Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Murray council denies request for more Utopia funds. Pamela Manson. The Salt Lake Tribune.

Murray • City Council members on Tuesday rejected a request to appropriate $168,800 in additional funding for the financially troubled UTOPIA fiber-optic network.
The money would have been used for operating expenses for UTOPIA (the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency), a consortium of 11 municipalities that is building the high-speed network.
The 4 to 1 vote followed a public hearing in which a dozen speakers opposed giving UTOPIA any more money. Councilman Darren Stam voted to appropriate the money, saying providing the funding would be less expensive in the long run than other options, which include pulling the plug entirely and allowing the project to “go dark.”
Opponents at the meeting said enough is enough. Pam Squires described UTOPIA as a “money pit” from the start, whileMike Adams said the agency’s business models aren’t working.
Keith Bateman said the project was ill-conceived.
“UTOPIA will never succeed,” he said. “Murray City needs to get out of it any way it can.”
Murray is among the 11 member cities that joined UTOPIA a decade ago; the group committed to $185 million in bond debt that stretches through 2040. The economic downturn, coupled with missteps, led Murray and seven other member cities to form the Utah Infrastructure Agency (UIA) in 2010 to approve an additional $60 million in bonds to rescue the floundering project.
Murray has already paid out $3.6 million for its share and remains on the hook for $58.6 million. The city’s fiber-optic lines are 64 percent built out, and about 22 percent of residents and 10 percent of businesses who could attach to the lines have done so. Only about 10,000 subscribers among all member cities have connected to the network, which has had nine consecutive years of operating losses.
UTOPIA has drawn criticism from Utah lawmakers, who are considering a bill that would make it impossible for the network to use money from the future sale of bonds to fund its day-to-day operations. SB172 would prohibit cities and counties from selling bonds after May 14 to build projects and then use any of that money to operate them more than one year after the debt was issued.
Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

2013 Utah Senate E-mails,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Monday, February 18, 2013

SB66 Measure would in some cases more than double signature requirements for local referendum.

It would be significantly harder for citizens to repeal a policy or land-use decision passed by a local government under a proposal unanimously endorsed by a Senate committee Friday.
In some instances, under SB66., sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, backers of a referendum could be required to gather two to three times as many signatures as they now do to succeed in putting a local referendum on the ballot.
Currently, residents in the largest cities or counties in Utah would have to gather signatures from 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the previous presidential election to put a repeal measure on the local ballot.
Under SB66, that would rise to 20 percent in Salt Lake County and up to 30 percent for those who live in any other county.
Repealing land-use decisions would stay the same in urban counties and the threshold for signatures would go from 35 percent in the rural counties down to 30 percent.
"It spreads it around to make sure, if there is a referendum, that the people throughout the community have a voice in the referendum," Reid told the committee.
The bill also would require backers of a referendum to hold a public hearing and have an objective analysis of the cost of repealing the local ordinance or decision.
"The point is not to deprive people of the referendum process, it’s just to make sure it’s an informed vote," said Jodi Hoffman with the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
Hoffman said the Utah Supreme Court has recently been ruling that local land use and budget decisions can be challenged by a referendum, which has created challenges for local governments.
Carter Livingston, a vice president with Strategies 360 who has done work on initiative efforts, said in an interview that the bill looks like a "worthy effort" to provide transparency and clear up the signature requirements, although the new threshold appears to be challenging.
"The local referendum [requirements] look almost like a Rubik’s Cube on paper," he said. "If you’re going to put these provisions in that ensure transparency and fiscal impact, the balance also has to be a reasonable way for the public to go get the signatures and get it on the ballot and let voters decide."
Mike Ostermiller, representing the Property Rights Coalition, the biggest developers and property owners in the state, support the change and argued the bill doesn’t deprive citizens the right to the referendum process.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Senate helps out specialty license plates backers. SB48

The Senate voted Tuesday to give groups with lagging specialized license plate requests more time to reach the required 500 orders to keep them as viable offerings.
Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, said some groups are splintered throughout the state and have difficulty rallying to achieve big orders. He said  SB48  would afford the groups — like the Rotary Club — a chance "to give it another shot" and get more plates issued.
It passed 26-2.
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, who voted against the measure, said about half of the 32 specialty license plate groups have fewer than 500 requests and some haven’t even reached 10 requests. He said "some will probably never meet" the 500 threshold required to keep the state issuing them.
Plates offered by the state range from those commemorating snowmobile riders to ones illuminating causes like the fight against cancer or honoring military personnel. They typically have a $10 fee attached to ordering them and require an annual contribution to the group or cause.
Under the law, groups must show three consecutive years of reaching the 500-plate mark. The Knudson proposal would grandfather in groups that put in for specialty license plate requests prior to Jan. 1, 2012.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SB65 Move to require better disclosures advances. Lee Davidson. Salt Lake Tribune.

