Local leaders meet with legislators to discuss bills in session
Meet the legislators town hall. (Michael Pitcher/Representative Moss Intern)
Gallery: Local leaders meet with legislators to discuss bills in session [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, residents of the Wasatch Front filled the Big Cottonwood room at Holladay City Hall to meet their legislators.
In a town hall meeting moderated by Doug Wright of KSL Radio, residents were able to ask Senator Jani Iwamoto, Senator Brian Shiozawa, Representative Patrice Arent, Representative Carol Spackman Moss and Representative Marie Poulson about the topics that mattered most to them.
Holladay City Mayor Rob Dahle led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance and kicked off the evening on a positive note, expressing how fortunate Utah is to have such a dedicated community and local government.
Before delving into audience questions, Wright invited the legislators to introduce themselves, starting with Rep. Poulson, a former teacher in her ninth session, who accredits education as her main motivator in becoming a legislator.
She was followed by Senator Shiozawa, an ER physician in his second term, who strongly encouraged constituent feedback, citing how helpful input has been for him, especially regarding issues like Bears Ears.
During introductions, legislative veterans Arent and Moss received applause upon sharing they were in their 17th session, with more applause when Moss further stated in addition to service time, “what we really are proud of too, is that two women, and two Democrats are the longest-serving house members.”
Senator Iwamoto listed the committees she sits on including the Senate Education Committee and Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, both of which are very busy given the current political climate of education and land protection issues.
More information on the committees each legislator serves can be found by accessing the legislators’ bio pages through the legislative roster on the Utah State Legislature website.
After introductions, Wright jumped right into audience questions, explaining in the interest of staying on schedule he would combine the common thread of each topic, beginning with the hot topic of public lands.
“Regarding Bears Ears and now Grand Staircase (Escalante National Monument), federal lands does not belong to the state of Utah; it belongs to the people of all 50 states.… Once it is drilled, mined or crisscrossed with roads it will never be wilderness or wild again,” stated an audience member comment read by Wright.
Next Wright read this question: “Will our voices be heard tonight by this legislature?”
Rep. Poulson was the first to respond, stating the house had just passed a resolution regarding the request to rescind Bears Ears and request to diminish the size of Grand Staircase.
Rep. Poulson found this disheartening, stating, “These two resolutions, in the house, did not go through the proper public process.”
Rep. Poulson further explained the decision was made to debate these issues in rules, instead of sending them through a committee. Having met with Native American tribes earlier in the year, Poulson knew this issue was important to them and felt due to improper process their voices were not heard.
Though Rep. Poulson did not vote for either bill, she expressed her disappointment and described hearing the tribes chanting outside as the bills were passed.
Rep. Moss described the difficulty the rules committee faced attending meetings that did not have adequate representation of both sides and the frustration of those breaking protocol not having any consequences.
Rep. Arent shared in the sentiment of frustration regarding her experience lobbying to protect Bears Ears at the White House and encouraged the audience to participate in matters, regardless of which side they support, adding, “currently (the administration) is hearing too much from one side.”
The crowd applauded in support of Senator Shiozawa as he noted he was the only Republican senator to vote no on this resolution, feeling there was no compromise or bipartisan support that brought people from all sides to the table to discuss how to best serve the people and land.
Not surprisingly, the second hot topic of the evening regarded the chewable air, more commonly known as inversion. These questions ranged from asking for more data on causes to cars vs. refineries, yet all questions shared the same message: What can be done about our air quality?
Rep. Arent mentioned her creation of a bipartisan clean air caucus. This was due to her understanding of how air quality affects Utah, from the economic perspective of businesses not wanting to move here to the many health concerns from respiratory issues to increased risk of heart attacks related to inversion.
There is still much work to be done for cleaner air, from informing citizens to pay attention to smog ratings on cars to upgrading school and city busses, as well as funding research for solutions. As Rep. Arent said, “Every week someone emails us with a great idea on how to clean up our air, but I want to make sure those ideas are backed by research and data before we put tax-payer dollars behind trying to implement them.”
Rep. Poulson complimented the constituents on their involvement in cleaning up Utah air, “Because constituents pounded their representatives with letters and concerns about clean air our caucus is huge and truly bipartisan hearing from you they have discovered this is one of the most important issues for the people who live here. So keep pounding.”
The third collective question regarded the opioid addiction epidemic sweeping across the state. Wright read, “There are bills addressing the opioid issue — do you feel this session will finally find the solution to this epidemic problem?”
Rep. Moss discussed the important role Naloxone has played in saving the lives of those who would have otherwise overdosed, and further explained an initiative started by Dr. Jennifer Plumb. “In the last nine months, they’ve distributed 2,000 Naloxone kits and Dr. Plumb has trained police departments with the nasal spray. They have had 438 saves.”
Rep. Moss acknowledged this does not solve the addiction aspect; however, saving a life often leads to the individual seeking treatment.
Senator Shiozawa mentioned a program called Opioid Free ER, similar to programs rolled out with success in Michigan. The concept behind this is giving people the best treatment possible with as few narcotics as possible, with as reasonable alternatives as possible as well, Shiozawa said.
The fourth and final topic regarded concerns over what can be done to improve education for Utah students, with lack of education funding being the most asked question.
Several legislators referred to the flat tax being detrimental to the educational funding. Rep. Poulson hopes the threat of a citizen organization supporting the raise in taxes may improve current funding issues.
Rep. Moss received accolades upon her comment, “Many say you can’t just throw money at it, but I say we’ve never tried.”
Rep. Moss further expressed concern over the teacher shortage happening in the Utah teacher market, an issue that she said could only be remedied with more funding for better pay.
In addition to teacher retention, education structure is another huge issue facing educational facilities. Rep. Arent said teachers from the blind and deaf school do not have offices and work out of their cars.
Rep. Iwamoto expressed her concern over a budget severely lacking funding necessary to meet school district needs and the difficulty in deciding on appropriation of funds when all appropriation requests are valid.
At every opportunity, all senators and house representatives cited the importance of public participation. The 2017 legislative session is currently running through Thursday, March 9. For more information on bills, visit the Utah legislative website.