Utah lawmakers wrapped up their annual 45-day legislative session last night. Before the gavel fell, KUER’s political team Nicole Nixon and Julia Ritchey talked with Gov. Gary Herbert for his take on the session … Successes, setbacks, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Nicole Nixon: With some 500 bills passed this session, what do you think was the most important issue the legislature passed this year? So it does not include tax reform.
Gov. Gary Herbert: You said this year, yes, so I was going to say tax reform — I think it is going to pass this year just not in this session. It will probably be in a special session this summer. But fixing the Medicaid issue, I think, was very important. It took the first couple of weeks to get that done and with a 45 day session, that's really limited what we had time to do on other issues. But Medicaid expansion — which is effective April 1st, that's going to happen — is going to cover people from zero to 138 percent of poverty. That's going to happen ... About 70,000 people who are not covered before now going to be covered. That's probably the most important thing that's passed so far in the legislature. Second probably hate crimes, which is kind of historical. Everybody seems to believe this is kind of a watershed time where we in fact are going to protect certain classes of people from hate crimes and have amplified penalties if in fact you do you attack a class of people. So that's going to be, I think, an historical event that's going to be remembered in this year's legislative session.
Julia Ritchey: It seemed like during the 2013 session there was some conflict between the legislature and the executive branch, right? We had things like calling themselves in a special session. This year it seems like there was a little more tension between lawmakers and their voters — and I'm glad you mentioned Medicaid. Do you feel that there's some distance between what the legislature enacts and what voters have signaled to them directly? Because that has been one of the major conflicts of this session.
GH: Well the ups and downs the flows of the marketplace probably are represented by the legislature and so sometimes there's a lag time. These issues though were passed this year certainly were an indication that 'hey we're ready. We need to have you act on this and we don't want you to to punt the football again.' So there's some, I think, 'out of touch' in that regard. But generally speaking we think about the 500 bills we passed, and you're talking about just two or three different issues out there, that the legislature as a representative a form of government really are in tune with the people that they represent. So I feel very good about that. I think we've had a great relationship this year from the executive branch with the House and the Senate. And sometimes there's turmoil and healthy tension between us and them and between the House and the Senate. So that's just part of politics. It's a give and take of what's politically possible.
JR: Another socially controversial issue, abortion, there are two bills this year to restrict abortions — will you be signing both of those bills?
GH: Haven't determined that yet. But I have my biases is I am pro-life. And certainly the viability aspect is something that needs to be discussed. Clearly with science that's advancements since 1973, viability is probably shorter today than what it was then. I have a hard time with abortion. When you feel hear a heartbeat after six weeks, you know it's more than just a piece of tissue — it's a forming human being. And so I have a bias in that direction. I've said before some fights are worth having. We certainly want to make sure that people know that we stand for life where everybody should stand for life whether the unborn child or after we are born we need to take care of them too. So it's not a one thing and then we're done. It's a comprehensive approach to making sure that people have an opportunity to be the best they can be. And government has a role to protect those civil rights.
JR: So you asked for $100 million in air quality spending. It looks like it'll get closer to about $25 million. Is That good enough for you?
GH: Yeah I think it's going to be closer to probably twenty eight million. But it's a step in the right direction. You know we had a moon shot and we didn't get to the moon but we're going in the right direction. The trend, I think, will build upon this as we go forward. Our goal is to reduce pollution by 25 percent by 2025. We're on track to do that, by the way. So again it's not as much as I hoped for but you know what the adjustments on the budget that's taking place it's a good down payment.
Hear the full conversation on the latest episode of 45 Days, KUER's annual legislative podcast.