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Legislative midpoint: How are they doing so far?

Jordan Allred, Deseret News archives

The Legislature hit the halfway point last week. So how are lawmakers doing so far? We provide the questions we hear the most … and our varnished, subjective answers.

Based on website and social media posts, the issue that generates the most attention from Utahns is anything dealing with guns. Will the Legislature take further action to restrict or loosen weapons laws?

Pignanelli: "I have a very strict gun control policy: If there's a gun around, I want to be in control of it." — Clint Eastwood

Rep. Curt Oda is again offering legislation so adults can carry a concealed, unloaded gun without a permit (Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed a similar measure two years ago). Observers are unsure the Legislature wants the fight, so the governor may be off the hook.

Webb: I own a half-dozen guns, enjoy shooting, and I don’t feel restricted. Current laws strike the right balance and lawmakers will wisely maintain the status quo.

According to a UtahPolicy.com poll, the vast majority of Utahns want the 7-foot wall in restaurants restricting the display and viewed dispensing of alcohol — often referred to as the "Zion Curtain” — torn down. Will lawmakers eliminate it?

Pignanelli: The wall remains. But I will raise a glass of wine and toast its durability when I frequent local establishments blessed with the famous monolith.

Webb: The wall serves no useful purpose. I have appointed Frank as my designated drinker, and he leaps right over it. But I suppose it stays up.

On the topic of mind-altering substances, does the Legislature approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes?

Pignanelli: No, but the mere existence of this Republican-sponsored bill is very cool. Lobbyists my age are walking around the Capitol giggling ancient words like "doobie," "MaryJane" and "toke."

Webb: We didn’t use those terms at BYU, so I have no idea what Frank is talking about. But the old “slippery slope” argument is pretty strong — authorize medical marijuana and what’s next … Diet Dr. Pepper at BYU?

What is the fate of the nondiscrimination and religious freedom proposals?

Pignanelli: Most lawmakers want to take advantage of this historic opportunity. I predict something constructive happens.

Webb: It’s a lot harder than it looks to exquisitely balance nondiscrimination and religious freedom. But progress can be made on both fronts if both sides are willing to give a little. It’s possible to prohibit MOST discrimination and preserve MOST religious freedom. Whatever legislation passes will be imperfect, but that’s OK.

A huge wrestling match is occurring over increasing sales, property or fuel taxes. Where is it headed?

Pignanelli: Lots of sweat and grunts … but no firm decision yet.

Webb: This is a test of the competency of the Utah Legislature compared to the U.S. Congress — whether our legislators will also kick the can down the road. I predict a boost in the gas tax, and I hope equalization of education taxes as proposed by Sen. Aaron Osmond.

Are they moving the prison?

Pignanelli: Not in this session.

Webb: Eventually, but it’s all about location, location, location. Find the right spot, and it could happen (relatively) quickly.

The momentum to junk the Count My Vote (CMV) compromise seems to be stalling. True?

Pignanelli: To borrow a Jim Croce song: "You don't tug on Superman's cape, You don't spit into the wind, And you don't mess around with Bramble." The sponsor of the 2014 legislation, Sen. Curt Bramble, is scaring off major changes.

Webb: GOP Chairman James Evans’ pity parade and his “sky is falling” routine are looking more and more foolish. After whining for a year, doing nothing to prepare for the law passed in 2014, Evans loses credibility by the minute. Should last year’s agreement be violated, don’t expect further compromise. The CMV group will raise a million dollars, put the proposal before voters, and the caucus/convention system will be gone forever … and ever … and ever ….

Does the governor get his way on Medicaid expansion?

Pignanelli: Even the governor's detractors are impressed with his efforts, especially engaging legislators one-on-one. His hard work (and the massive TV/radio campaign) is making a difference, but several lawmakers who should be his natural allies are not there yet. This one comes down to the wire.

Webb: I predict the governor will compromise, but get most of what he wants. Utahns ought to benefit from taxes they’re paying for Medicaid. No one likes the federal health care mess; let’s be practical as it is reformed.

Usually more attention is paid to clean air legislation. Why is this year different?

Pignanelli: I developed a methodologically sound scientific rule that the amount of discussion regarding clean air is directly correlated to the level of particulates in the air during the legislative session. We are enjoying sunny clear days in February and the net result is fewer deliberations on pollution.

Webb: It’s becoming clear (no pun intended) that no sweeping legislation will solve the air quality problem. A million little lifestyle changes are required, and that requires as much education as legislation.

Does Utah’s reputation survive this session?

Pignanelli: The brouhaha over unfortunate words regarding sexual relations with an unconscious spouse traveled around the planet. A PR disaster loomed. But Speaker Greg Hughes deftly controlled the messaging and outcome of legislation. Disaster avoided. Thanks guys.

Webb: Utah is a model of sanity and probity compared to many states. Legislative leadership is to be commended for keeping the focus on important issues, rather than on message bills.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.