Since we introduced our base budget, the rumor mill has been buzzing with concerns over specific programs being cut. Balancing the budget and correcting the structural imbalance while funding quality education is a difficult process, but it’s a challenge we are happy to accept. It’s a challenge you elected us to handle. And we have: the entire House, serving on appropriations and executive appropriations committees, has spent countless hours reviewing, discussing, debating and preparing the public education budget.
The final budget will be different from the base budget and part of that is anticipated to be funding millions of dollars for new growth in education. Two weeks ago in our Republican caucus meeting, we released our top three priorities, which include a focus on accountability and excellence in education.
Utah has unique challenges with an exploding student population; this requires serious solutions on the part of the Legislature.
Excellence is about improving student performance and exploring the best possible ways to deliver quality education. Accountability means that the state, school districts and teachers must be responsible for ensuring the ongoing success of the students.
On the House floor, we discuss a wide variety of issues. This week we OK’d funding for body armor for dogs, agreed that refugees could take their first driver’s license test with the help of an interpreter and passed a resolution calling on our federal government to pass a balanced budget amendment.
We also began the official discussion of the first of many immigration bills. HB 70, Rep. Sandstrom, is primarily an enforcement bill. Let me first say that I have tremendous respect for Rep. Sandstrom and the way he has conducted himself during the past year while this issue has been debated. He has put in countless hours and been respectful to the process and those who oppose him.
During the past year I have gathered data from the legislative questionnaires returned from close to 700 people in our District, discussed the potential impacts with law enforcement and other affected entities, and studied the issue extensively. Interestingly enough the data from the people in our District indicate a strong desire to couple enforcement with some type of guest worker program, very few who are on the extremes and want either wholesale deportment or 100 percent welcoming arms to those here illegally. I tend to agree.
I found myself very frustrated last week during the discussion for HB 70. I am in strong support of a comprehensive bill that combines both enforcement and a worker permit program.
The more I’ve listened to the debate over the months and on the floor, I’ve become convinced the House body has no will to move the direction I’m hoping for. While there have been amendments that have addressed some of my concerns with HB 70, making a bill better does not make it good.
However, we are at an impasse in the House. I have lost confidence in our ability to continue to craft and shape this bill. The House is absolutely intractable on a combination type bill. We must get this bill out of the House for further work to take place. My vote last week was a hope that the Senate will craft a comprehensive, or significantly amended/ substituted, bill and send it back to the House for a concurrence vote.
I have confidence that the Senate has the capacity and political will to craft such legislation. This issue, and even this bill, is not over. There are several other bills addressing drivers privilege cards, in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, use and enforcement of eVerify for small businesses, and others.
These can and will be debated individually on their own merits and will become part of the big immigration picture at the end of the session. Many of those ideas have my support. However, it is critical that immigration be dealt with in a comprehensive manner addressing the economy, an imperative federal solution, realities for law enforcement and cities/counties, and is in harmony with the principles of the Utah Compact,which I strongly support.
I’d love to hear from you, my constituents, on this issue. The time is now to weigh in on the specifics. Please take a look at the latest amended version of HB 70 and share your recommendations with me. Here is the link: le.utah.gov/~2011/ bills/hbillamd/hb0070.htm.