This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Big debates over health care and taxes may have sucked the air out of the debate, or the clean air outside of the Capitol could have been to blame. Either way, House Speaker Greg Hughes believes the Legislature should have done more to rid the atmosphere of pollutants.
"That is not an issue that is going to fix itself," he said at a town hall sponsored by The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday. "There has got to be some good legislation passed."
A few air-quality bills made it through the 45-day session that ended Thursday, including one from Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, that allows the state to set a tougher clean air standard than the federal government, and another from Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, that allows the state government to suspend the registration of a vehicle that has had its exhaust system tampered with.
Hughes said more should be done in the years to come to reduce the effect of inversions trapping dirty air in the Salt Lake Valley. He suggested that the state convert more vehicles to natural gas and encourage more of the public to use the abundant fuel source, mined within the state.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, suggested more would have been done if the weather was not so pleasant during the session.
She would have liked to see another bill funded that would have retrofitted old school buses at the cost of $20 million.
"It was a challenge because we had clean air," she said. "It was notable."
The conversation, which was moderated by reporter Robert Gehrke and included Sens. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Ann Millner, R-Ogden, touched on the big debates of the year, including the one that is far from over.
The House and Senate couldn't come to an agreement on Healthy Utah, which is Gov. Gary Herbert's proposal to use Medicaid expansion money to help poor Utahns get private health insurance. It's a response to the Affordable Care Act, which envisioned states expanding Medicaid to cover people up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
The Senate passed Healthy Utah, while the House did not, concerned about an uncertain price tag in the years to come.
"The ground keeps shifting underneath us," Hughes said. "We need to know in the long view how we are going to keep our promises to Utahns."
Dabakis dismissed the debate, questioning why the Legislature has drawn the line on accepting federal funding on this issue.
"This was a slam dunk, easy, go-for-it issue," he said to the crowd gathered at the Salt Lake City Main Library. "We should have taken that money."
Herbert and group of legislative leaders will continue to debate the Medicaid issue and plan to take action later in the year.
The Tribune panel also reviewed issues where there was broad agreement, such as on a 5 cent gas tax increase, the reduction in the severity of drug sentences and a compromise that paired increased religious liberties with nondiscrimination laws meant to protect Utah's LGBT community.