The China Report

by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader
Senate District 27

Senator Mike DmitrichAs you are probably aware, I just returned from a legislative trip to the Liaoning Province, Utah’s sister state, located in northeastern China. Below is a brief synopsis of many hours spent with government officials in China.

I would like to compliment Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble on his exemplary conduct in leading our legislative delegation. Without exception, Senator Bramble made a conscientious effort to include all members of the delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, in all presentations made to the Chinese officials. We owe him a big thank you for his efforts.

China is a rapidly developing nation with great resources and needs. Utah, particularly rural Utah, can benefit from the relationship we are building with China’s Liaoning Province. Utah’s expertise in technologies for safely and cleanly using our natural resources, as well as our educational and cultural resources, can greatly benefit Liaoning Province while helping Utah to succeed in today’s world economy.

Liaoning is rich in natural resources, just like rural Utah. Unlike rural Utah, though, the Chinese have struggled to make advances in mining, exploration, and extraction technologies. Also, they have not made great strides in mine safety as we have. During my visit, I was able to discuss these concerns with leaders in the Liaoning Province, and I am confident Utah can export its expertise and mine safety equipment to China to help decrease the number of mining deaths in their province. The provincial officials also discussed other mutually beneficial partnerships, like coal gasification, utilization of coal-bed methane, and uranium mining.

We also met with educational leaders and discussed possible cooperation with educational exchanges. At Liaoning University, we saw a modern university with a strong desire for educational partnerships in America. The Chinese are building universities at a startling pace, trying to move their economy from low-skilled manufacturing jobs to higher skilled ones. As other countries like Vietnam become more competitive in low-skilled manufacturing, this is increasingly important for China. Many of their students study in the United States, which gives us the opportunity to influence China’s future leaders and encourage political reforms we hope will accompany China’s economic growth.

Other visits were to high-tech parks and manufacturing facilities. These are modern facilities with a young and diligent workforce. These industries are growing quickly and attracting more and more workers. There are many opportunities for foreign investment and for understanding the characteristics that make China such an attractive place to do business.

In our meetings with government leaders at the city, provincial, and even national level, we learned that China needs the resources of states like Utah to continue its economic reforms. These visits help foster the cooperative environment that can lead to genuine reform in China, both economically and politically. Utah has talent and ingenuity ready to be shipped around the world in the form of people and products. These people and products can benefit China and Utah simultaneously. This is what we discovered in our meetings in China as we built relationships to cooperatively move forward in our shrinking world.

How Does This Make Any Sense?

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyRecently a constituent called me in distress. He is involved in a case with DCFS. Here are the facts in a nutshell.

Frank is an openly gay man. He is a business owner and has a long-term partner he has been living with for the past 14 years in a home that they own. They are financially stable and do not require aid from the state or federal governments. Frank is an uncle to a four-year-old boy. His brother, the boy’s father, is a drug addict and presently incarcerated. At one point, DCFS took the boy out of the father’s custody and placed him with his grandmother. Frank and his partner helped the grandmother raise the boy for the last two years. They have an established relationship and bond with the young man. Unfortunately, recently the grandmother passed away from cancer and the boy is now in state custody. The boy’s father wants Frank to have custody. DCFS has evaluated Frank and his home and has determined that Frank and the home are fit to raise the boy. Frank is the boy’s blood relative. There are no other living or competent blood relatives to raise the boy.

So this seems like a no-brainer right? Frank should be given custody and should raise him, right? That is not the case. Frank was denied approval by DCFS. How can this be you ask? Well, here is the wrinkle (injustice). Remember that Frank is a gay man, a characteristic that fortunately by itself does not disqualify him from receiving custody of his nephew and raising him. However, also remember that Frank has found his way into a stable, long-term relationship with his partner and they live together, i.e., they cohabitate. This fact, that Frank and his partner are in a stable, long-term relationship and live together, disqualifies them from receiving custody of and raising his nephew under Utah Code Ann. 78-30-1.

Yes, because Frank and his partner are in a stable, long-term relationship, one that happens to be a gay relationship, they are not allowed to adopt and raise Frank’s nephew, even though the biological father wishes Frank and his partner to do so and despite the fact that Frank, as a single gay man, could adopt the boy if only he were not in a stable, long-term relationship with his partner. So, Frank’s crime here is that he was able to form a stable, long-term relationship with his partner. As a result, guess what happens to Frank’s nephew: he goes into the foster care system and goes to live with strangers until one day he might be adopted.

To me, this makes no sense and demonstrates why Utah’s policy prohibiting gay adoption simply does not make sense. This policy, in this case at least, will tear a family apart and contradict the parental wishes of the biological father.

