SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature kicked off Monday with lawmakers promising to tackle tough issues, while also dealing with budget cuts.
Legislative leaders are also anticipating a record-breaking number of bills — around 1,500.
“You just can’t to that many bills in 45 days. We’ll be trying to figure out how many important issues as we can,” Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said.
“It’s free speech on steroids,” quipped Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.
The 2017 session of the Utah State Legislature was contrasted by thousands of demonstrators who descended on the Capitol building for the Women’s March. Things got so loud, the Senate had to ask lawmakers to speak up to conduct business as the rally took place outside.
The rally comes as lawmakers have to deal with some pressing issues this session. Addressing his colleagues in the House of Representatives, Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, identified his top priorities.
“This state has a homelessness crisis amongst us. The values, the culture of this community of our state does not align, does not match with the carnage that is going on in real time right now,” he told the House.
Lawmakers funded $27 million for homeless services last year and are expected to be asked to kick in more money this year. Speaker Hughes’ comments earned applause from the minority party in the legislature.
“My gosh, he sounds like a Democrat for crying out loud!” House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, told FOX 13. “The Speaker’s talking about stuff that we as Democrats have been talking about for a long time.”
But Democrats refused to applaud the Speaker’s remarks on Bears Ears National Monument. He called on President Trump to rescind the monument “entirely.” He also announced the re-creation of a commission on federalism.
Republicans on Utah’s Capitol Hill also made veiled references to a ballot initiative that proposes to raise income taxes to cover education.
“If the legislature could come up with a solution that would be something that they could agree to then I think it would be better for us to deal with as a legislature,” Niederhauser said.