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LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

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During the coming week, the Deseret News each day will feature one or more subjects that will be discussed during the legislative session. Following are brief synopses of several of these issues.

Transportation leaders want funding to repair, upgrade I-15

The biggest news this year for transportation officials is not what they are asking the Legislature for but what they aren't asking for - a gas-tax increase. "The governor has said we would concede any gas-tax hike in this session," Craig Zwick, director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said Wednesday night to the Utah Transit Authority board.

But that doesn't stop Zwick and other officials from wanting money to repair and upgrade crumbling I-15. Zwick hopes the governor or a "blue-ribbon panel" could take the lead during the next year in educating the public and legislators about what he terms a transportation crisis.

"We cannot improve I-15 or even preserve the existing system without increased funding," he said.

Without what likely would have been an acrimonious gas-tax debate, the Legislature may focus on other issues, including a proposal to change the Utah Transportation Commission from a decisionmaking body to an advisory one.

Public education officials will resist talk of tax cuts

They're pleased with the prospects of a little more money this year than in recent years, but public education officials are prepared to dig in their heels to resist any talk about tax cuts.

The pressure to adequately fund the state system won't abate, Superintendent Scott W. Bean said. Growth will continue to be a reality, and the push for reform calls for additional funding, he said.

Extra money would go into many school programs, including technology; adult education; experimental programs, including trial of a 220-day school year; and teacher salaries.

The Legislature will face its usual glut of education-related bills. Some of those most likely to generate debate are proposed solutions to the school-fee issue, which has divided legislators philosophically, and a measure that would drastically change the management of the school trust lands.

Lawmakers have long list of gang-related measures

Lawmakers addressed a number of gang-related problems when they met in a special session in October, passing a number of gun-control bills and making it easier to prosecute minors as adults. But lawmakers and Gov. Mike Leavitt agree there is much left to be done.

Leavitt has said he would like to allow confiscation of vehicles in gang-related crimes, while Youth Corrections officials are pleading for more jail space for gang offenders, more probation officers and tougher laws.

Lawmakers will address a potpourri of gang issues, from banning the possession of spray paint by minors to adding another juvenile-court judge for the Provo area. There is some talk about enhancing the criminal penalties for some gang crimes.

While Leavitt has not unveiled his package of gang bills, LaVarr Webb, Leavitt's deputy for policy, said a great deal of focus will be placed on prevention, reducing crime and violence at the community level, enhancing incarceration facilities and increasing the number of probation and parole officers. The governor's office also will support some level of reimbursement to counties who incarcerate people charged with state crimes and for developing alternatives to detention.

Health-care reform likely a major issue for Legislature

Health-care reform will be a major issue for the Legislature as Gov. Mike Leavitt asks lawmakers to support his yet-unrevealed proposal. But it is by no means the only health issue.

The Health Department has thrown its support behind HB50, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, which would severely restrict smoking in public places. The department also will ask lawmakers to create a register that would list health-care assistants accused of abuse of elderly nursing-home residents.

If the governor's budget is approved, the state Medicaid program would be in good shape, Health Director Rod Betit said.

Governor agrees with much of regents' spending plan

It looks like fairly smooth sailing for the higher education system in the coming legislative session.

The Board of Regents has asked for a 1994-95 budget of $571 million, with $411 million of that from state tax revenue. Gov. Mike Leavitt has proposed $393 million but agrees with much of the regents' spending plan.

Higher education officials will urge the Legislature to add more money to cope with burgeoning enrollments and for technology initiatives.

Rep. Haynes R. Fuller, D-Eden, has filed a bill that would require high school students to take three years of math and science, instead of the current minimum of two.

Fuller believes this would better prepare young people for life after high school, whether they go to college or not. He also thinks it would reduce higher education costs for remedial courses.

Fuller has decided against sponsoring a bill that would regulate the number of classroom hours logged by college professors.

Rep. Martin R. Stephens, R-Farr West, plans to introduce a bill that would require public reporting of professors' salaries. However, he is talking with higher education officials, who have a counterproposal that would make public the salary levels but not name names.

Leavitt's pay proposal may be win-win situation

Gov. Mike Leavitt recommends 4 percent raises for the entire state-paid work force, including teachers, judges, himself and other statewide elected officials.

The proposal would cost $66 million, with 81 percent of that going to education salaries.

But reports of a rosy revenue picture for the state have representatives of the state-paid work force planning to ask the Legislature for more.

"The governor's proposal is a win-win situation, but there is no reason we can't make it better," Utah Education Association President Lily Eskelsen said. "In the past we have been told that if the state had the money they would increase salaries. We have been asking if this is the time, and (lawmakers) are agreeing."

The Utah Public Employees Association has similar views.

"We were hoping for more, and we will work on that with the Legislature," said UPEA deputy director Ray Taylor. "We would like to see some money in the cost-of-living adjustment."

Human Services officials optimistic about session

Department of Human Services officials are feeling a great deal of optimism about the coming legislative session.

The governor's budget proposal puts significant new funding into programs for youths, from Youth Corrections to child welfare and foster care.

That doesn't mean life will be perfect, acting Director Kerry Steadman said. The department still is grappling with how to provide child care to all the people who will need the help to become self-sufficient. There isn't enough money for services for children who have mental ill-nesses. And officials recognize there's a gap in services for people with disabilities once they leave public schools. Decisions must be made in all of those areas, he said.

Two types of legislation top the department's interest list. Human Services will promote several bills that should make it easier for the Office of Recovery Services to collect child-support payments - something Steadman views as prevention because if families have adequate resources they won't end up in taxpayer-funded programs.

`Cowboy Caucus' to focus on land-management issues

Rural lawmakers - sometimes referred to as the Cowboy Caucus - intend to shift their attention from wildlife mismanagement, a major focus of the 1993 Legislature, to land-management issues.

They will push legislation that would prohibit the state from acquiring private land and also would permit the state to trade state land for federal government land only if the amount of land being traded were equal. Lawmakers do not want land trades where the federal government ends up with more land than it now has or where property tax revenue derived from private lands is lost because of acquisition by state or federal agencies.

Rural lawmakers also want to borrow for water projects on the Bear and Virgin rivers and to provide financial assistance to rural counties developing master plans. They see county master plans as an effective negotiating tool in their battle against wilderness designations and restrictive federal land-management mandates.

Monday: Gangs and Corrections