Utah Cap Haps Blog

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. and in Utah

There are many questions about refugee resettlement in Utah due to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali. Here is some background on the refugee program in Utah. 

The Utah Department of Workforce Services houses the Utah Refugee Office where refugee services are coordinated and implemented. Also in Utah, there are two resettlement agencies: 1) The International Rescue Committee, and 2) Catholic Community Services. These organizations arrange for housing, furniture, and basic household supplies. They also assist with resettlement plans, which include referrals to social services and employment. 

Local states do not have the authority to close doors to refugee resettlement because it is a federal program. However, states have close coordination with the U.S. Department of State on the resettlement of refugees. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determines who is a refugee. In general, a refugee is someone who was forced to flee his or her country due to persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. 

The U.S. Department of State screens all refugee applications, and vets them prior to third-country resettlement. This process takes about two to five years. Medical examinations and background security checks are completed during this process. Other federal agencies that are involved in security checks include the FBI, Homeland Security, and the CIA. 

Nationally, about 70,000 to 80,000 refugees are resettled in the U.S. every year. Utah typically receives about 1,100 refugees each year, from more than 20 different countries. Today, there are approximately 60,000 refugees living in this state. 

Approximately 1,500 Syrian refugees have resettled in the United States last year. Utah welcomed 12 Syrian refugees in the same period. If the U.S. chooses to accept an increase in refugees from Syria, less than one percent of the total Syrian refugees would be resettled in the U.S. and approximately 100 to 150 Syrian refugees could relocate to Utah.  

For more details on refugees in the U.S. and in Utah, click on this report and to view the current screening process at the federal level, view this link

November Legislative Updates

Capitol Pic of the Day


Government Operations Interim Committee - The committee listened to five  proposed bills related to election law. One that garnered a lot of attention is a bill that would require the county clerks to release counted votes on a daily basis, after election day, in races where the numbers are too close to determine the highest vote getter. Currently, if a race is too close to determine a winner on election night, the clerks take two weeks to complete a canvass and count all of the absentee and provisional ballots. 

Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee - One of the initiatives this committee is tracking is the Intergenerational Poverty Initiative. This is an impactful initiative that seeks to understand and address poverty at the family level, in an effort to break the cycle of poverty that carries on from generation to generation. Click on this link to see a summary of the key findings and recommendations out of the most recent report

Retirement and Independent Entities Interim Committee - The committee met on November 10th and heard a multitude of proposed legislation related to the current retirement system. The Retirement Working Group presented four bills that resulted from their work. The interim committee (parent committee) passed three of the four bills and stopped short of reversing the mass changes that established the Tier II system.


Former budget colleagues now in other policy roles
On November 19th, the Legislature had its second biennial legislative policy summit. Utah has legislated some reputable best practices related to budgeting. For example, if we have revenue above the trend, we require ourselves to treat it as one-time money, rather than ongoing money. The idea is that we should not budget for ongoing needs with volatile revenue that may correct itself in the following year. We also pay down our debt with cash in good times, so that our bond rating can remain high. This allows for us to bond with great rates during the economic down turns, when our cash is on high demand for other critical needs. 

We also learned about why our General Fund dollars are shrinking over time. Our consumption behavior has shifted dramatically, from buying in a tangible market, to a non-tangible, service-based market. Additionally, over time, more of our sales tax(General Fund)revenue has been set aside for various earmarks. 

As local governments take up a larger share of the total state and local tax collections, it will be more difficult for the state to raise rates in the future. 

We also reviewed our demographic changes and trends. While we remain the youngest in the nation, we are gradually getting older. With our aging population, we are going to experience different challenges, including increased issues with housing affordability. 

Going forward, we are seeing that the housing demands by the millennial and the aging population will be for multi-unit, affordable housing. Currently, there isn't enough supply to meet future demand. 

Also, the minority share of the population is growing quickly. In fact, the minority is now the majority in Salt Lake City among current kindergartners. This will certainly change the way we innovate, educate and accommodate this new market. 

We are trending ahead of the nation in terms of wage growth, which will be a positive economic force for the state. We are consistently adding new jobs on an annual basis and have already exceeded the amount of jobs we had prior to the great recession.

Speaking of recession, the next one is predicted to occur in mid-2017... With our enrollment growth continuing to grow each year,it is important that we set expectations so that we don't end up like we did after the last great recession and unintentionally create volatile funding shifts in education. 