The 2012 campaign found PACs and PICs launching attacks against incumbents and they didn't
need to file financial disclosures until after the elections.  SB65 will make it possible to determine
sponsors of political campaigns prior to voting in the convention and elections.
"A move to head off "political ambushes" through more frequent political disclosures took a first step on Tuesday.

SB65 was passed unanimously by the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee, and now goes to the full Senate.
Its sponsor, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said it would require candidates, former candidates with active political accounts, political action committees, political interest committees and others to file annual mid-year and end-of-year disclosures, as well as seven days before elections or conventions.
He notes that under current law, some groups do not need to disclose their expenditures until after elections.
"So we saw ambushes [with attack ads] occurring from time to time and no one knew who it was because there was no requirement to file" until after elections for PACs, PICs and former candidates, Valentine told the committee. "SB65 is an effort to bring everybody onto the same schedule."
Mark Thomas, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, supported the bill — but suggested that it be amended at some point to require corporations also to file their disclosure reports on the same schedule."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Utah's wireless service tax among highest in U.S. Ben Lockhart. Deseret News.

The taxes Utahns pay for the right to use a cell phone are among the highest in the country, according to a study published by the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Utah reported the 13th highest combined cell phone tax rate in the United States at 18.49 percent and was singled out in the study for levying obscure taxes to raise revenue without encountering opposition.
"Utah uses what they call a wireless 'fee' to fund its poison control centers, but the levy is really a tax because the government service benefits the general public regardless of cell phone ownership or usage," the report said.
Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said he's disappointed that there isn’t a stronger connection between the source of revenue and Utah's poison control service. 
"This is a great example of legislators being very creative at avoiding accountability. It should be clear who is paying the tax and what use it's going for," Van Tassell said. "I hope the state Legislature will decide to give [the report's findings] a serious look."  
Scott Drenkard, an economist with Tax Foundation, said state and local agencies frequently double-tax cell phone bills.
"One of the reasons that there are such high rates is that various entities are allowed to overlap," he said.  
According to Drenkard, most American phone bills include at least a local utility tax, wireless tax, local 911 tax, state 911 tax, Universal Service Fund tax and a telecommunications relay services tax. 
Tax Foundation, a non-partisan group, found that most state and local governments conceal the tax within the overall price of the monthly charge, making it nearly impossible for the average consumer to notice. 
The number of American cell phone subscribers has more than quintupled since 1997. The Tax Foundation said the relative newness of the industry has resulted in consumers who are more naive about the charges on their wireless bill than they would be about most other services.
"If people aren't paying attention and it's growing fairly rapidly, it's an effective, stealthy way to extract revenue," Drenkard said. "It wasn't surprising to find these results, but it's certainly concerning. … These charges need to be made more publicly available."
Nebraska reported the highest combined cell phone tax in the United States at 24.5 percent. Oregon collected 7.67 percent, the lowest total. In all, seven states charge combined rates above 20 percent.   

Thursday, February 7, 2013

SB137 Bill seeks to chill cities' 'abusive' enforcement of motor vehicle registration laws. Deseret News.

 The good news is no one cuts Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank any slack in the city's strict enforcement of motor vehicle registration laws.
Last year, Burbank received four citations from the Salt Lake City Public Services Compliance Department, which is not under the police department. Burbank received one citation because a decal on his license plate was faded. 
The bad news, state lawmakers said, is the chief's experiences are indicative of enforcement practices Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, says are "harassing and abusive." 
SB137, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, would prohibit a local government from enacting ordinances or leveling fines that conflict or are more stringent than state motor vehicle registration requirements.
"I hope this bill sends the message this won't be tolerated," Thatcher said.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously Thursday. Weiler said if he does not observe a course correction on the part of municipalities, he may return in the 2014 legislative session with amendments to allow people who are harassed in this manner to seek civil damages.
"The Legislature is taking this very seriously," Weiler said.

Proposal to end daylight saving time in Utah stalls in Senate committee. SB157. Rachel Lowry. Deseret News.