Politicizing the State Board of Education is a Bad Idea

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyRep. Carl Wimmer is floating a bill that would increase the size of the State Board of Education from its current 15 members to 29 members. It would model the 29 board positions on the current 29 state senate districts. Worst of all, it would require candidates for the State Board of Education to declare party affiliations and subject these candidates to the political convention process (and ultimately straight party ticket voting).

Wimmer’s bill is a solution in search of a problem. The reason this bill is being sought is simple: the State School Board has shown itself to be a truly independent, nonpartisan governmental entity. This, of course, raises the ire of the current Republican leadership because the State School Board has refused to say “how high?” when the Republican leadership says “jump!” The nerve! We have discovered a governmental institution (a constitutionally established one at that) that refuses to mindlessly answer the beck and call of the Republican leadership. Isn’t it obvious that if we don’t reign in this uppity institution, other state agencies and institutions might start getting similar ideas. So how do we get this errant institution back under the thumb? One way is to make sure we pack it with individuals more beholden to Republican leadership than the people who Republican leadership has picked for them to represent.

If Wimmer’s bill were to succeed, then the State Board of Education would simply become another partisan arm of the Republican leadership subject to their gerrymandering and the extremism of the party’s delegates. No longer would sound independent legal analysis and public policy rule the day. One need only look to the most recent voucher controversy to understand this. In that case, instead of the legal analysis that HB 174 was meaningless without HB 148 (a position proffered by an independent State Board and endorsed unanimously by the state’s highest court), we would have the flawed legal reasoning of the Attorney General and the Republican leadership being implemented, resulting in an illegal and unwanted taxpayer funded voucher program.

Politicizing the State School Board will not result in better education for our kids. It will only result in Republican leadership getting their way, right or (mostly) wrong, once again.

NCSL just reported…

NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) has just announced the legislator participation statistics for the NCSL Legislators Back to School Program. Shelley Day, our state coordinator, says, “Utah ranked #2 in the nation for the 2006-2007 school year. We’re still in the TOP 3, five years running. (Last year we were on top!) Here are the top five for this year:

Massachusetts 100%
Utah 80%
Hawaii 51%
Nebraska 51%
Arizona 50%

Congratulations to Shelley Day in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel who coordinates the program for the Utah Legislature. Congratulations, also, to Utah’s legislators who participated in the program.

Sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the program is designed to teach young people, the nation’s future voters and leaders, what it’s like to be a state legislator: the processes, the pressures, the debate, and negotiation and compromise that are the very fabric of representative democracy. The program is emphasized as a bipartisan event. Legislators of both political parties are urged to participate in this national event and help bring civics to life for young people.

What’s Best for Public Ed?

By Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader
Senate District 27

Senator Mike DmitrichDue to the recent Utah Supreme Court ruling regarding HB148–Education Vouchers (subject of the referendum vote in November), the public will have a straight up or down vote on a universal voucher program for the state of Utah. The Court ruled that a second bill, HB174, Education Voucher Amendments, is inadequate for enacting a voucher program on its own.

Announcing 131,000 SignaturesOn behalf of the Utah Senate Democrats, I applaud the efforts of many groups and individuals for their professional conduct in exercising their constitutional right to bring this issue before the people. We express our thanks to the UEA, PTA, Utahns for Public Schools, the Utah State Board of Education (chaired by Kim Burningham), the Utah State Office of Education attorneys, the 131,000 signers of the petition, and all others who worked tirelessly to arrive at this juncture.

Chair Burningham at Press ConferenceWe also thank all of Utah’s public education employees and volunteers who daily contribute to the success of Utah’s public education system.

As posted previously on our blog, the Senate and House Democrats oppose vouchers. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, House Minority Leader Ralph Becker and I wrote two letters to Governor Huntsman asking him to call a special session to resolve the confusion created by this phenomenon of circumstances. The Supreme Court ruling has now eliminated the need for a special session, and obviously, we hope the voters overturn the voucher law passed by the Legislature.

Vouchers are not a “bureaucrat and liberal union” issue as has been cited by voucher proponents. Instead, the core issue is whether or not it is in the best interest of our public education system to subsidize private schools. In my opinion, the voucher law is blatantly unfair to Utah’s students, particularly those who reside in rural areas of the state.

The ballot language has been approved, along with arguments for and against vouchers, for publication in the Voter Information Pamphlet. I am very pleased with the argument against vouchers and believe it addresses all relevant concerns for the voters’ consideration. (Click “Read the rest of the entry” below for the complete argument against vouchers.)

Between now and November when the vote takes place, I urge the citizens of Utah to carefully consider the voucher issue and base their vote on a rational evaluation of the broader question: What course of action is best for the public education system in our state?

