 2018, and that federal funds would pay about 93% of those increased expenditures.
HB302 awaits action by the House Rules Committee.
GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB302.
HB411, “Utah Medicaid Reform Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Spendlove, would also expand Medicaid in Utah, but in a smaller way than SB77 or HB302 (at least as the bills are currently drafted). According to the fiscal note, it is envisioned that Medicaid expenditures would increase by $254 million by fiscal year 2018, and that federal funds would pay about 98% of those increased expenditures.
HB411 awaits action by the House Rules Committee.
GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB411.
These three bills just mentioned appear to be the largest, most explicit attempts at Medicaid expansion, but a couple more bills may merit mention:
HJR19, “Joint Resolution for Medicaid Expansion Opinion Question”, sponsored by Representative Chavez-Houck, would direct the lieutenant governor:
HJR19 awaits action by the House Rules Committee.
We agree that it is a good idea for legislators and other government officials to listen to their constituents, and seek after their opinions on various topics. At the same time, we are skeptical of the benefit of putting an opinion question on the ballot that effectively asks if we should tax or borrow more money from some parties for redistribution to other parties; and we are skeptical whether the taxing and borrowing is done by the state government, or the national government, or both.
GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HJR19.
HB437Substitute, “Health Care Revisions”, sponsored by Representative Dunnigan, appears to be another Medicaid expansion proposal. The performance note for HB437Substitute indicates that “By FY 17, it is expected that 16,000 adults would be enrolled. . . .” While the bill contains an appropriation to the Medicaid Expansion Fund, a fiscal note for the bill is not yet available, and we do not have a detailed sense of the bill’s fiscal impact.
HB437Substitute awaits consideration by the House Business and Labor Committee.
There are various provisions of HB437Substitute that we have not sufficiently studied and understood to take a position on the bill. However, for reasons discussed earlier, GrassRoots opposes Medicaid expansion, and therefore opposes any provisions in HB437Substitute that would expand Medicaid.
Updated status on bills mentioned in earlier GrassRoots updates
HB67, “Weapons on Public Transportation”, sponsored by Representative Thurston and Senator Christensen, would eliminate a (felony) prohibition of carrying a firearm on a bus, by deleting current language in Utah Code that “A person who boards a bus with a concealed dangerous weapon or firearm upon his person or effects is guilty of a third degree felony.”
HB67 passed the Senate 24-2 on February 22nd, and awaits action by Governor Herbert.
HB67 is a welcome step in the direction of undoing an affront to the right of the people to keep and bear arms. GrassRoots still favors enactment of HB67, and a signature of HB67 by the Governor.
SB59Substitute, “Antidiscrimination and Workplace Accommodations Revisions”, sponsored by Senator Weiler and Representative Rebecca Edwards, replaced SB59. SB59Substitute would modify the Utah Antidiscrimination Act by providing for “reasonable” accommodations for an employee for the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related conditions unless it creates an “undue hardship” for the employer.
SB59Substitute passed the House 59-15 on February 25th, and awaits consideration by the Senate. (The Senate passed the original SB59, not SB59Substitute. No form of SB59 can become law until both House and Senate have passed identical versions of the bill.)
With proposals like this, we should ask ourselves: “Do I believe that I, or my neighbor across the street, has moral authority (authority in the eyes of God) to employ force in this manner? Would this be a moral use of force by an individual?” If not, then neither is it a moral use of force by the people’s agent, the government.
As with SB59, GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB59Substitute.
SB100, “Traffic Fines Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Hillyard and Representative Anderegg, would:
SB100 passed the Senate 23-4 on February 24th, and awaits action by the House Rules Committee.
When more than 25% of a local government’s revenues come from traffic fines, we might suspect that law enforcement priorities have become corrupted. We believe it is likely that this bill will help remove at least some corruption from current law enforcement priorities in certain localities. (Having said this, a lower figure than the 25% specified by SB100 may be more appropriate.)
GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on SB100.
SB107, "Hate Crimes Amendments", sponsored by Senator Urquhart, would:
SB107 passed the Senate 2nd reading 17-12 on February 26th, and awaits consideration on the Senate 3rd reading calendar.
It is a proper role of government to punish crimes such as assault, battery, theft, and murder. Part of due process preliminary to punishing such crimes, should be the establishment of criminal intent to hurt, intimidate, and/or terrorize another person. However, any attempt to punish someone for his belief—even an incorrect belief about some ethnic or religious group or those of a given sexual orientation—is inappropriate, and brings people of different beliefs onto unequal grounds before the law.
GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB107.
If you have any questions about these bills, GrassRoots’ position on these bills, or related matters, please contact either of us or any other member of the Board of Utah GrassRoots.
PS Do you want to contact a legislator? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “Legislators”.
Do you want to read and follow legislation yourself? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “2016 General Session Page” then click on “2016 Bills”.
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