To: Senate Republicans,
Subject: Letter Home Template
Date: Thu Sep 25 19:22:21 MDT 2014
Here are some things you could add to your Letter Home.
Have a lovely last weekend of summer.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this letter finds you well.
Now that summer is over, the legislature is back in full swing. We resumed our interim schedule and are preparing for the upcoming session. I am working on several bills including ************** [****this concern came to me from a constituent]
During several of this month's committee meetings various draft legislation was presented.
One of those proposed bills was in this month's Education Interim committee meeting. Senator Howard Stephenson gave a presentation on upcoming legislation that would require all children to be taught to code. He gave evidence on how teaching children to code actually assists them in learning other subjects. He presented easy ways that coding can be taught by regular classroom teachers rather than requiring that the teacher of the class be an actual computer programmer.
Senator Stephenson will also be sponsoring a bill that will require all Utah high school students to take and pass the same United States Civics test that immigrants who are applying for U.S. Citizenship must pass. An alarming number of Americans do not know the answers to many of the questions on this test--things like, name one of the authors of the Federalist Papers; what are the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution called; or how many justices sit on the Supreme Court; why does the flag have 50 stars; who is the Commander in Chief of the military?
There are several other states that are considering similar legislation. This study shows how few Americans really know the answers to these important questions. http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-know-surprisingly-little-about-their-government-survey-finds/
Do you think you could pass the test? Do you think it should be a requirement?
Here are some links to practice tests. See how you do. http://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/quiz/learners/study-test/study-materials-civics-test/naturalization-self-test-1
Another education requirement that was made by the legislature in 2008 was that all high school students must complete a semester course in financial literacy. According to this study, http://wallethub.com/edu/most-and-least-financially-literate-states/3337/ the results of that educational requirement have ranked Utah as the second most "financially literate state."
As school has begun and the state school board and their upcoming elections have been in the news of late (here are some examples: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58378293-78/candidates-process-election-england.html.csp
http://www.sltrib.com/csp/cms/sites/sltrib/pages/printerfriendly.csp?id=58417725) I thought I would give a quick overview of just how the school system is organized in Utah.
In most other countries, the federal government is over the school system. We have a decentralized education system, which means that the states retain primary authority over the education of their children. We do receive some funding from the federal government, (9% of the state's entire education budget is from federal sources but most of that goes to the school lunch program and some Title 1 and Special Education programs). In Utah, our constitution requires the Legislature to provide for and establish the education system, but the supervision is delegated to the State Board of Education. The Legislature does require a few things, like that the Financial Literacy class be taught and that schools be graded so that taxpayers can see how their money is performing, but for the most part, the State School Board is responsible for how education expenditures are allocated and education decisions are made. In reality, it is these elected officials who are in charge of how just over half of the state's budget is spent. This is why the State School Board election matters so much.
On a local level funding that individual schools and local districts receive is rather prescriptive. One of the only sources of discretionary income that a school receives that can be used to meet an individual school needs, is their allotment of Trust Lands funds, which is allocated by each school's Community Counsel. This is just one more reason we need to be proactive about our state lands, how they are used and who makes the decisions about how they are used. Here is an article about SITLA (School and Instructional Trust Lands Administration) and some of the area in the state that those lands cover. http://www.standard.net/Education/2014/07/13/14-SITLA-Top-10.html
One more education item you might want to be aware of--SB 122 Parental Rights in Public Education, passed earlier this year, delineates specific and certain rights of a parent or guardian of a student enrolled in a public school. If you are interested, here is a link to the bill that the Governor signed. http://le.utah.gov/~2014/bills/static/SB0122.html
Outside of our regular interim day several other committees and commissions met this month.
Earlier in the month, the Prison Relocation Commission reviewed the progress on the siting and development and pending architectural decisions for the new prison. They also discussed the assigned point values for each of the criteria of the site selection process. Here is a link to the meeting if you would like to listen. http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17722&meta_id=235571
The State Water Development Commission met and discussed several problematic aspects of water in our desert state. One subject was the alarming effect of federal regulations on water usage that will soon be mandated across the United States. Many states and organizations have expressed a great deal of concern about this issue and have sent formal concerns to the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Forest Service. Here is a newspaper article about some of those letters and the concerns those organizations have. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/865611008/Utah-Western-states-say-feds-are-all-wet-on-groundwater-rule.html
The Utah State Senate will also send a formal letter to Gina McCarthy director of the EPA, expressing our collective concern that a federal agency can appoint themselves as the final authority over groundwater across the nation. I will sign that letter.