SALT LAKE CITY — Daylight saving time won't be going away anytime soon.
The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee adjourned Wednesday without taking any action on a proposal to do away with the winding of clocks twice a year.
"Shifting the clocks doesn't make a lot of sense," said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsor of SB157. "It hurts productivity."
Urquhart said the need for the bill stems from an incident in which the granddaughter of one of his constituents died in a car accident.
"If she hadn't gone to school in the dark, that would never have happened," he said.
Similar bills have been brought before lawmakers in recent years. A bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Nielsen, R-Bountiful, last year also failed to advance from committee. Efforts to end daylight saving time also failed in 2011 and 2010.
"We've faced this before as a body, and I never would have at that time supported it," Urquhart said. "But states need predictability."
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, noted that many of his constituents — farmers and ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts and car dealers — have requested that daylight saving time remain.
— Rachel Lowry

Rachel Lowry. Deseret News.
"I lack the motivation to do anything about it," said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.  "It doesn't come home and bite me enough to change it."
The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee voted to adjourn its meeting, shortly after hearing from the bill sponsor, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George.
"We did not have a single vote (to end the practice) on the committee," said the chairman, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.  
Urquhart noted the committee did not vote on his measure, so technically it could see the light of day later in the session.  More likely, perhaps, is time for its consideration has come and gone.

House votes to take away cities' ability to ban fireworks. HB289. Rachel Lowry, Deseret News.


 73 members of the Utah House voted Wednesday to take away the ability of counties, cities and towns to ban fireworks.  K Powell voted No, and M. Brown didn't vote.   HB289 Final House vote
Under HB289, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, municipalities would still be able to prohibit the discharge of fireworks in specified areas if the local fire officials determine that hazardous environmental conditions exist, but they wouldn't be allowed ban state-approved fireworks.
"Many appreciate the fact that local government and towns have the authority to ban legal fireworks in mountainous and brush-covered areas," Dunnigan said. "But we have some people in flat areas of Utah that maybe aren't brush-covered, and perhaps towns should not have the ability to ban in those areas."
The bill passed the House by a 73-1 vote now advances to the Senate.
Dunnigan said more and more municipalities are choosing not to allow fireworks.
"They said they do it because the law states that fireworks may be discharged but doesn't say they have to allow it," he said. "We are simply changing it from 'may' to 'shall.' We shall discharge fireworks on holidays."
The bill would not change the dates or hours of firework availability or the types of fireworks allowed to be discharged, Dunnigan said.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

11-year-old brings "In God We Trust" license plate to Utah. Oct. 23, 2012.

PROVO (ABC 4 News) - America’s Freedom Festival at Provo is partnering with State Senator Todd Weiler and State Representative Val Peterson to sponsor the first license plate in Utah with the national motto of the United States—“In God We Trust”.

The idea for the new plate comes from Tate Christensen, an 11-year-old license plate collector from Salt Lake City, and the nephew of Mike Mower, Governor Gary Herbert’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Mower contacted America’s Freedom Festival about spearheading the project, and the Board of Directors was extremely enthusiastic about the idea.

“From Iowa to Virginia to Florida, drivers in many states can purchase license plates with the inspiring mottos ‘God Bless America’ or ‘In God We Trust’,” said Paul Warner, Executive Director of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo. “Shouldn’t Utah have something similar?”

State law requires that 500 Utahns pre-order a new license plate before it becomes available to the public. Citizens should visit HERE to find out how they can pre-order the “In God We Trust” plate.

“We need at least 500 people to pre-order before the plate becomes available statewide,” said Warner. “We believe there is definitely a demand in Utah for the plate. We’re counting on enough citizens to visit our website and get involved.”

Christensen and his father have long collected license plates. Christensen has won an award for his collection of Utah motorcycle plates, and even shows his license plates at national meets. A few years ago Christensen asked his uncle, Mower, why Utah doesn't have an “In God We Trust” license plate. 

“After Tate showed me an Indiana plate with ‘In God We Trust’ and an Alabama plate with ‘God Bless America’, I knew he was on to something,” said Mower. “In Indiana, it’s one of the state’s most popular license plates.”

Mower later spoke with Evan Curtis in the Governor's Office of Planning & Budget, and on his own time Curtis designed the “In God We Trust” sticker for the new license plate. 

“We feel that our national motto, ‘In God We Trust’, is an extremely important message,” said Mower. “It’s definitely one worth sharing and promoting on a license plate by those who voluntarily choose to do so.”

When Mower shared the idea with Representative Val Peterson of Orem, he was excited to lend his support by sponsoring legislation to create the plate. Senator Todd Weiler of Davis County agreed to be the Senate sponsor of the bill.

“Utah should be a leader in supporting our faith and our country,” said Representative Peterson. “The passage of this bill will allow people to make a statement about the principles upon which this country was founded. I am excited to lend my support to this proposal.”

