Monday, March 15, 2010

Legislative wrap-up: Bills of interest to CW readers

Posted By on March 15, 2010, 1:01 PM

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The legislative session is now over. I wrote a lot on pending legislation in the run-up to this session, ranging from bills that would assess deadly schools that'll squash Johnny in an earthquake, to exploding refineries that could kill Johnny in his warm bed. Let's see how they turned out. ---

Shaky Schools

Background: Utah Schools vs. Earthquakes - A major earthquake could make Utah schools crumble 

Salt Lake City Rep. Larry Wiley's HB72 to provide $500,000 to school districts to assess which schools are most likely to collapse--and kill your kids--in an earthquake was watered down to just $25,000, then failed anyway. 

The money was to compensate partially structural engineers who would be tasked with visually assessing each of Utah's 900 schools. 

Half a mil' maybe sounds like a lot given the budget problems generally, but it's only $300-$600 per school, and would pay for the engineers' travel, lodging, etc. After all, there's probably no one who would travel to West Desert Elementary, south of Ibapah, which may as well be on the dark side of the moon, without at least having their gas and meals paid for. 

March 11, however, after his $500,000 proposal was rejected by the house 38-34, Wiley sized-down his request to just $25,000, or just $27 per school. That proposal passed the House, but was never taken up in the Senate. 

Let's hope the big one stays away for a little while longer until legislators finally get around to doing something about hundreds of deadly schools.

Update 3/16/2010 - The assessment will begin anyway

Terrorism

Background: How filthy is your 401(k)? How Utah's retirement funds benefit from terrorism, genocide and environmental disasters

Rep. Julie Fisher's quest to get Utah out of the terrorism business also failed. Fisher sponsored HB286, which would instruct the Utah Retirement Systems to divest from any companies profitting from Iran's oil sector. Iran, listed on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, is sometimes accused of sponsoring insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's an emotional debate as some Iranian expats believe sanctions will hurt the Iranian middle class as much--it not more--than the ruling regime.

Rep. David Litvack, years back when the suffering in Darfur was still frequently in the news, sponsored legislation that would instruct the Utah Retirement System to divest from any companies profitting from genocide. The Democratic minority leader didn't sponsor any legislation on that subject this year, but given Republican Fisher's lack of success in the area, he probably would not have been successful anyway.

Exploding Refineries

Background: (Un)Natural Disaster: Utah's unstable oil refineries

But for Rep. Rebecca Edwards' HB169 regarding refineries and the safety of surrounding communities--because Utah's five refineries are now blowing up more frequently than ever before--I would have to conclude that a good way to kill legislation is to have me investigate the need/impetus for the it. But, Edwards' bill actually passed. This comes about because a bungled rezone in which Woods Cross city allowed for the building a subdivision that is--as we all now know--well within the blast zone of Silver Eagle Refinery, which blew up the whole neighborhood in November. The city knew intuitively that the new neighborhood would be dangerous, but feared getting sued by the developer if they denied the rezone, so they approved it. This new legislation would require the city to consult the refinery before doing something like that again. I'm not sure all how that solves any problems...

Wait...the bill gives more power to refineries?

I thought I wrote that the refineries were blowing up and hurting their workers, and sometimes even the surrounding neighborhoods? And I thought the evidence I showed made it pretty clear that during the years that the refineries were inspected more frequently that they also exploded a lot less frequently? And I thought I quoted the spokesman of oil industry lobby, as well as spokesman for two of Utah's five oil refiners, each saying the local industry is open to more inspections. And I thought the evidence I reported made it pretty obvious that Utah's workplace safety inspectors are woefully understaffed and under qualified?

Right, right, that is what I wrote... Maybe all the Legislators missed that issue.

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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