Utah Solar Tour 2010

by Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

Senator Ross RomeroEnergy is the topic of the day, and clean, renewable energy is being promoted at the local, state, and national levels.  Many Americans want new sources of energy that positively affect our atmosphere, our independence, and our pocketbooks.  During the past few years, numerous Utah legislators have sponsored and debated bills designed to shift the focus from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

I would like to invite you and your family, friends, and neighbors to attend this year’s Utah Solar Tour.  Sponsored by the Utah Solar Energy Association (the local nonprofit chapter of the American Solar Energy Society), the 2010 Utah Solar Tour is scheduled for Saturday, September 25, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  This is a FREE public event.

During this event, you will learn about the latest solar technologies and applications.  Professionals will teach you how to install solar equipment at your home or business and what financial incentives are available for doing so.

You will be able to visit homes and businesses using renewable energy from Payson to Logan.  Map out your tour of sites near you for Saturday, September 25, by visiting http://utsolar.org/index.php/solar_tour/overview/.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn everything you ever wanted to know about renewable solar energy.  Join the Utah Solar Energy Association for a solar-powered weekend.

Another Successful Utah-based Nonprofit: High Road for Human Rights

by Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

Senator Ross RomeroRecently, I had the chance to visit with former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and discuss with him his organization High Road for Human Rights.

High Road for Human Rights organizes, supports, and mobilizes an extensive network of people to prevent and eliminate human rights abuses by (1) elevating awareness about human rights abuses and available solutions, and (2) taking unified actions to achieve changes that will enhance the protection of human rights.

Rocky elaborated on his organization’s five areas of focus, which include:

1.    Genocide
2.    Slavery
3.    Climate Crisis
4.    Death Penalty
5.    Torture & Rule of Law

I was surprised a few days later to read an article published in the Deseret News Sunday, August 15, 2010, entitled “A Story of Modern Slavery in Utah.”  The article written by Lee Davidson relates the story of several Thai workers who were recruited by a Los Angeles-based company for farm work in the United States.  These workers were placed at two locations in Utah.  In the article, they relate their harrowing stories of poor living and working conditions, misrepresented and violated compensation agreements, and prison-like confinement.

If you think such human rights atrocities occur elsewhere, you are wrong.  I commend Rocky for his humanitarian work and believe we should all be active participants in these important human rights discussions.  Perhaps you will consider supporting High Road for Human Rights, an organization centered here in Salt Lake City addressing local, national, and international acts of inhumanity.

Salute to Teachers and Tribute to Ms. Barbara Whaley

by Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

Ms WhaleyAs the school year winds down, I want to take this opportunity to thank Utah’s teachers and educators for making a difference in the lives of their students.  I am amazed and impressed with the dedicated educators who have undertaken the critical assignment of preparing the next generation of Utah’s and America’s leaders.

My second grade teacher Barbara Whaley passed away June 1 at the age of 61 in Salt Lake City.  She was one of those teachers of whom I speak.  She was a teacher at Indian Hills Elementary School for 39 years, impacting the lives of thousands of first and second graders just like me.  My classmates and I adored her, and to this day, I feel a kinship with her and carry the memories of a wonderful school year as a young boy.  I attended her funeral recently and learned of her love for the 4th of July, buying tee shirts for family members to celebrate the occasion, her fondness of chocolate kisses, and her commitment to family.  I only knew her as a great teacher and appreciated hearing about her love in action.  She will be missed.

Many teachers perform their work in a system deficient in textbooks, supplies, professional development time, and appropriate classroom size.  Teachers spend many additional hours and dollars of their own to provide an education for our children.  Despite these challenges, teachers continue to be dedicated to their students.  The work they do in the classroom is deserving of the highest praise.  They serve as mothers, fathers, counselors, friends, nurses, disciplinarians, and finally as teachers.

Teachers, and especially at this time, Ms. Whaley, thank you for all you do for our community and our future.

Thanks for the Invitation, Camp Kostopulos

Senator Ross Romeroby Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

On Saturday, June 5, I attended an open house at Camp Kostopulos in Emigration Canyon.  Camp Kostopulos is sponsored by the Kostopulos Dream Foundation, an agency dedicated to improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities.  Camp Kostopulos is a week-long residential summer camp where kids, teens, and adults with disabilities are able to socialize and enjoy numerous recreational activities.  It’s fun for the participants and, at the same time,  provides a reprieve for their full-time care givers.

