Utah State Capitol is the house of government for the U.S. state of Utah in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous city in the state of Utah. Salt Lake City has  a strong outdoor recreation tourist industry and is well-known as the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2017 Utah Legislature gets underway

The Utah Legislature is now meeting in its annual general session, which started Monday and will continue through March 9.

The state of Utah has an excellent legislative website with a wealth of information available to Utahns. Click here to learn the quickest way to find and read the text of a specific bill. To learn more (with pictures!) about how a bill becomes a law, click here. As a citizen, your voice and perspective are included in the legislative process if  you communicate with your legislators. To find your representative and senator and their contact information, click here.


In his introductory remarks (video), Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser addressed the critical need to rebalance the power of the states and the national government. Regarding the “intense partisanship and inability of Washington to effectively pass and deal with issues,” Pres. Niederhauser said,

…this is because the federal [national] government was never intended to be so comprehensive. … The vision of the Founders was to spread power over multiple layers of government in order to prevent any concentration of power. Most issues should be dealt with in our state houses and our city halls, not Washington, DC. … Centralized government was the very thing the Founding Fathers were trying to eliminate. … I call upon my legislative colleagues across this country to join together and build a barrier around state jurisdiction and guard it jealously. Even though I am encouraged by the talk coming from Washington, D.C., now, I don’t think they will give up the power on their own. We will need to hold their feet to the fire.

Underscoring the hard work and decisions of those who have gone before, Speaker Greg Hughes highlighted (video) several of the challenges and issues he and his colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives will address over the next 45 days. Among the more pressing matters will be:

  • The urgency to confront, in appropriate and effective ways, the homelessness crisis in our state
  • Intrusions of the national government and its executive-branch overreach – as manifest in the recent Bears Ears national monument designation – and the efforts now underway to rescind that designation
  • Continuing the prudent balancing of public education funding requirements and preservation of the state’s tax-policy competitiveness with other Western states – a critical element of which is the public land still under the control of the national government

Again, as citizens of Utah, you can participate in the processes of deliberation and decision-making on matters of public policy – if you will – and thereby equip your representatives in the House and Senate to be your voice in the legislative processes of our democratic republic.


Testimony on SB 153 (Access to Health Care)

sutherland file pictures 007Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs, on Feb. 17, 2015, before the Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee regarding SB 153 (Access to Health Care): 

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good morning, Senators. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute.

We think SB 153 represents a wise approach that balances meeting the immediate needs of individuals with significant health problems against the need to be cognizant of and cautious about the very detrimental impact that expanding the Medicaid program will have on those currently in Medicaid – the hundreds of thousands of disabled individuals and low-income single parents and children that Healthy Utah would leave behind in traditional Medicaid – as well as on the long-term fiscal outlook of the state.

For these reasons, we strongly encourage your support of this bill.

Thank you.

2015 Legislature: Testimony supporting partisan elections for state school board (SB 104)

TUtah_State_Capitol_2008estimony given by Stan Rasmussen Tuesday, Feb. 3, before the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee regarding Education Elections and Reporting Amendments (SB 104):

Sutherland supports SB 104 because it would replace the current incoherent, convoluted and complex state school board election system with one that produces clarity, transparency and accountability for voters and parents of children in public schools.

The system proposed in SB 104 produces clarity for voters and parents by giving them the same system to select state school board members that they use for every other state elected official in Utah. This system produces transparency by adding to state school board elections the heightened media scrutiny that partisan elections create through a narrative of partisan competition, as well as the heightened voter scrutiny that comes with the caucus-convention-primary system. Finally, this system produces accountability by incorporating voters and parents into every stage of the election process, rather than just after the candidate pool has been winnowed down, as the current system does.

In closing, you have heard today, and previously, that utilizing partisan elections to select state school board members is bad policy because it injects partisan politics into the state school board. Perhaps an appropriate response to this argument is a paraphrase of Winston Churchill: “[I]t has been said that [partisan elections] are the worst form of [elections] except all … other forms that have been tried.”

We encourage you to support SB 104. Thank you.

The (legislative) game is afoot

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

We’ve collected some great little tools to get you primed for this year’s legislative session:

Testimony on HB 96 (Utah School Readiness Initiative)

Utah_State_Capitol_2008Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs, Sutherland Institute, before the House Education Standing Committee of the Utah Legislature on Feb. 6, 2014, regarding HB 96 – Utah School Readiness Initiative:

Thank you, Mr. Vice Chair and good morning, Representatives. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute. We appreciate Rep. Hughes’ attention to public education and his earnest efforts over the past many years. We have some concerns and a statement to share on this proposed legislation.

Sutherland understands the desire to help truly at-risk children improve their educational opportunities – children whose home situations make it difficult if not impossible for them to prepare for successful academic pursuits. We share that desire, in fact. And we believe such needs are best assessed and efforts to help are most appropriately undertaken at the local level.

As a state-driven, top-down policy instrument, HB 96 must use state-level measures to determine “at risk” status, such as whether a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. By this measure, in 2012 nearly 40 percent of all children in K-12 schools would be considered “economically disadvantaged” and therefore “at risk.” Clearly, the number of truly “at risk” children in need of in-class preschool services does not approach anywhere near four out of every 10 children in Utah. This underscores the point that such determinations are best made at the local level.

Instead of crafting a statewide preschool program that could end up unnecessarily taking many children who are not truly “at risk” out of their homes, Utah should recognize the fact that local school districts are better situated to determine “at risk” status and craft targeted preschool programs for children in need. At the very least, if the state feels compelled to craft a statewide preschool program, it should follow the principle and support the policy articulated in Utah Code 62A-4a-201 (1)(e):

It is the public policy of this state that parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education of their children.

