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Utah Legislature: Investment Scams and Immigration

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<i>Dan Bammes</i>
The Utah House of Representatives

By Dan Bammes

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kuer/local-kuer-950075.mp3

Salt Lake City, UT –
The base budgets are in place and, if the world falls apart, we'll have government next year.

That reassurance comes from Representative Mel Brown, the co-chair of the Utah legislature's top budget committee. The House and the Senate met their self-imposed deadline for passing budgets for Utah's public schools, higher education and all other state agencies. Those budgets contained cuts of at least seven percent, something the Republican leadership says it needs to wean Utah away from its dependence on one-time money - revenue that may not be available in the future.

But not everyone believed those cuts were a good idea. Democratic State Senator Karen Morgan complained about the way money had been moved around in the public education budget to meet the seven percent goal.

It's not just the seven percent, but the committee did an 11.2 percent cut. I believe that was unnecessary and I want you to understand that I believe there's some smoke and mirrors going on here.

Senator Lyle Hillyard, the Senate budget chair, called the changes in the public school budget bill "creative," and praised the subcommittee members who worked out a way to pay for the 14-thousand new students expected in Utah schools next year.

It funded the growth, that we wanted to do, and now we can zero in on those other programs we've put in to see which ones we want to keep and how far we want to fund em and handle em.

But most of those seven percent cuts are probably not permanent. Mel Brown reminded legislators there's still work to do before new revenue projections come out in a couple of weeks.

When Santa Claus does come, if he comes at the end of the session, and has something in his bag, then we need to prioritize these seven-percent cuts so that they're restored based on your priority and based on whether funding's made available.

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Earlier in the day, the Senate Business and Labor Committee passed a bill that would make the penalties tougher for con artists who abuse relationships of trust to commit investment frauds. Senate Bill 101 is meant to protect people like LuElla Day, who told the committee how she'd been taken by a member of her L-D-S ward.

Well, I'd known him for quite a while and thought he was a good person. And anyway, when it came time we were selling our property, he came to me and said he was willing to help me and he also told me that the bishop had told him to help me.

The committee put off action on another bill that would protect whistleblowers within investment firms and others who report investment scams.

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A bill that would set up a pilot program requiring some Medicaid recipients to do community service work passed the House after a long and emotional debate. Republican Representative Ronda Menlove argued her bill gives some Medicaid recipients an opportunity they're looking for.

I was contacted by representatives of the mental health community. They were very excited about this because they felt like, for once, maybe people with mental illness, someone would talk to them about a volunteer opportunity where they could go out and gain some interactions with people positively and maybe learn some job skills.

Other Republicans argued the program would end the entitlement mentality and promote the dignity of work. But Representative Bill Wright said the bill was missing the point.

We do not want to go down the road where we provide exemptions for benefits if you go work for government. That's a trail that we don't want to go down and we'll wind up on the wrong side of the issue most of you are speaking for.

Wright joined the Democrats in the House in voting against House Bill 211, but it passed on a vote of 56 to 15 and moves on to the Senate.

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A lot of bills addressing illegal immigration were expected as the session began, but so far only five have been introduced. Democratic State Senator Luz Robles brought hers to a news conference yesterday along with its co-sponsor in the House, a newly-elected Republican from Ogden, Jeremy Peterson.

Senate Bill 60 would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for an "accountability permit." The card would allow them to work in Utah without sanctions under state law. To get it, applicants would have to go through a criminal background check and take English and American government classes. Among its benefits - Peterson says it would save the state money.

This bill is a little different than a strictly enforcement approach. One is, that this program would be self-funding. Those that are undocumented that would come in to our state to work would pay a fee to the state. That fee would pay for the enforcement, policing of the program.

Republican leaders in the state Senate are talking about bringing the conflicting approaches to the immigration issue together into a single compromise bill, and Senator Robles says she's ready to talk.

I think Representative Peterson and myself feel SB 60 could be that solution but we're obviously going to be sitting at the table interested in listening to the conversation. We realize we're two out of 104 legislators.

A competing bill, sponsored by Representative Steve Sandstrom, was modeled on a controversial Arizona law while another by Representative Chris Herrod could revoke the licenses of businesses caught more than once with undocumented immigrants on the payroll.

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During the session, legislators have a lot of demands on their time and attention. It's a daily decision where to have lunch. New ethics rules mean it can't be very expensive. But the governor's tourism office, Ski Utah and other tourism promoters were handing out box lunches to legislators in the rotunda of the Capitol yesterday. Among other things, Spencer Eccles, the governor's economic development chief, was trying to talk them into raising the 20-percent tax rebate producers get when they make a movie in Utah.

Right now, the bill stands where they're asking for up to 30 percent. And there's a way to work with that where you would see something with some sort of kicker to say if you hire a certain number of jobs, we'll give you up to that amount.

That change is in House Bill 99, which has just been introduced. It hasn't yet been assigned to a committee.

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