“Our nation's motto, ‘In God We Trust’, was first placed on U.S. coins during the Civil War in 1864,” said Senator Weiler. “It has been on our currency since 1957. I think it is very fitting that Utah join with many other states in allowing people to voluntarily select vehicle license plates that share this profoundly significant message.”

ABC4 news

Utah panel sets table for 'In God We Trust' license plates. Salt Lake Tribune.

 Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo Paul Warner, executive director of America's Freedom Festival at Provo, shows off a representation of a new license plate they hope to get the state to produce with the words "In God We Trust."
Since the motto, “In God We Trust,” is good enough for U.S. currency, a legislative committee figured Wednesday it is good enough to appear on new specialty Utah vehicle license plates, too.

But that came after an unexpected fight — not over whether that may violate the separation of church and state, but over whether money raised from $25-a-year fees for the plates should go as currently proposed to America’s Freedom Festival in Provo, or be split with other communities’ celebrations, too.
But in the end, the Transportation Interim Committee had only one vote in opposition to the bill sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem — which would allow the “In God We Trust” plates to join 53 other fund-raiser plates offered in Utah for groups ranging from colleges to firefighters to Boy Scouts.
The idea for the plates comes from 11-year-old Tate Christensen of Salt Lake City. He has collected license plates from all 50 states, and did research showing that 12 other states offer specialty plates with the “In God We Trust” motto — but not Utah.
“America started printing the slogan, ‘In God We Trust,’ on its coins back in 1860. It was a statement that helped people get through the Civil War and has been part of America ever since,” Christensen told the committee.
“I would love to see these plates out on the road,” he said. “I would also love to add a Utah ‘In God We Trust’ license plate to my collection — if I can just get my parents to give me one after they put one on the car.”
Christensen asked his uncle, Mike Mower, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, for help seeking the license plate. They worked with lawmakers, and America’s Freedom Festival to sponsor it as a specialty plate. If the bill passes and at least 500 people preorder plates — and agree to pay $25 a year to display them — the plates will become available.
However, that led several lawmakers to question why funds raised by the national motto should go just to the Freedom Festival —the only organization likely to qualify for funds raised under current wording requiring it to go to charities that sponsor at least “20 educational programs and community events” that “celebrate, teach, or honor families, freedom, God and country.”
Sen. Karen Mayne and Rep. Janice Fisher, both D-West Valley, were among lawmakers who argued at length that many other communities offer smaller July Fourth or community events, and urged amending the bill to allow them to qualify for a split of the money. A move to amend failed.
Mayne also said she questioned whether using state license plates to raise money for teaching about families and god is wise. She said state residents have many divergent views about god — and different gods — and different types of families, which may not be well represented in how the money is spent.
“The goal is not to serve as a fund-raiser,” Mower said. “The goal is to get this important message on as many Utah cars as possible.” He said the Freedom Festival was recruited to raise initial funds needed for plates and the required minimum of 500 subscribers. “This is not going to be a huge money-maker,” he said.
Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, said lawmakers did not fight at such length in the past over other organizations using license plates to raise money, and said sarcastically, “Maybe we need to be concerned where money is going because god is involved, I guess.”
Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, cast the lone vote against the bill in the end, saying he does not like the state helping to collect money for charities and worries slogans on license plates seems to give a government endorsement of those messages — which he said is not a proper role of government.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said the plates do not violate the separation of church and state, as is shown by its appearance on U.S. currency. He said court decisions have also held “that this language is not religious in nature, and doesn’t violate any separation of church and state clauses.”

Legislators, license plate collector team to debut 'In God We Trust' license plate. October 23, 2012. Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY — America's Freedom Festival at Provo is partnering with state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and state Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, to sponsor the first license plate in Utah with the U.S. national motto "In God We Trust."

The idea for the new plate comes from Tate Christensen, an 11-year-old license plate collector from Salt Lake City and the nephew of Mike Mower, Gov. Gary Herbert’s deputy chief of staff.

“From Iowa to Virginia to Florida, drivers in many states can purchase license plates with the inspiring mottos ‘God Bless America’ or ‘In God We Trust’,” said Paul Warner, Executive Director of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo. “Shouldn’t Utah have something similar?”

State law requires that 500 Utahns pre-order a new license plate before it becomes available to the public. Information on preordering the plate can be found at .

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Alcohol and tobacco companies poured more than $96,000 into campaigns for Utah state offices in 2012. Mary Mellor. Deseret News

                         Former Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, who champions most of the alcohol legislation on the hill, received $750 from Anheuser-Busch and $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association.