At the camp, participants engage in various recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, camping, singing, arts and crafts, horseback riding, ropes course, etc.  They make new friends and renew their friendships from previous summers.  Participants stay on site for a full week in the capable hands of full-time staff members who provide 24-hour supervision.  I have included some photos I took of this wonderful facility in my Senate District.

I would like to thank Cheryl Smith, Development Director of the Kostopulos Dream Foundation, who escorted my family and me at the Camp Kostopulos open house.

In addition to summer camp, the Kostopulos Dream Foundation also offers year-round recreational programs for kids, teens, and adults.  For further information about Kostopulos, visit their website at www.campk.org and as always, donations are appreciated.

Finally, on July 10, 2010, the Kostopulos Dream Foundation is hosting the Wasatch Wheelchair Rally, a fundraising event which will showcase runners and walkers pushing empty wheelchairs in a race around Liberty Park.  For more information, visit www.campk.org/wasatch-wheelchair-rally.

Camp Sign

Ropes Course
Ropes Course

Barn & Horses
Horseback Riding

 Senator Romero & Cheryl Smith
Senator Romero with his son and Cheryl Smith

Playground
Playground

Pathway

Sign the Fair Boundaries Initiative

Senator Ross Romeroby Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

In conjunction with the United States Census conducted every 10 years, Utah draws new political boundaries to equalize the population size of the Legislature’s Senate and House districts.  In Utah, your elected state senators and representatives draw the new lines for the districts.  Most Utahns understand the inherent conflicts when legislators are drawing their own boundaries.

The Fair Boundaries Initiative petition is circulating throughout our state for the purpose of creating an independent commission to handle redistricting in Utah to allow communities who have common interests to be fairly represented by the Legislature.  If enough signatures are gathered, the proposed changes contained in the Fair Boundaries Initiative can be placed on the ballot next November for a vote of Utah’s citizens.  Here are the highlights of the changes proposed by the initiative:

Establishes an eleven-member independent commission
Allows no more than four members from the same political party, three unaffiliated, to serve on the commission
Sets anti-gerrymandering standards
Keeps more local communities intact
Defines an honorable, open and transparent process
Excludes individuals with obvious conflicts of interest from the commission
Opens the process to citizen applicants

Recently the Utah Legislature passed (with Senate Democrats opposing) and Governor Herbert signed Senate Bill 275.  This new law repeals the requirement that a voter submit a notarized statement to the county clerk to have the voter’s signature removed from a statewide initiative or referendum petition, making it much easier for a citizen to remove his/her name.  It also extends the time for removing a voter’s signature from an initiative.  This new law is viewed by many, including the KSL Editorial Board, as a maneuver to thwart the initiative process.

I urge you to sign the Fair Boundaries Initiative by the April 15 deadline.  For information about how to sign the petition, visit http://www.fairboundaries.org/

Higher Education, a Wise Investment

Senator Ross Romeroby Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

I had the pleasure of serving on the Higher Education Appropriation Committee this year, and in those meetings, I had the opportunity to hear about the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA).  UHEAA  is an agency of the State of Utah which administers Utah’s student financial aid programs.  In 2009, 120,000 students received a total of $496 million in student loans through UHEAA.  Utah borrowers for higher education as reported by UHEAA have the lowest default rate in the nation.  We should all be proud of that.

UHEAA administers the student loan guarantee program and secondary market, state need-based financial aid, the Utah Educational Savings Plan Trust, and the Utah Engineering and Computer Sciences Loan Forgiveness Program.  On the UHEAA website, there is also helpful information on how to prepare and pay for college.  There are also links to other helpful websites.  At http://higheredutah.org/ there is information and news about the latest developments in higher education. At http://utahfutures.org/, you can find more information about planning for college and preparing for a career.  The UHEAA also has information for single moms who want to continue their education http://www.uheaa.org/singlemom/index.html.  I would encourage you to review these websites to help you prepare for your future higher education opportunities.  There is no better investment than an investment in your education.

