Legislative Updates - 18 February 2019

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ third weekly legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

At this time (three weeks into the session), there are about 590 numbered bills for this session. Read on for coverage of some bills that we consider to be noteworthy.

Education bills

This week, some bills relating to education and schools in Utah have caught our attention. In our judgment of, and positions on, these bills, the following principles and ideas have guided our thinking:

  • The traditional family is the fundamental unit of society for the support, teaching, and nurturing of minors. Parents are primarily responsible for, and should have control over, the education of their children.
  • Government should avoid unwarranted interference in the functioning of families and with the prerogatives of parents—including directing the education of their children.
  • Government should also avoid excessive taxation for all manner of education and other spending. While some spending on education is extremely valuable, government is often an inferior, and more corrupt, entity (in comparison with parents, students, and other private parties) for making such spending decisions—in no small part because of the force (compulsion) that is involved in implementing most government programs.
  • Local community control of education is usually better than control by a distant State Board of Education. And, as funding and control often go hand-in-hand, we think it is unhealthy when more and more grants to local education agencies (LEAs) come from state tax dollars rather than from local tax dollars; and when LEAs become, effectively, welfare recipients of state or federal tax dollars.
  • So far, civilization has survived in Utah without various proposed programs. We doubt if any of these proposals are necessary for Utah, even if there might be some benefits to some individuals. (Of course, with “the law of unintended consequences” at work, as it so often is in government matters, we suspect that the costs of each of these programs would far outweigh the benefits.)

Now, before getting into the details of some education-related bills that have caught our attention, we would first like to mention an interesting entity known as the Talent Ready Utah Board. According to Utah Code Section 63N-12-513, its 13 members are to include, from the government sector:

  • the state superintendent of public instruction or the superintendent's designee;
  • the commissioner of higher education or the commissioner of higher education's designee;
  • the commissioner of technical education or the commissioner of technical education's designee;
  • the executive director of the Department of Workforce Services or the executive director of the department's designee;
  • the executive director of GOED or the executive director's designee;
  • the governor's education advisor or the advisor's designee;
  • one member of the Senate, appointed by the president of the Senate; and
  • one member of the House of Representatives, appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Also, interestingly, the board is to have the following 5 members from the private sector:

  • the president of the Salt Lake Chamber or the president's designee;
  • three representatives of private industry chosen by the talent ready board; and
  • a representative of the technology industry chosen by the talent ready board.

This hodge-podge of bureaucratic and private interests is charged with various economic and education-related recommendations and planning including “further education and industry alignment in the state” (Utah Code Section 63N-12-502). As with so many “public-private partnerships”, it seems as if crony capitalism is literally written into the statute.

With that introduction, we would like to mention 2 bills (HB227 and HB260) that illustrate (among other things) the potential growing influence of the hodge-podge Talent Ready Utah Board.

HB227Substitute, “Utah Computer Science Grant Act”, sponsored by Representative Knotwell, would:

  • require the Talent Ready Utah Board to create a computer science education master plan;
  • create the Computer Science for Utah Grant Program;
  • describe the requirements for the State Board of Education and the Talent Ready Utah Board to administer the grant program;
  • describe the requirements for a local education agency (LEA) to apply for the grant program;
  • describe reporting requirements of an LEA that receives money from the grant program; and
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2020: to the State Board of Education -- Related to Basic School Program – Computer Science for Utah Grant Program, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $7,150,000.

HB227Substitute awaits consideration by House Education Committee, and it is currently scheduled as Item 3 on the agenda of the 2pm, February 19th meeting of that committee (at 30 House Building).

We are concerned about corruption and distortion of local priorities with grant money “from above”. We would prefer a $7 million tax cut over this appropriation. And if the perceived benefits of various proposed expenditures are so compelling, the decision to tax and spend is probably better left with the LEA, with its accountability to local citizens. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB227Substitute.

HB260Substitute, “Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program”, sponsored by Representative Owens, would:

  • create the Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program;
  • enact provisions related to promise scholarships;
  • enact provisions related to promise partner awards, including provisions related to: a) eligibility, including requirements for employers who intend to participate as promise partners; and b) administration of the program; and
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2020: to the State Board of Regents - Student Assistance - Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program, as a one-time appropriation: from the Education Fund, One-time, $30,000,000.

Under this bill, up to 20% of legislative appropriations for the Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program could go to “promise partner awards”, which appear to be scholarships for employees of selected “promise partners”, which “promise partners” are to be selected in consultation with the Talent Ready Utah Center.

The bill’s fiscal note also points out that “This legislation also phases out several scholarship programs. As they are phased out, those funds will be made available for the Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program.” So it is apparent that funds that formerly went to pre-existing scholarship programs will go to this new Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program.

