Legislative session wrap up

The 2016 legislative session concluded just last Thursday and Gov. Gary R. Herbert is pleased with the results.

The governor’s top priorities for the general session included increased funding for education, a reduction in earmarks and high stakes testing, and new solutions to care for Utah’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Once again, we came together to accomplish the people’s work and Utah is a better place because of it,” Gov. Herbert said. “The legislature was very responsive to what I asked them to prioritize and for that I am grateful. We have reason to be very optimistic about the future of Utah and the direction of our economy.”

By law, the governor has 20 days after the conclusion of the legislative session to review bills passed by the state legislature and decide whether to sign or veto them. Below are some of the highlights from the 2016 General Session:

Education has always been, and will continue to be, the governor’s number one budget priority. In this budget cycle, 70 percent of all new money will be invested in education. The final budget includes $458 million in new money for public and higher education and a three percent increase in the weighted pupil unit.

A significant portion of that money will cover enrollment growth for the roughly 9,700 new students expected to enroll in Utah schools, but it also includes $11 million for targeted preschool programs for at-risk students, $6 million for teacher supplies, and an increased investment in arts learning programs.

The budget wasn’t the only place where education made gains this session. The legislature passed HB 201 and HB 200, companion bills that prohibit schools from using Utah’s annual exam for students, SAGE, in teacher evaluations. This will allow for greater flexibility and local control in deciding how to evaluate teacher performance. The legislation also allows high schools the option of no longer administering the SAGE test to 11th grade students.

Reduction in earmarks
The governor has consistently opposed earmarks and again called for a reduction of them in this year’s budget, citing that earmarks make it more difficult to fund education. The legislature eliminated three earmarks this session, bringing increased flexibility to the state budget.

Law enforcement and public safety
The newly-passed FY 17 budget includes increased compensation for law enforcement officers, which will help the state in its efforts to increase public safety and recruit outstanding men and women to join the law enforcement ranks. It includes an additional $1 million for trooper compensation, $1.9 million for correctional officer pay and $460,000 for corrections staff compensation.

Protecting Utah values
The legislature unanimously passed SCR 9, a concurrent resolution which declares pornography a public health crisis. The resolution, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, garnered international headlines and brought Utah’s pro-family values into the spotlight.

Helping the vulnerable
HB 437 will provide health coverage to 16,000 Utahns living beneath the federal poverty level using a federal Medicaid waiver. While the conversation continues about how to help the rest of Utah’s poor and uninsured, the bill will serve to cover Utah’s most vulnerable citizens.

In addition, a new Housing and Homeless Initiative will provide $9.25 million in the first installment of a proposed $27 million, 3-year funding plan to assist Utahns experiencing homelessness.

Many other important issues were debated during the legislative session. The governor is grateful to legislators and the many stakeholders and citizens involved this session for their efforts to ensure Utah remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.