Alcohol and tobacco companies poured more than $96,000 into campaigns for state offices in 2012, according to an analysis of the disclosures on file.
The contributors included beer manufacturer Anheuser-Busch, the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association, as well as the two largest tobacco manufactures in the country, Altria Client Services Inc., formerly Phillip Morris, and Reynolds American Inc.
In 2012, those alcohol companies gave a combined $37,850 to Utah candidates and political action committees, while the tobacco companies gave $58,200.
In addition to Herbert, alcohol and tobacco companies contributed to recently elected Attorney General John Swallow, as well as nearly every member of Utah's House and Senate leadership.
Quin Monson, director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said voters should pay close attention to where campaign contributions from alcohol and tobacco companies are going.
"Who you are willing to take money from does say something about who you are," Monson said. "Ultimately, the public is responsible for allowing legislators to do what they do, but that doesn't absolve legislators from any responsibility. You do face a choice of whom to accept money from and of how to fund your campaign."
Monson said it's not clear how much influence the companies are buying with their contributions, but that they're targeting the right people.
"In the campaign finance world in general, it's extremely difficult to prove what contributions actually get the donor. It's safe to assume, at a minimum, however, they get the donor some level of access," he said. "The way that these are targeted to leaders of the majority party shows they know what they're doing. They know where the power is, and they know who controls what comes up for votes in the Legislature."
Former Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, who champions most of the alcohol legislation on the hill, received $750 from Anheuser-Busch and $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association.
Valentine explained why alcohol lobbyists presumably contributed to his campaign.
"There are a number of stakeholders in the alcohol policy debate, and some of them are the manufacturers," he said. "I try to be even-handed and look at both sides of the issue, and I assume they would rather have someone who will look at both sides, rather than someone who is one-sided."  
A few alcohol- and tobacco-related bills likely will be introduced during the upcoming legislative session, but 2013 is not expected to be a significant year for alcohol- or tobacco-related policy.
Senate Minority Assistant Whip Pat Jones, D-Holladay, who was not up for re-election in 2012, said she purposely tries to avoid accepting donations from such lobby groups.
"I'm not judging anyone else who does, but I feel like for me, because I do champion health issues on the hill, I've made an effort over the years not to accept this money," Jones said, "and most of the PACs and lobbyists know that, so they really don't offer it anymore."
Jones also said she's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counsels people to abstain from using alcohol and tobacco.
"It just doesn't square with some of those things I believe in," she said.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who received $2,500 from Altria, $500 from Anheuser-Busch, $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association, and $250 from Reynolds, said he has no problem accepting donations from alcohol and tobacco companies.
"I really don't distinguish 'sin issues' when it comes to accepting campaign contributions," Hughes said. "There are tax policies that impact our regulatory climate and business interests, and organizations that have a vested interest in those policies are going to contribute to campaigns."
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said he did not know a $2,500 donation made to his campaign by Altria was from a tobacco company.
"I have no idea what Altria is," Dee said. "I voted for a tax increase on tobacco products, so I don't know why a tobacco company would be donating to my campaign."
Dee also received $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association and $250 from Reynolds.
Several PACs and political organizations also received contributions from alcohol and tobacco companies. The two PACs run by House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, the Utah House Republican Election Committee and the Speaker's Victory Fund, received $5,250 and $4,000, respectively. 
Several PACs and political organizations also received contributions from alcohol and tobacco companies. The two PACs run by House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, the Utah House Republican Election Committee and the Speaker's Victory Fund, received $5,250 and $4,000, respectively. 
Utah's Prosperity Foundation, run by former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, received a total of $6,000 in donations. The Utah Democratic Party also received a $2,500 donation from Reynolds, and the State Republican Campaign Committee accepted $3,500 from alcohol distributors.
Campaign finance disclosures from 2012 can be accessed at

Friday, February 1, 2013

HB38 Utah House increases limit for anonymous campaign contributions

                                                 Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City.
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve an increase to the limit of anonymous political campaign donations.
The action, if passed by the Senate and then approved by the governor by the end of the session, would amend campaign finance provisions to allow candidates to accept up to $100 from anonymous donors.
HB38 states that the candidate must give any anonymous donations of more than $100 to the state or a political subdivision or to a nonprofit organization. Currently, candidates must give up any anonymous donations of more than $50.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, a co-sponsor of the bill, said sometimes cash is left on a doorstep or desk at the candidate's workplace, with a note that wishes the candidate well.
"I would hope the candidate feels that he or she needs to somehow identify the source of that," he said.
The bill allows anything under $100 to be classified as "anonymous" in financial disclosure documents filed with the state elections office.
— Wendy Leonard, Twitter: wendyleonards