The 58th Utah Legislature opened its 45-day annual general session Monday morning with speeches, prayers and work.
Gone were the usual long tributes to Martin Luther King Jr. — although the Senate did hear a presentation about King — after a constitutional amendment pushed the start date of the session back a week. That change was made, at least in part, because of annual public criticism about starting on the federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.
Still, the ceremonial aspects of the first day remained in place. There were prayers in both chambers from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and speeches from the newly elected leaders, Senate President Michael Waddoups and House Speaker Dave Clark.
Clark, R-Santa Clara, used his speech to challenge lawmakers and non-legislators alike to actively work toward improving Utah. For representatives, he distributed a book with 100 blank pages and asked for 100 "relevant" ideas in 100 days — coincidentally, the 24th of July. Everyone else can e-mail their ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clark also chided a few House members for their conduct this past summer, especially those who threw words during ethics hearings. He compared the actions to the disaster of 1876, when then-Arsenal Hill (now Capitol Hill) exploded when 40 tons of gunpowder exploded, killing four people and injuring dozens.
"What we do here matters," Clark said.
In the Senate, Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, urged senators "to measure up" and said he'd be distributing a dozen rulers to each of the 29 members to give out as a "token reward" during the session.
The new Senate leader said times are not as "gloomy" as some believe. "There will always be naysayers, always those who feel like we're not doing enough. There will always be those who need more help," Waddoups said.
He said during the past 25 years, more wealth has been created and more people lifted from poverty than in any other tme in the nation's history. "Let us be optimistic," Waddoups said. "Revenue may be down a little bit but we can still eat. This is not a depression. We can all go out and purchase what we need."
The state's current financial situation, Waddoups said, is an opportunity to "evaluate where we are and reprioritize."
The Senate opened with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, who asked during the invocation that the branches of government be blessed "with a vision to strengthen this state and its people" and protected "from confusion, arrogance and greed" as they work to "make our righteous hopes become reality."
The Salt City Jazz Choir from Salt Lake Community College, sang several songs, including "Come, Come Ye Saints" a Mormon hymn. Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, called the performance a "perspective builder."
In opening ceremonies in the House, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, prayed that members feel the gratitude of those who founded Utah, grateful of those who followed to add diversity to the state. He prayed that visitors should leave Utah in peace and recollections of righteousness, and asked that lawmakers may merit the reward of public trust. "Put principle above politics and morality above expediency," he prayed.