Here is a link to the recording of the meeting discussion on water: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17741&meta_id=523008 And here is a link to the newspaper article that Senator Dayton referenced in the discussion on groundwater: http://www.heraldextra.com/news/community/the-federalization-of-water-affecting-your-ability-to-drink-and/article_99e110ac-1b96-5d52-b35d-ec6576890a74.html
When the Commission on Federalism met earlier in September, the agenda focused mostly on how cross-jurisdictional issues are handled when federal land lies within the counties' boundaries. This is a great concern in much of the rural part of the state.
On interim day, the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment committee also had a lengthy discussion on how federal land ownership and federal agency actions affect the state and its citizens. The discussion focused on issues like threatened and endangered species; livestock branding; economic development; and how federal lands can affect adjacent private or state owned lands. Here is a link to that meeting and the materials that were used in the discussion: http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17749&meta_id=235823
The Retirement and Independent Entities committee had an update from the United Way on the use of the 2-1-1 Information and Referral Network. Last year, the legislature helped fund the hotline service that helps connect people with information about government services, tax assistance, legal aid, health and dental resources or even childcare.
The agenda for the Government Operations committee included two pieces of draft legislation addressing campaign finance and contributions. There were also reports on how the Vote-By-Mail and the Election Day voter registration pilot project is working.
Utah is the youngest state on average because of our high birth rate, but our population that is over 65, is increasing at the same rate as the rest of the nation. The Health and Human Services Committee had many presenters from various organizations in the state that deal with aging and the needs of these citizens and their caregivers. One of presentations made was from Mr. Ronnie Daniel, Executive Director of the Utah Alzheimer's Association. He testified that Utah has the highest per capita prevalence of increase of Alzheimer's in the nation. By 2025, it is expected that there will be a 127% increase in Alzheimer's diagnosis in the state. Long term planning and a close examination of possible policy choices for these and other problems and challenges this demographic will face is an important issue that will be addressed in the coming session. http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17760&meta_id=235691
The Transportation Committee spent time discussing the performance audit of the Utah Transit Authority (the room was PACKED for this discussion) as well as a presentation from an aviation company who have some concerns about the Salt Lake International Airport. http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=17750&meta_id=235639
While it was not discussed in the meeting, there are some other concerns about the possibility of airport expansion. Here are some thoughts from Senator Hinkins as to why expansion might not be the best idea in the box. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865607904/Lawmaker-questions-Salt-Lake-City-International-Airport-projects-impact-on-air-quality.html?pg=all
In my committee ******** we discussed******.
I presented in the *********committee on ********.
You can listen to any of these meetings by going to the calendar tab on the legislature's website and selecting the meeting you would like to hear. http://le.utah.gov/
And, in case you missed it.... the Utah Legislature was recently awarded the Online Democracy Award for our le.utah.gov website. The judges called the site an "information powerhouse," with it's most notable features being "sophisticated layout; straightforward search capabilities; a mobile-friendly version; and a 'How can we improve this page?' element on every page to encourage public feedback.
I hope you can find an opportunity to use this great resource.
Some other items of interest:
The Senate is sponsoring an art competition. Students in grades 9-12 may submit 2D, original visual art images of the exterior of the Utah State Capitol building and/or architectural features of the Capitol building in oil, pen and ink, watercolor, printmaking, graphic or digital design.
The first place winner will receive $5,000, second place $3,000 and $1,000 for third. Here is more information and a link to the guidlines if you are interested. http://heritage.utah.gov/arts-and-museums/arts-ed-learning
Senator Valentine has resigned from his senate seat to accept an appointment from the Governor to serve as the new Chair of the Utah state Tax Commission. http://www.senatesite.com/home/valentine-tax-commission/#more-10888
Elections are right around the corner. If you need to register to vote or would like to see your sample ballot you can do it online here: http://vote.utah.gov/vote/menu/index
Revenue to the state from tourism has seen an impressive surge and is expected to continue to increase: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865611649/Utahs-tourism-tax-revenue-exceeded-1-billion-in-2013.html
If you are looking for ideas for a last summer outing, see what is available at our state parks: http://stateparks.utah.gov/activities
And finally, here is a short and hard to argue against list of why Utah is such a great place to live: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865611134/5-reasons-why-Utah-is-a-great-place-to-live.html
I welcome any comments you may have on any issues the state is facing, be they positive or negative. The best way to reach me is ***********
I will be at ********** for a district information/cottage meeting on *******
My best to you and your family,