Representative Christine Watkins sits with seatmates Representative Mike Winder and Representative Walt Brooks during the final week of the legislative session.
By Representative Christine Watkins
The last week at the legislature is usually pretty hectic, but this year it was pretty calm. Both the Senate and House were hearing bills and passing or not passing them. The last two days we heard bills that had appropriations with them. We did not pass some of them and that freed up money for other appropriation requests. I was very happy about that. The Uintah Basin Technology College in Roosevelt had requested $4.5 million for a new welding building. Because of the extra money, that became available we were able to fund that request.
About 60% of the new revenue this year went to public education, the largest share in recent memory. That included a 4% increase in the WPU, putting money where it will allow for greater flexibility and local control. Higher education received about 25% of the new revenue, including $62 million for operations and $13 million for buildings. We reinvested more than $40 million of Medicaid and CHIP savings into homelessness initiatives, justice reform and a new juvenile justice reform.
The legislature passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation for clean air in years. With SB 197, refineries in the state are incentivized to switch over to the production of Tier 3 fuels, which have a lower sulfur content and provide for much cleaner burning. If everyone in the state were to use Tier 3 fuels, it would have the equivalent effect of removing four of every five vehicles on the road. This switch in production is costly and the bill provides a sales tax exemption on certain products needed for that transition.
HB 63 creates a state park in the “Hole in the Rock” area and HB 95 creates a state park in the “Little Sahara” recreation area. Obviously, it will take time for these two new state parks to become organized. Another bill of interest that passed was HB 198. This bill establishes a provisional permit to carry a concealed firearm for eligible individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 for lawful self-defense, and prohibits them from carrying a concealed weapon on or about an elementary or secondary school.
Senator Hinkins was able to get two important appropriations for Carbon County. For the Carbon Canal Diversion Reconstruction, $250,000 was appropriated, and for lining a portion of the Carbon Canal, $343,000 was appropriated. We both supported funding for a state-wide Canal Safety mapping.
I made very good friends with the other freshman legislators. We all had great support from House Speaker Greg Hughes and the other members of leadership. I loved it when constituents came to visit. I understood why many were unable to visit considering all of the winter storms that we had. A very special thanks to my husband, John, for his help and care of our seven-year-old grandson. Thanks to ETV 10 for printing my articles every week, they were so helpful. Thanks to all who took the survey, there will be more to come. I will continue to work hard to represent you and southeastern Utah. Please continue to contact me with concerns.