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Utah PolitiLinks: Closed caucuses, health care and gun issues — points of interest for 2016 Utah Legislature

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, addresses legislators in the House of Representatives on the first day of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, addresses legislators in the House of Representatives on the first day of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Welcome to Utah's 2016 General Session, a "magical time of year," at least according to Gov. Gary Herbert.

In the next 45 days, Utah legislators will take a look at bills ranging from public lands to gun issues and everything in between.

Closed caucuses

The Utah Media Coalition, which represents the Deseret News and other major media outlets and journalism organizations, is concerned about transparency as closed caucus meetings are used to decide key issues such as Medicaid expansion.

Democratic leadership has raised concerned about being rendered irrelevant by the action, according to the Deseret News article, but Gov. Gary Herbert has said it is up to lawmakers to decide if the practice should be changed.

Education

Discussions on how to deploy state dollars to education will be one main focus of the session, including more coaching and support staff to help teachers in the classroom and chances for Utah families to enroll their children in preschool and extended-day kindergarten.

According to the Deseret News article, almost half of Utah's $14.2 billion budget will go to education.

Health care

Estimates project that 70,000 Utahns and 85,000 children in Utah are without insurance, according to a Deseret News article.

"We're getting creative with different solutions," Rylee Curtis, senior health analyst with Utah Health Policy Project, a group that advocates for the state's uninsured, said in the article.

In the session, Utah lawmakers will approach the Medicaid expansion with old and new approaches.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is backing HB18, which has an underlying concept similar to that of UtahAccess+, a bill that failed last year, and Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, is bringing back the same idea of full expansion in its own bill, SB77, writes Wendy Leonard in a Deseret News article.

According to the article, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, is looking to work with the next federal administration on a plan for Utah Medicaid expansion, although nothing would happen until after the election.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, is backing a plan that would extend traditional Medicaid benefits to Utahns below the poverty level, "who have signficant medical or mental need," he said in the article.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is also sponsoring a bill that would insure a limited number of Utahns, but based on income levels.

Gun issues

One of four or five firearms-related bills in the works this legislative session, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, is sponsoring a bill that returns the "constitutional carry" law.

"The main reason I'm doing it is I've got a bunch of constituents that are just hellbent for election that they shouldn't have to have a permit to carry it," he said in a Deseret News article. "They say they don't have to have a permit to have free speech, they shouldn't have to have a permit to carry a weapon," he said. "And they really don't, other than if you put a coat over it. Then you're screwed."

Other bills include one repealing a state law that makes it a felony to carry a concealed gun or dangerous weapon on a bus or train, legislation that would fix an apparent computer glitch that sometimes causes background checks on gun sales to take two or three hours and a bill that would give junior high school students more information on gun safety, according to the article.

Internet tax

Several legislators are looking to find a way to collect the sales tax on online purchases to bolster the sagging revenue source.

"We're not looking for a windfall of new money. What we want to do is shore up the base we've got," Bramble told the dozens of business, government and community leaders gathered for the annual prelegislative conference, according to a Deseret News article.

Salt Lake City agenda

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, a former legislator, has enlisted her deputy chief of staff, David Litvack as her legislative liaison during the session. Litvack, like Biskupski, served in the legislature and served as House minority leader for four of his 12 years in office.

Biskupski and the Salt Lake City Council will ask state lawmakers to address the issues of homelessness, air quality and the pending move of the Utah State Prison to a site west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.

UTA Capitol bus service

Need to get to the session? Utah Transit Authority's 500 Capitol Connector, an added transit service to the state Capitol, began running today and will continue through the end of the session.

“The legislative session is often held during a time of winter inversions which can result in poor air quality,” said UTA interim President and CEO Jerry Benson in a Deseret News article. “We hope that this extra service will give people a opportunity to try UTA and encourage them to make public transportation part of their everyday lives.”

Opinion section

Frank Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb break down Utah's lawmaking body.

In our opinion: Despite the occasional shortcomings and bad outcomes, Utah's citizen Legislature is the best and most representative form of government and the best chance Utah has for maintaining its strong economy.

Email: vromney@deseretdigital.com

Twitter: GinnyRomney