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Doing Well

Sen. Mayne in the ChamberWe reported earlier this year that Senator Ed Mayne is fighting lung cancer. (see prior posts: Health Update, He’s at the Capitol, He’s Up for the Battle, and What Happened To Senator Mayne’s Mane?) Another update on Senator Mayne is found in today’s Tribune article entitled “Survival is Senator’s New Cause” written by Tribune reporter Matt Canham. Pick up a paper or click the link above for the update on Senator Mayne. Included in the article are two terrific photos of this terrific state senator. In one of the photos, he’s catching up on his constituent e-mail and reviewing his schedule while receiving his chemo treatment.

Congrats to Senator Jones

Senator Pat Jones

As reported in yesterday’s Tribune, Senator Patricia Jones has been selected to serve on the board of the Utah Winter Games. Executive Director Heidi Hughes says Senator Jones’ background and experience will enhance the Games, it’s WinterFit Program, and the ongoing legacy of Salt Lake City as host of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Senator Jones remarked, “The Utah Winter Games concentrates on healthy family activities. It’s a good fit for me.”

Congratulations to Senator Patricia Jones.

Youch! That’s Gotta Sting

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyWell today the Utah Supreme Court added some clarity to the voucher mess. While it did say that the current ballot title penned by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel will stay just the way it is (i.e., only referencing and analyzing HB 148) the Supreme Court unanimously rejected outright the Attorney General’s and voucher proponents’ legal contention that HB 174 stands alone as a voucher implementation bill. The Supreme Court essentially said that HB 148 and HB 174 are joined at the hip and that without HB 148, HB 174 is meaningless and unenforceable. (“If the voters choose to reject HB 148, HB 174 will not create an additional voucher program.”) So two important implications: 1) a rejection of HB 148 in the referendum will have the effect of also voiding HB 174; and 2) in the meantime until the referendum vote, the Board of Education doesn’t have to implement vouchers based solely on HB 174. Leave it to the Judiciary to maintain a clear head in a crisis.

The biggest loser in this chapter seems to be Attorney General Mark Shurtleff whose legal analysis (and political instincts??) appears to have been dead wrong. I guess Carol Lear and Jean Hill got it right. Instead of trying to fire them, maybe he should listen to them. Note to State Board of Education: Keep taking your counsel from your long-time attorneys and ignore the Big Bully. The Supremes have got their (and your) back. I have a hunch a majority of Utah voters will too.

The Irony of Passing the Voucher Buck (and a response to a little finger pointing)

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyWell the voucher mess has now moved to the courts. Both sides have filed law suits to try and untangle the disaster that is HB 148 and HB 174. The Utah Supreme Court will hear arguments in the two cases this Friday. It will be great political and judicial theater for sure. What I truly love the most about the latest chapter in the voucher drama is the rich irony that we will be saved by the courts. How wonderful it is to see conservative legislators, such as Senator Bramble, who extol the supremacy of the Legislative Branch, throwing up their hands (after the requisite amount of public platitudes about the will of the people and sufficient wailing and gnashing of teeth) and pleading with the Judiciary to sort out this mess over which the impotent Legislature now seems to have no control (or responsibility). So the solution is not to have the political will and intestinal fortitude (i.e., leadership) to fix this mess of our own making but rather to put our fate in the hands of those five wise Justices, even if they are ever prone to judicial activism (i.e., decisions the conservatives don’t like). Talk about passing the buck.

Oh and by the way, the Senate Site recently suggested that all this is somehow the fault of the voucher opponents for picking a vehicle (i.e., a referendum rather than an initiative) that won’t take them where they want to go. Let’s not forget that the bad process that got us where we are today was 1) a poorly conceived original voucher bill and 2) a poorly conceived separate “clean up” bill. The voucher proponents got lucky and passed the poorly conceived HB 148 by one vote. When critics pointed out some real problems with the bill, the voucher proponents realized that the original bill did result in some bad public policy. It was their reaction in running the second poorly conceived bill that set this current unpleasantness in motion.

What Happened to Senator Mayne’s Mane?

We reported that Senator Ed Mayne shaved his head at the Taste of Kearns event earlier this month. Senator Mayne has lung cancer and was losing his hair as a result of chemotherapy, so he decided to have a little fun with it.

With the loss of his mane, Senator Mayne joins other members of the Senate Democrat caucus who also happen to be “maneless.” Three plus one equals four. Who are the other three?

This photo was taken last Interim Day in the Senate Chamber. Like Bagley’s “captionless” cartoons, this is a “captionless” photo. Any ideas? Here are a few.

The Bald Eagle Forum
Great Balds of Fire!
And me without a cue stick?
No Do’s is Good News
Capitol Domes of Utah

Four Bald Democrat Senators