It was a busy but fun month. I had the opportunity to participate in several panels and speaking engagements for groups including Real Women Run, the Asian and Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), the Utah Association of Government Accountants(AGA), and the Women's Republican Club of Salt Lake

It's great to be able to share stories with others and be inspired by so many who want to contribute to the greater good. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

State School Board Elections - Election Issue

Utah Supreme Court Ceremonial Chamber

Current State Board of Education
15 members 
No required minimum age
 4 year terms
Elected by the voters of their district (sort of)
Meet 11 times a year to conduct business

  • The Utah Supreme Court issued a ruling that tells us that the current process in which we elect state school board members is unconstitutional
  • We have an upcoming election (2016), in which these positions are up for election 
  • We have no constitutional remedy in place
  • On Nov 3, 2015 the Governor announced that he would not assemble the Nominating and Recruiting committee because the courts ruled it unconstitutional

  • Judge Waddoups’ ruling says our selection process isn’t constitutional because it violates the free speech of the applicants
    • Applicants must censor selves in the interview process in order to get on ballot
    • Voters should determine what that evaluation process should be
  • Current election process   
    • Governor assembles Nominating and Recruiting Committee
      • Assembled by the November 1st before a general election
      • 12 members
      • 2 year term
      • Represents 6 different industry areas
        • Manufacturing and mining
        •  Transportation and public utilities
        • Service, trade and IT
        • Finance, Insurance and real estate
        • Construction
        • Agriculture
      • 6 different education areas
        • Teachers
        • School administrators
        • Parents
        • Local school board members
        • Charter schools
        • Higher education
      • Review Committee advances a minimum of 3 and maximum of 5 candidates per board seat to governor 
      • Governor narrows it down to 2 who get listed on the ballot for voters to decide winner
      •  The only required criteria
        • Candidates possess “outstanding professional qualifications relating to the powers and duties of the State Board of Education,” including experience in:
          • A multitude of business and industry areas
          • Higher education or public education administration
          • Applied technology education
          • Public education instruction
          • Economic Development
          • Other life experiences that would benefit the board
  • 70 people filed for candidacy - 37 candidates were selected by the committee for interviews - a handful of people who didn't advance forward, sued 
  • Ruling says the requirements are too broad
    • Applicants’ free speech rights cannot be subjected to self-censorship because they are fearful that their beliefs and speech will offend the gatekeepers and deny them ballot placement
    • The school board is an elected position, not an appointive position
    • The voters should be the gatekeepers and can apply their own evaluation rules and standards 
  • Judge did not issue a remedy
    • Some candidates who weren't advanced to the Governor for consideration requested that the remedy be to place them on the ballot; but no remedy for the process was put into place

  • State Board of Education was created by the Utah Constitution, which allows the Legislature to determine election process
    • “Membership of the board shall be established and elected as provided by statute”
  • State initially had non-partisan elections
  •  In 1992, the election process was changed to incorporate regional committees that interviewed and narrowed candidates down to 3-5, who were recommended to Governor. Governor then picked two to be on the ballot.
  • In 2002, the election process changed again, to establish one state committee, rather than regional committees
    • Equally comprised of education representation and business and industry representation


2015 General Session proposals:

o   Non-partisan Elections: HB186, State School Board Membership and Election Amendments: Creates a direct nonpartisan election for the state school board, requiring candidates to gather signatures from residents in their area in order to appear on the ballot.

o   Partisan Elections: SB104, Education Elections and Reporting Amendments: Eliminates the nominating committee and requires candidates for state and local school boards to participate in a partisan school board election. 

o   Governor Appointment: HJR16, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution - Governance of Public Education: Amends the constitution to require that all state school board seats be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. 

 The House sent over to the Senate HB186, a nonpartisan election bill which was hijacked and inserted with language that made it partisan, before going to the ballot for the public to decide if it should be governor appointed. SJR5 was also sent over in an effort to get it on a ballot for a constitutional amendment. All proposals failed and the 2015 General Session ended with no legislative solution. The Government Operations Interim Committee was assigned the task of developing a viable proposal. 

o   Board shrinks from 15 to 13
§  4 partisan
§  4 non-partisan
§  5 appointed by Gov and confirmed by Senate
o   Seats based on 4 congressional districts
o   Voters in each district gets represented by 1 partisan, 1 non-partisan, and 1 appointed
o   Proposal would go to voters as a proposition on the ballot

The interim proposal did not move forward as a committee bill. 


The most current proposal is to modify the current process so that it is constitutional. This is an option that will at least get us through the next election cycle, while the Legislature reviews and revisits other options.

The Governor must call the Legislature into a special session to address the issue in order to have a process in place for the upcoming election cycle. The ideal time to have a special session would have been during this November interim period (Nov 18-20), since all of the members are in town and it is the last interim of the year (no interim meetings are held in December). There have been talks of convening a special session before the general session, but nothing confirmed at this point in time.