SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers are now more than halfway through their 2012 legislative session. Besides some initial budget bills, lawmakers in both chambers have quickly approved a measure to raise the speed limit to 80 mph on more highways. They have also sent a measure to Gov. Gary Herbert that changes Utah's state tree from the blue spruce to the quaking aspen.
Lawmakers now are churning through some of the roughly 600 bills that have been unveiled thus far this session. Another 250 are still in the drafting process, and about 300 others have been abandoned or put on hold.
As the Utah Legislature heads into its fifth week, here are five things to know about what's coming up:
Utah House lawmakers are expected to debate resolutions supporting the relocating the longtime state prison in Draper. Lawmakers have been weighing the idea since the 1990s. But as the prison occupies 700 acres near Adobe and eBay, some officials are increasingly itching to develop the area as a tech corridor. Lawmakers also argue the roughly 60-year-old prison needs major improvements anyway. A committee studying the issue has officially recommended the move, which the Legislature needs to sign off on. House Republicans informally approved the idea on Thursday. Rep. Brad Wilson, a Kaysville Republican who sat on the prison-relocation committee, has two resolutions supporting the move. Both are awaiting committee votes, which are expected to happen in the coming week.
PICKING AN ATTORNEY GENERAL
The Senate is set to debate a measure that could change the position of Utah attorney general from an elected office to an appointed post. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has been kicking around the idea for years, but he said last year's allegations of misconduct surrounding former Attorney General John Swallow prompted to bring the issue before his fellow legislators. Swallow resigned late last year but has denied wrongdoing. Weiler contends that an appointed attorney general would be free from the influence of political or financial interests. His bill needs to win approval from two-thirds of both the House and Senate. If that happens, the proposal will go before voters to decide this November.
LIMITS ON DRONES
This year, Utah lawmakers have two proposals dealing with unmanned aerial vehicles — commonly known as drones — that seek to both encourage development of the technology and restrict its use. Lawmakers say the bills are less about mixed messages than about finding a balanced approach. One proposal up for discussion soon requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using a drone. It also imposes restrictions about what data can be collected and for how long. The other proposal is a resolution expressing support for growing the drone industry and related businesses in Utah. The Utah House is expected to debate in the upcoming week whether they want to endorse that message.
CAUCUS SYSTEM CHANGES
The Utah Senate has endorsed legislation touted as a compromise between supporters and opponents of the state's caucus and convention system for nominating political candidates. Provo Republican Sen. Curt Bramble's bill requires political parties to adopt changes to make the caucus nominating process more inclusive, such as allowing absentee voting. If they don't make the changes, they will have to nominate candidates through a primary election. But a group backed pushing to abandon caucuses and conventions in favor of primaries says the bill circumvents their efforts to let voters decide the issue. The group, called Count My Vote, is gathering signatures to get their initiative on the November ballot. But because Bramble's bill took the exact language of their initiative petition, and tied it to qualifiers, it could nullify their effort, even if voters approve it, they said. The Utah Senate approved the bill Friday, advancing it to the House.
SALT LAKE CONVENTION HOTEL
A bill aimed at luring the builder of a large hotel near the convention center in downtown Salt Lake City is set to come up for debate in the House early in the week. The bill cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday when it won unanimous approval from a House economic development committee. The proposal authorizes up to $75 million in public money to go toward tax rebates to a developer building a hotel with 850 to 1,000 rooms. Rebates would only be available if the hotel generates tourism revenue, and they could only be used to cover the cost of public spaces, such as convention meeting space. The House killed a similar bill last year, but this year's proposal has the backing of GOP leaders in that chamber, including House Speaker Becky Lockhart of Provo. Supporters say the extra hotel and meeting space is needed for the state to attract large conventions. Opponents, including existing hotels, argue taxpayer money shouldn't go toward the project.