The Legislature during the last few days is like a bicycle coasting down a hill: It picks up speed until anyone who is following finds it hard to keep up.
I got a reminder of that last week when I was a guest on a prerecorded radio talk show. We discussed what was happening with funding for Human Services and Health programs. When the show aired during the weekend, it was partially outdated. I was somewhat embarrassed because a portion of the information wasn't current, although it was accurate when I said it.Trying to provide a selective recap before the final buzzer rings has some risks; before the ink is dry on the newspaper, new votes are taken, negotiations move forward, change occurs.
So, keeping in mind that there's still plenty of time for lawmakers to make changes, here's a look at what is happening with some of the legislation and funding.
- The $5.30 monthly state supplement for people who receive disability payments from the federal government is apparently going to continue for at least another year. The question has been raised repeatedly in recent years, and the amount paid has eroded from $10. Friday afternoon, after strong support from the governor, some lawmakers and advocates for the poor, legislators agreed that $2.1 million would be restored to Health and Human Services budgets. (That's just over two-thirds of the money removed for a 2 percent cut ordered by legislative leadership.) The $893,000 for the supplement was specified on a one-time, or supplemental, basis. The issue may resurface next year.
- It looks as if funding for the Emergency Work Program for couples will be less than specified in Gov. Norm Bangerter's budget proposal. Participants receive a grant in exchange for work, education and training. The concept seems likely to extend to other types of welfare in the future. Utah is one of several states considering tying benefits to recipients' self-sufficiency efforts, and legislation has been introduced to create demonstration projects in Utah to test the program.
- Single parents who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children will also require a lot of support services, including day care. Funding for day care has been on a seesaw. The governor's proposal was cut by $500,000, then more than half was put back in by the $2.1 million adjustment.
- Part of the money will go to the Medical Examiner's Office to hire an additional investigator, a high priority for the Department of Health. Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, director, said the office needs the help of an additional investigator because of the workload.
- The Health Department succeeded, apparently, in getting lawmakers to delay for one year an asset test for people who participate in the Baby Your Baby prenatal care program. The delay will allow the department to assess what the impact would be on the program, which has made impressive gains in reducing the number of babies who are born with low birthweight and other life-harming and expensive problems. Without Baby Your Baby, many pregnant women would not receive the early medical attention they need to deliver healthy babies. The program also provides aftercare for a year, which gives kids a headstart they need.
- A special facility for mentally ill offenders won't be built this year, but planning stages will likely move forward. Utah has lacked a facility where someone who commits a crime but is mentally ill can be locked up but also receive effective mental-health treatment. At present, offenders are either kept in the prison system, where punishment is the focus, or at the State Hospital, where they receive treatment but security is inadequate.
- It doesn't look as if welfare recipients or service providers will receive cost-of-living adjustments in fiscal year 1993, which begins in July.
- Most bills won't die because they were defeated. The majority are simply "tabled," which stops them unless a specific effort is made to bring them up again. And failing in either the House or the Senate doesn't mean it's over until the buzzer sounds. Lawmakers can vote to reconsider - an action they took with HB120, a health-reform bill that failed by one vote. HB120 would extend dependent insurance coverage to age 26 for someone who is single and lives at home. It also ends "job lock" by barring insurance companies from exempting a pre-existing condition if the insured person had the same coverage for a year prior to changing jobs or policies. Even if the House passes the bill, it has to make it through the Senate.
- With one day to go, I will hazard one prediction. Health and Human Services programs won't receive as much as they would have if the governor's budget had been adopted. But it certainly won't be as bleak as it looked the day appropriations subcommittee members were told to adopt the legislative analysts' budget with its 2-percent cut.