Nonprofit Day on the Hill

Last Thursday, February 25, members of the Utah nonprofit community came together at the Capitol to promote a greater understanding of the role and impact these organizations have on the quality of life in Utah.  Sponsors of the second annual “Nonprofit Day on the Hill” are Utah Nonprofits Association, Utah Society for Environmental Education, Utah Afterschool Network, and Utah Cultural Alliance.

The mission of the Utah Nonprofits Association is to strengthen the Utah nonprofit community through its focus on mutual support, management development through training, and sector-wide advocacy.

The Utah Society for Environmental Education’s mission is to provide statewide leadership to expand the quality, scope and effectiveness of environmental education.  To achieve this goal, USEE serves as a resource for environmental educators, K-12 teachers, higher education and the Utah community at large.

The Utah Afterschool Network supports state-wide afterschool partnerships that will impact policy development at all levels.  The organization works to secure resources and funding for high-quality afterschool programs.

The mission of The Utah Cultural Alliance is to provide a dynamic cultural environment to serve and strengthen the cultural community through advocacy, member services, and networking.

Thirty-three member organizations spoke to legislators, including Senator McAdams and Senator Romero, about the numerous benefits provided to our communities through the collaborative efforts of nonprofit organizations.

McAdams with Nonprofits
Senator McAdams

 Senator Romero with Nonprofits
Senator Romero

Welcome, Big Brothers Big Sisters

In the Gallery

Yesterday on the Senate Floor, Senator Ross Romero recognized members of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah in the gallery.  Senator Romero commended them for their significant contribution to mentoring in our communities.  Senator Romero is an active supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah.  The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters is “to help children reach their potential through professionally supported, one-to-one relationships with measurable impact.”  Big Brothers Big Sisters serves children ages 6-18.

“Bigs” (the adults) and “Littles” (the kids) meet once a week in schools, libraries, and community centers to talk and participate in fun activities.  Research has shown these positive relationships to be helpful in many ways.  Participating “Littles” are more confident in their schoolwork performance and get along better with their families.  They are also less likely to begin using illegal drugs, less likely to begin using alcohol, and less likely to skip school.

Senator Romero answered questions while the group ate lunch in the Multi-purpose Room of the Capitol. One of the “Littles” asked Senator Romero why he decided to become a state senator.  He responded to the question by saying, “Well, I have always been involved in serving my community, so becoming a state senator seemed like a great opportunity to further serve my community.”

Answering Questions
Answering Questions

 The Group
Lunch Time

Helping Keep our Youth Safe

Senator Ross Romeroby Senator Ross Romero
Senate Minority Whip

There is an ongoing debate about restricting cell phone use while driving and efforts in the past for a total ban.  This year in the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee, we have heard testimony from young drivers who support a complete ban because their friends were injured or killed in accidents involving cell phone use.

Based upon this testimony, I decided to sponsor Senate Bill 113, Wireless Telephone Use Restriction for Minors in Vehicles, which restricts cell phone use by persons younger than 18 years of age.  This bill highlights the need for young drivers to acquire experience behind the wheel before introducing distractions to the mix.

The bill provides for an infraction if a person under 18 uses a cell phone while driving.  If a person violates the law and is involved in a motor vehicle accident, the penalty is a class C misdemeanor.  Thirteen states have passed the same provision restricting young drivers.

Below are statistics for Utah Teenage Distracted Driving Crashes for 2006 (new information for 2007 will be available shortly).  Source: University of Utah Applied Cognition Lab

In crashes where cell phone and other electronic devices were the distraction:

1 person was killed
3 people had incapacitating injuries
27 people had non-incapacitating injuries
48 people had possible injuries
42 people had ER visits and 2 people had hospital visits
$240,000 was charged by the ER or hospital

It bothers me when I read the obituaries and see young people dying of suicide, accidents, etc.  I chose age 18 as the cutoff because at that age, most young people have completed high school, are more experienced behind the wheel, and have demonstrated a higher level of maturity.

While I know some are for a complete cell phone ban while driving, this bill is meant to safeguard the younger drivers in our community.

Finally, Representative Phil Riesen is carrying this bill in the Utah House of Representatives.