This week the legislature met again for the first time since the end of the legislative session for the first of its scheduled interim days. Plenty of issues of county interest were covered on the Hill. Below is a quick review of some of those issues.
The Government Operations Interim Committee heard testimony from Mark Thomas of the Lt. Governor’s Office regarding the future of Utah’s voting equipment. As we have discussed on this website before, the cost to replace Utah’s aging election system will exceed $10 million. The Lt. Governor’s Office’s presentation to the legislature is the first of a multi-pronged approach to procuring a substantial appropriation from the state to help offset the cost of a replacement system.
The committee also discussed the concept of ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting would allow voters to not only select their number one choice for a particular office, but also their second, third, and fourth choice if they so desire. In the event that no one single candidate receives a plurality of first-place votes, the lowest vote getter would be removed from the race and his or her second place votes would be added to the totals of the remaining candidates. This process would continue until a candidate ends up with a plurality of the votes. Counties have been weary of this election process for several reasons: First, outside of a few municipal races throughout the country, it is relatively untested. Second, the additional space such a ballot would require would likely make by-mail ballots a multi-page affair—this would result in voter confusion and an increase in cost to by-mail elections. The proponents of ranked-choice voting have listened to our concerns and expressed an interest in working with us to see if there isn’t a limited implementation of the concept that would work for Utah. Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted on any developments.
The Political Subdivisions Interim Committee invited Utah Association of Counties governmental affairs director Lincoln Shurtz to speak on the counties’ legislative priorities. Among other issues, Lincoln discussed the need to continue funding the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to ensure successful drug reform in the state. You can read more about Lincoln’s presentation here.
The Judiciary Interim Committee received a report from the newly formed Utah’s Indigent Defense Commission. Among other responsibilities, the commission is responsible for rewarding grants to cities and counties interested in improving their indigent defense services. You can find a written copy of the commission’s report here.
Interim Study Items
During this week’s interim meetings, a number of legislative interim committees unveiled the study items they’ll tackle over the interim. Reviewing the study items of several of these committees dealing with county issues gives us an idea of what legislative issues we can look forward to following this summer and fall.
The Government Operations Interim Committee is scheduled to study a number of election law issues throughout the interim including the replacement of nonpartisan candidates, election contests, and (possibly most interesting) a national popular vote. Additionally, the committee is studying such issues as the political activities of public entities, governmental immunity, and the merit of a number of state boards and commissions (check out their preliminary classification of such boards and commissions).
The Political Subdivisions Interim Committee is studying local government penalties, a mechanism to remove locally elected officials from office, animal shelters, and tax increment financing, among other items this interim.
The Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee has been charged to consider changes to the sales tax, income tax, and property tax as well as locate local tax revenue for homeless services this interim.
The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee is considering improving law enforcement retention, recruitment, and hiring this interim. The committee is also reviewing the sex offender treatment program and issues surrounding law enforcement injuries in the line of duty this interim.