Legislators hitting tough issues in the 2014 session
Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 01:01
Monday marked the opening session of the 2014 Utah Legislature, and there are several key issues Utah lawmakers will have to address for the coming year.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposed budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year asks for more than $5 billion to go toward public education, but some legislators are asking for more money.
Several bills regarding education funding are up for debate this session, including Senate Bill 118, which would phase out tax credits for married couples with children over a five-year period and use the extra income for K-12 school improvement plans.
2. Air Quality
Utah’s winter air quality is often worst in the nation and at times rivals the air quality of smog-choked Beijing. Herbert has set money aside for air quality research, and there is a bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives to push through legislation that would encourage Utahns to buy cleaner cars, use public transportation like buses or the TRAX and upgrade older state vehicles and school buses.
Air in Salt Lake City and Cache Valley reached hazardous levels last week, more than double the federally-accepted levels of pollution per cubic meter of air. Thousands of protesters gathered outside the state capitol Saturday asking lawmakers to pass legislation to curb the pollution.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, has proposed legislation that would get rid of a 2009 rule requiring alcoholic beverages to be prepared out-of-view of a customer — a rule dubbed the “Zion curtain.” His bill would also get rid of rules requiring restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages only if customers order food first.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement last week asking legislators not to amend any existing alcohol regulations. Beer is the only alcoholic beverage that can be sold in supermarkets and stores in Utah, but it must be between 3.2 and 4 percent alcohol by volume. Harder liquor is sold only in authorized state liquor stores.
4. Same-sex marriage
The status of Utah’s more than 1,000 same-sex couples married after a district judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in December remains in legal limbo as the state challenges the ruling. A decision regarding the ruling is expected later in the spring.
Lawmakers have put forward legislation that would make religious institutions exempt from performing same-sex marriages if performing them would go against the institution’s teachings.