Lawmakers balance budget, push last-minute legislation on day 43

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SALT LAKE CITY -- With the session winding down, the House and Senate are pushing through last-minute legislation, which isn't out of the ordinary.

However the biggest hurdle lawmakers have managed to overcome is balancing the State's budget. Typically lawmakers are wrangling with balancing the budget until midnight on the last day of the session, but Governor Gary Herbert has already signed off on a number of base budgets, including funding public education.

While both sides seem satisfied, Democrats say there are still a number of bills they want to see passed.

"We have got a lot of work done, but we've still got a lot left to do," said Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a Democrat representing the Avenues.

With the clock ticking, there's a last minute push to get legislation through and a call from Senator Jim Dabakis for the state to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, "Governor, take the money: This is crazy," he said.

During his weekly address with the media, Herbert said he is satisfied with the work the legislature has done so far this year.

"We can see the finish line is ahead of us," he said.

The legislature has already reached the finish line on the state's budget. More than $68 million will cover growth in public education. Another $6 million will go to supplies and materials. Teachers also get a raise.

"The fact that we're going to be putting in probably around $20 million of new money into S.T.E.M. education is a significant step forward too," Herbert said.

Rep. Chavez-Houck said she is happy with the funding in public education this year, and she agreed that it was made a priority, but she is not completely satisfied with the session.

"Those of us on our side of the aisle wish more could be done," she said.

Democrats said that sometimes money is being dedicated in all the wrong places, like toward wolves.

"We've got a lobbyist that's paid to do that,” Chavez-Houck said. “There's been a line item there of $300,000 dollars to delist, to work towards delisting wolves off the endangered species list."

Then there are the gun bills, which give Democrats pause and concern. A bill designed to provide access to guns for people who once suffered from mental illness is sailing through, and so is legislation which would make carrying a concealed weapon without a permit legal.

Herbert said he's fine with the state's gun laws, saying if it 'aint broke, don't fix it.

"I think it's easy for us to get emotional about these issues and we probably should be emotional, 2nd amendment rights are important," Herbert said.

There's been talk about the Governor using his veto powers, but House Speaker Becky Lockhart said this during her daily address to the media, "I'm not going to put the words in the Governor's mouth, and I won't do that he's the executive; he's the Governor and he has positions on issues but the legislature has positions as well."

Some key pieces of legislation that were expected to pass Tuesday night: The Dating Violence Act, which makes it easier for someone to get a restraining order. Representative Patrice Arent's Air Quality bill is making its way through too and so is a bill regarding background checks on child care workers.