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Armed with bills, Utah lawmakers get to work

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – Monday marked day one of the 2014 legislative session. Lawmakers arrived at the Capitol armed with bills and only 45 days to tackle some of the state's biggest issues.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – Monday marked day one of the 2014 legislative session. Lawmakers arrived at the Capitol armed with bills and only 45 days to tackle some of the state's biggest issues.

The session got off to a ceremonial start in the House with a performance of the Star Spangled Banner by Salt City Voices and a posting of colors by the Utah National Guard Color Guard.

But on day one, there's work to be done. The most talked about issues this session?

Utah's air quality, anti-discrimination bills as well as Medicaid expansion in Utah.

Liquor laws will also be front and center. Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, is planning on bringing back his bill that would do away with the so-called “Zion Curtain” which requires restaurants mix drinks out of public view.

Lawmakers are also facing pressure to raise taxes for transportation and education.

Democrats have called for raising the state's gas tax. Gov. Gary Herbert has said he is open to discussing the idea since the tax hasn't been raised in over a decade and vehicles on Utah roads are now more efficient and using less gas. But it's an idea the Speaker of the House shot down right away on the first day of the session.
“I am not persuaded to a blanket tax increase in the gas tax as a long-term answer to long-term needs. Not when so many Utahns are driving so many miles to get where they need to go on tighter and tighter budgets,” said Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.

There's another proposal that could impact your wallet. One state senator says she's come up with an idea to pay for schools across the state. But if it passes, it might take a big bite our of your tax refund.

For years funding education has been a hotly-debated issue at the Capitol and this session looks to be no different.
In Utah, 100 percent of the state income tax you pay goes to fund education.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, wants to eliminate state income tax exemptions for individuals and their dependents. She says Utahns typically have larger families and claiming dependents is eating away at the state income tax set aside solely for education funding.
“You can have so many exemptions that you literally pay no income tax at the end of the year, in fact there are many families that pay no income tax, but get money back as tax credit,” said Sen. Jones.

“What this would do is gradually, over five years eliminate just one, one of our income tax loop holes if you will and the money will go directly into school classrooms in every part of our state.”
Sen. Jones estimates that in five years education would get a $475 million boost.

But it is an election year when typically any tax increases or elimination of deductions are dead on arrival.

But something that might have some legs is air quality. Already there are at least 16 bills and counting being drafted to tackle air quality. Last year at this time there were none.

The House Clean Air caucus put together a package of all the bills. They focus on everything from better cars, public transportation and even funding for the department of air quality.

Co-Chair Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, said she's confident change will happen this session because it's the first time a bi-partisan, geographically diverse group is willing to work together.

“This has been an issue for years, you've never seen people come together like you have this session,” said Rep. Arent. “The Clean Air caucus was just put together at the end of the 2013 session, the Economic Development Task Force has been looking at air quality for last two years and just came out with its recommendations in November, so I do think you are going to be seeing some very significant and meaningful action this session.”
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