– and do so by expanding in-home preschool options, such as the UPSTART program.

Thank you.

2013 Legislature: Testimony opposing antidiscrimination amendments (SB 262)

Testimony given by Paul Mero Thursday, March 7, before the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee regarding Employment and Housing Antidiscrimination Amendments (SB 262):

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to add a voice to this hearing. In considering what I might share, I realized that this issue of nondiscrimination stopped being about policy at some point and is now simply a public relations issue. The legislative politics of nondiscrimination has more twists and turns than a daytime soap opera. But we’re policy people at Sutherland and it’s difficult for us to advise legislators on public relations.

After five or six consecutive years of hearing this bill – and every year the bill is rejected – I’m sure proponents of the bill might be a little frustrated with this process. But when you can’t win on its merits, all that’s left is an appeal to emotion. All that’s left is to ask legislators, “Pretty please? – just let it be heard, just give me a Republican sponsor, can we have a floor vote, pretty please?” Read more

2013 Legislature: Testimony in favor of reporting domestic violence statistics

Testimony given by Stan Rasmussen Monday, March 4, before the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in support of Rep. Lee Perry’s Domestic Violence Statistics Reporting (HB 361):

Thanks, Mr. Chairman, and good morning, Representatives.

We commend Representative Perry for bringing this bill. We believe that this information will increase the understanding of domestic violence and will help state policymakers, such as yourselves, to understand better these circumstances and to develop policies that curb such violence in ways that strengthen families and protect innocent victims. For these reasons we would encourage your support of the bill. Thank you.


2013 Legislature: Testimony in favor of SCR 7 — reducing dependence on federal funds

Testimony given by Stan Rasmussen Friday in support of Sen. Aaron Osmond’s Concurrent Resolution to Reduce Utah’s Dependence on Federal Funds (SCR 7) before the Senate Government Operations Committee:

Thank you, Madam Chair, and good morning, Senators. I am Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs.

It is universally recognized that federal funds comprise a significant portion of state and local budgets in Utah. And, as has been discussed, the federal government is both insolvent and continuing the behaviors that have produced the insolvency. To say this is a problem is an understatement. The purpose of Financial Ready Utah is to raise awareness about and address this problem.

With what could have happened with the recent so-called “fiscal cliff” and the pending potential sequestration, it is not difficult to imagine what could yet happen. Acknowledging your awareness of Utah’s dependence on federal funds, I would call your attention to the “Fiscal Policy Primer” two-page overview I have provided to you.

In the first bullet, just below the center of the first page – “The federal government cannot meet its current financial obligations” – I would highlight the fact that as of 2011 the federal government’s total financial liabilities ($61 trillion) were more than the household net worth of all Americans combined ($58.5 trillion). In other words, if the federal government used tax policy to take every dollar in net worth from all Americans – from Bill Gates to every middle-income Utahn – it would still need another $2.5 trillion (more than $8,000 for every person in the U.S.) to pay its obligations.

And putting a human face on these numbers, specifically numbers in the graph at the upper right – approximately 20 percent of funding of the state’s school districts; 30 percent of all state funding; 25 percent of Utah’s economy – it is both mathematically sound and morally correct that the Legislature and governor support the Financial Ready Utah enterprise risk management process and urge your vote in favor of this bill.

Thank you.

2013 Legislature: Testimony in favor of SB 70 – commission relating to federal issues

Testimony given by Derek Monson Wednesday before the Senate Government Operations Committee in support of Sen. Deidre Henderson’s SB 70:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My name is Derek Monson and I represent Sutherland Institute.  We are here to testify in favor of SB 70 – Commission Relating to Federal Issues.

If you look at a recent study by the American Institute of CPAs, they reported that the federal government has outstanding debt and social insurance obligations of $61 trillion, compared to a total household net worth in the entire country of $58.5 trillion. In other words, if the federal government taxed every dollar of net worth from the entire country, the federal government would not be able to pay its long-term bills, which do not even include day-to-day expenses such as for defense, transportation, and education.

The point of this statement is to say that the state of Utah will be experiencing federal funding cuts somewhere down the road: if not from sequestration, then beyond. This is a pressing issue, and the impacts are going to be greatest on the most vulnerable Utahns – on children in public schools, on low-income families in the state Medicaid program, and on families generally because of the amount of federal funds in the state economy.

We think this commission is a prudent step to make the preparations that we need to be making for a completely predictable problem that we are going to face, and we encourage you to support this bill. Thank you.

2013 Legislature: Testimony in favor of SB 53 — intergenerational welfare reform

Testimony given by Stan Rasmussen Tuesday in support of Sen. Stuart Reid’s Intergenerational Welfare Reform (SB 53, 2013) before the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee:

Thank you, Mr. Vice Chair, and good afternoon, Madam Chair and Representatives. I am Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs. We appreciate Senator Reid’s leadership in this important matter of intergenerational poverty and the need for related welfare reform. As part of our expression of support for this bill, I would like to read a brief statement from William C. Duncan, director of the Sutherland Center for Family & Society. Bill resides in Utah County and was not able personally to be with us this afternoon:

The study on intergenerational poverty commissioned by the Legislature last year demonstrated a substantial challenge with intergenerational poverty in Utah. It is clear that many children are being victimized by the poor choices of others and even by misguided government programs. Sutherland Institute is therefore grateful to Senator Reid for taking the next step by sponsoring legislation to formulate the plans necessary to provide help to children who would otherwise be stuck in a cycle of poverty. We particularly appreciate the inclusion of participants representing civil society — in other words, non-governmental individuals — in the advisory committee this bill creates.

The need to break the cycle of poverty for thousands of Utah’s children calls for our best efforts and we urge you to take a constructive step in that direction by approving this important legislation.

Thank you.