2018 Legislative Session – Week Three Report
We are working hard to ensure family values and good government prevail in our state. I’d love to share some of this week’s personal highlights.
I had the help of some UVU Student researchers from UVU on one of my bills HB153. They attended committee meetings and learned some great lessons in state politics.
I enjoyed meeting with a group called Netsmartz, which specializes in digital citizenship and teaching kids how to be safe on the internet. I’ve been a longtime advocate for safe and smart student internet usage in our schools and at home.
It was an honor to meet with the Boys and Girls Club of Utah Count, whose programs help young students after school with tutoring and extracurriculars. Madelka Vercella is the club’s Youth of the Year. She came to the Capital to present her club and meet with me. It was an honor to be presented with a pin by this wonderful organization.
Irv Hale, the Chair of Precinct 19, joined me on the floor this week. I love having members of this district join me on the floor during the session. I’d like to extend that invitation to anyone. Just message me and let me know when you can come.
One of my constitutents, Matt Nelson is a BYU student in the nurse practitioner program. We enjoyed a great discussion on some important issues to him and his profession.
This week I presented several bills on the House floor (HB 93, HB 178, and HB 186). All were well received and were voted through the House unanimously.
I hope you have had a moment to take this year’s Legislative Survey.
Thank you for your emails, texts, phone calls and visits to the Capitol. Your opinions and insights are invaluable.
News from the House…
Week THREE: February 5 – 9
It was recently claimed that the cost of relocating the state prison from Draper to Salt Lake City was hidden from the public and there seemed to be confusion about the procedures for determining what the actual price tag would be. It’s important for the public to understand that the process was the same one used for any state building and there were no “hidden” costs, though there were various bids over time.
When the initial decision was made to move the prison, two significant findings drove that determination. Repairs to the current structure were estimated to cost at least $238 million, and something needed to be done. Additionally, relocation would position the Utah economy to realize billions of dollars of new economic benefit. It was clear from these findings that the advantages of moving the prison would far outweigh the costs and consequently, the decision was made to move forward.
Initial estimates from 2015 ranged from $546 to $683 million, depending on the ultimate size of the new prison but not including site-specific costs. That same year, the Legislature allocated $550 million, largely intended to pay for the land and buildings but not those as-yet undetermined site-specific costs. It was always anticipated that additional appropriations would be necessary once the site was selected and those costs could be determined.
Later that year the Legislature approved the Prison Relocation Commission’s recommendation to move the prison to Salt Lake City, and it was estimated that the site would require an additional $154 million.
In early 2016, an architect working with DFCM engaged the Department of Corrections to determine priorities and create a program to meet justice reinvestment goals and national standards, in addition to addressing potential future needs of a growing population. This common practice generally exceeds anticipated budgets but is an important part of the process. In this case, it resulted in an estimate of $860 million, which led to an exhaustive, line-by-line review that ended with a new $700 million estimate.
During the 2017 legislative session, another $100 million was authorized in bonding to meet the needs of the Salt Lake City location, bringing the total allocation to $650 million. Later that year, in an effort to continue reducing costs, project managers right-sized the space to meet the appropriation. Those changes resulted in the current estimate of $692 million, only $9 million more than the upper end of the original estimates, even when including site-specific costs that weren’t contained in those 2015 numbers.
We are still at the beginning of a very long and involved process, and the current estimate of $692 million is just that, an estimate. Over the last three years, as we have continued recovering from the Great Recession, the construction industry has realized an average 8.6 percent rate of inflation and risks of cost escalation remain. Numerous individuals and organizations will continue to review and challenge numbers throughout the process, including DFCM, BDK (the consultant for the state) the contractor team and the governor’s office, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent.
See the prison development budget timeline here.
Operation Rio Grande Update
On August 14, 2017, an extensive collaborative effort to combat lawlessness in the Rio Grande area and lend a helping hand to those in need was launched. On February 5, a six-month update was given on the progress of the program. Operation Rio Grande (ORG), as it has been called, has been shown to have substantially improved the area, both for those seeking services and those who live and work there. Lives have been changed as more resources have been made available for those wanting help and as authorities have appropriately dealt with the drug dealers and cartels who would take advantage of them.
“There’s help out there, and Operation Rio Grande really put me in the avenues to get that help,” said one beneficiary of ORG, Rich Duprez.
Since the launch of the operation:
- Nearly 200 new addiction treatment beds, and counting, have been create.
- About 70 people have entered treatment through Salt Lake County’s new specialty drug court program.
- More than 3,400 safe space cards issued.
- One hundred thirty-three behavioral health assessments have been completed.
- Sixteen people have been placed into sober living and seven new beds have been created, with more on the way.
- Of individuals referred to short-term housing, 44 have been housed, 121 have been diverted from emergency shelter and 189 are receiving housing case management.
- Fourteen individuals have been employed through the Dignity of Work program, 100 have completed employment plans, 33 are work ready and 48 job listings have been posted by participating employers.
- Over 800 individuals assessed during ORG have now been enrolled in Medicaid, which includes coverage for behavioral/mental health treatment.
Though we have made significant strides, it does not end here. The state is committed to securing funding, improving public safety, offering support to those struggling with mental illness and drug addiction to help them get back on the path of self-reliance, and preparing and connecting individuals with housing and job opportunities.
The progress of the three phases can be tracked online at operationriogrande.utah.gov.
In 2002, Utah successfully hosted the Winter Olympics and has since maintained the facilities built for those games. This past week, the House and Senate passed SCR 9, Concurrent Resolution on Utah’s Olympic Exploratory Committee and its Efforts to Explore Hosting of a Future Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and the governor signed it February 6. In a press conference the next day, the committee expressed that Utah is “ready, willing, and able” to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games once again, in either 2026 or 2030.
The Utah Legislature and the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts have teamed up to give high school students an opportunity to see the Broadway hit Hamilton: An American Musical through the New Nation Letter Writing Competition. The purpose is to get young people engaged in the legislative process and in their local communities.
To participate in the competition, a high school student must write a letter to one of their elected officials about an issue of concern in the community and include a proposed solution.
Each student who submits a qualifying entry will be entered into a random drawing to see the musical here in Utah. The competition closes at 9 a.m. Tuesday, February 20. Learn more about it and apply here.
Arts Day on the Hill
High schools from all over the state came to the Capitol for Arts Day on the Hill. Students and administrators met with representatives to discuss the importance of teaching humanities and the arts. Music from choirs, bands and orchestras filled the Capitol Rotunda as audiences took in the beautiful performances.
Transit Day on the Hill
On February 2, some buses passed all the usual stops and wound up on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Utah Transit Authority (UTA) brought three environmentally friendly public buses to show members of the public and lawmakers some of the features on the new buses. One had an accordion-like mid-section, allowing for greater mobility while transporting more people. This is just one of UTA’s many environmental projects currently underway.
Rural Day on the Hill
Rural counties from all over Utah came to showcase the unique attributes and concerns of their respective areas on February 2. Individuals were able to discuss policies with legislators that directly affect their rural communities. We were glad to have them join us and enjoy the incredible diversity of the various areas of our state.
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