HB260Substitute passed House Education Committee 9-0 on February 11th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

We imagine this program and this $30 million might benefit some students and some employers who are selected as “promise partners”. We are not prepared to comment at length about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of pre-existing scholarship programs versus this new proposal. But we would prefer an additional $30 million of tax cuts instead of this appropriation. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB260Substitute.

And some more education bills catching our attention:

SB115Substitute, “High-need School Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Riebe and Representative Poulson, would:

  • require the State Board of Education to: a) solicit proposals from local education agencies (LEAs); b) award grants; and c) make administrative rules;
  • require an LEA that receives a grant to: a) use the funding to employ an additional first year educator in a high-need school; b) provide matching funds; and c) report to the State Board of Education; and
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2020: to the State Board of Education - Related to Basic School Programs - Grants for Educators for High-need Schools as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $500,000.

SB115Substitute passed the Senate Education Committee 6-0 on February 5th, and awaits consideration on the Senate’s 2nd reading calendar.

The funds appropriated under this bill may benefit some LEAs or their students, but the money “coming from above” is also likely to corrupt or distort LEA priorities. We would prefer an additional $500K tax cut rather than this program. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB115Substitute.

SB136, “Scholarships for Career and Technical Education”, sponsored by Senator Grover, would:

  • create a scholarship for individuals to enroll in career and technical education programs at certain institutions of higher education;
  • enact provisions related to a scholarship, including provisions related to: a) eligibility for a scholarship; b) the amount of a scholarship; and c) the duration of a scholarship, including the circumstances under which an institution of higher education may cancel a scholarship;
  • requires the State Board of Regents to: a) make rules; and b) designate certain programs as high demand programs; and
  • appropriate: to the State Board of Regents - Student Assistance - Career and Technical Education Scholarships, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $300,000.

SB136 passed Senate Education Committee 5-0 on February 7th, and awaits consideration on the Senate’s 2nd reading calendar.

We would prefer an additional $300K tax cut instead of this appropriation for student scholarships. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB136.

SB149, “Teacher and Student Success Act”, sponsored by Senator Millner, would:

  • create the Teacher and Student Success Program (program);
  • provide for the State Board of Education to distribute funds from the Teacher and Student Success Account to the boards of local education agencies (LEAs) for the purposes of the program;
  • require the board of an LEA to create guidelines for the creation of school outcome-based program plans;
  • provide for the board of an LEA to use and distribute program money;
  • require a school to make an outcome-based program plan for the use of program money; and
  • provide for oversight of school efforts to improve outcomes according to the school's program plan.

SB149 makes no explicit appropriations, but the bill’s fiscal note indicates that, in Fiscal Year 2021 (FY2021), the bill would likely bring about an additional $65 million of expenditures, subject to future legislative appropriations.

SB149 passed the Senate Education Committee 6-0 on February 13th, and awaits consideration on the Senate’s 2nd reading calendar.

Again, we are concerned that this grant money “coming from above” is likely to corrupt and distort LEA priorities. We would prefer a $65 million tax cut for FY2021, rather than taxing and spending for the proposed ongoing Teacher and Student Success Program. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB149.

Updated status on bills mentioned in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB87, “Safe Storage of Firearms Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Weight, would make it a criminal (class B misdemeanor) offense to store a firearm in a place that the firearm owner knows or has reason to believe a minor or person legally restricted from possessing a firearm has access. Additional coverage may be found in our update of February 4th.

HB87 has now been assigned to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, and it is currently scheduled as Item 2 on the agenda of the 8am, February 20th meeting of that committee (at 450 State Capitol).

This appears to be another proposal to make criminals of people who have no criminal intent. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB87.

HB114, “Self-defense Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Maloy and Senator Hinkins, was amended, but would still provide that an individual is not required to retreat from an aggressor; and would still provide that an individual's failure to retreat is not relevant when determining whether the individual acted reasonably. Additional coverage may be found in our update of February 4th.

HB114 passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee 7-3 on February 12th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB114.

HB190, “Liability of Firearm Custodian”, sponsored by Representative Stoddard, would make a “firearm custodian” (meaning “a person who owns or knowingly possesses a firearm”) “strictly liable for personal injury or property damage proximately caused by the discharge of the firearm custodian's firearm if the discharge results from conduct that constitutes a felony, regardless of whether the individual who engages in the conduct is charged with a felony.” Additional coverage may be found in our update of February 4th.

HB190 has now been assigned to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, and it is currently scheduled as Item 4 on the agenda of the 8am, February 20th meeting of that committee (at 450 State Capitol).

GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB190.

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.

Sincerely,

Steve Stromness
Vice-Chairman, Bill Review Coordinator, Utah GrassRoots
steven.stromness@gmail.com
435-637-5248

Don Guymon
Chairman, Utah GrassRoots
donguymon@gmail.com
801-574-9461

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