• Lunch Break with our fabulous interns!

    2017 Week Five Wrap Up

    Constituent News

    Visitors to the Capitol

    I love getting visits from constituents.  This week, I was able to host more neighbors and friends on the floor.  Are you next?


    Michelle Kaufusi, Provo School Board

    State FFA Officers came to watch the vote
    on the FFA license plate

    Kim Santiago, Provo City Council

    PTA Members from Provo & Springville

    Break Time – A quick look at interactions that happen between meetings

    Beverley Taylor Sorensen Arts Learning Program Luncheon


    Lunch with Sorensen Family

    BTSALP student dance performance

    Utah Fire Caucus


    Lunch with Provo Fire & Rescue

    Utah High School Art Show Winners

    It was my pleasure to host the Utah High School Art Show winners at the Capitol.


    Recognizing Art Show winners

    Sarah Hawkes with her winning painting

    Behind the Scenes Visit with Viviane Quintela, Univision 32

    I was thrilled to host reporter Viviane Quintela from Univision channel 32 on a behind-the-scenes tour of the capitol.  You can see her report online here.


    Viviane Quintela filming the House Lounge

    Behind the scenes on the House Floor

    My Bills – A status update

    Finished Work

    HB11 to make 28 boards and commissions non-partisan passed both the House & Senate and has been sent to the Governor for signing.

    HB60 to update the state law’s use of correct terms to refer to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people is with the Governor for signing.

    HB192 to designate a section of Highway 85 as the Minuteman Highway passed the Senate without opposition and has been sent to the Governor for signing.

    In the Senate

    HB91 to modify County Commission elections will be voted on this week by the entire Senate.

    HB127 to encourage health care consumers to look for lower cost care has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

    HB155 (the DUI bill) passed the House with 48 votes! and is now in the Senate. Senator Adams and I are working hard to make our case to legislators about why lowering the BAC limit to .05 will save lives.

    HB265 This bill to get rid of automobile safety inspections has passed out of Senate committee and has a Time Certain scheduled for next week on the Senate Floor.

    HB343 This bill allows the Utah FFA Foundation to apply for a special license plate to sponsor scholarships for agriculture students.

    Still in the House (but there is time)

    HB298 should be heard in the House tomorrow.  This bill establishes that if a city or county wants to limit free expression on public grounds, they have to take specific steps so that everyone knows what the rules are and ensure that there is also a reasonable option available.  This is a great step forward for 1st Amendment rights in Utah.

    HB331 promotes the concept of mobility in careers and professions.  It sets up a process for people who are licensed and have experience in another state to move to Utah and continue their profession.  We have a committee hearing this week and hope to get more input from my colleagues about how to decrease barriers to mobility.

    HB308/HB309/HB310 is a set of three bills to simplify and update the requirements for vaccinations in schools and the process for obtaining and exemption.

    Key Bill Tracker – Updates on some of the more notable bills to hit the House Floor

    HB141 Unborn Child Protection Amendments (Rep. K. Stratton)

    This bill changes the information that a woman is required to be given as part of a drug-induced abortion.  It ensures that she knows that even after taking the first part of the two-drug series, it is not to late to change her mind.

    HB176 Human Trafficking Amendments (Rep. P. Ray)

    This bill provides that if a person is killed as part of a human trafficking crime the homicide may qualify as a capital offense.

  • IMG_20170215_100122826_BURST000_COVER_TOP

    2017 Week Four Wrap-Up

    Constituent News

    2017 Issues Survey

    If you haven’t already, please take the District 64 2017 Issues Survey.

    Visitors to the Capitol

    I love getting visits from constituents.  This week, I was able to host more neighbors and friends on the floor.  Are you next?


    Mrs. Thurston, my favorite constituent

    Provo Peaks Elementary Students

    Arts Advocates on the Hill

    Randy Keyes, Springville Museum of Art

    Break Time – A quick look at interactions that happen between meetings

    Westminster College, Public Health Class

    On Wednesday, I was able to drive to Westminster College during the lunch break to speak with Laura Belgique’s public health class. It’s not easy to leave the capitol, but it is worth the effort to meet the next generation of leaders.


    Westminster College Discussion

    Public Health Students

    Utah County Outrage!

    Also on Wednesday, the Utah County Outrage! Youth came to the capitol to advocate for raising the legal age to purchase or use tobacco from 19 to 21.

    Utah County Outrage! Youth leaders

    Higher Ed Day on the Hill

    On Friday, student leaders from Utah’s public colleges and universities came to the capitol to meet legislators, learn about the process and highlight the impact of Higher Ed on their lives.

    SUU Agricultural Students

    My Issues – A quick run-down of what I am working on for you

    Vaccinations and Exemptions

    The set of three bills (HB308, HB309, and HB310) had their first public hearing on Friday, and were passed our favorably and sent to the House Floor. I am so appreciative that people from all perspectives have been able to compromise and support these bills that will move us in the right direction.

    DUI

    The DUI bill is still waiting to be heard on the House Floor.  In the meantime, we are all working hard to make our case to legislators about why lowering the BAC limit to .05 will save lives.

    Minuteman Highway

    HB192 designates a section of State Highway 85 as the Minuteman Highway.  After a successful Senate committee hearing on Friday, it should now be considered for final passage by the Senate this week.  It is an honor to be asked by the National Guard Association of Utah to sponsor this bill.

    Three National Guard Colonels
    (Mike Norton, Matt Badell, and Pete Knudson)

    Free Expression

    HB298 is also up for consideration this week.  This bill establishes that if a city or county wants to limit free expression on public grounds, they have to take specific steps so that everyone knows what the rules are and ensure that there is also a reasonable option available.  This is a great step forward for 1st Amendment rights in Utah.

    Occupational Freedom

    HB331 promotes the concept of mobility in careers and professions.  It sets up a process for people who are licensed and have experience in another state to move to Utah and continue their profession.  We have a committee hearing this week and hope to get more input from my colleagues about how to decrease barriers to mobility.

    Key Bill Tracker – My view on some of the more notable bills to hit the House Floor

    HB164 Municipal Enterprise Fund Amendments (Rep. J. Moss)

    This bill relates to how cities use fee collections and their Enterprise Fund to pay for local needs.  This was the most popular topic in my email inbox from residents of district 64 with 100% of the contacts urging me to vote against it.  I have been in touch with Mayor Curtis and the bill sponsor and I am confident that a substitute version of the bill is ready for consideration that makes needed changes instead of harming the cities.  I plan to vote for the new version, but will continue to look to my local leaders and constituents to make sure it is meeting local needs.

    HB93 Judicial Nominating Process Amendments (Rep. M. Nelson)

    This bill presents an interesting question about the separation of powers.  Our state constitution says that the Legislature is responsible for determining qualifications for judges and the Governor is responsible to nominate candidates.  HB93 establishes the criteria in code and prevents the executive branch from adding new criteria.  In its current form, the bill adopts most of the current criteria into code.

  • Supporters of HB155 & Highway Safety after presentation

    2017 Week Three Wrap-Up

    Constituent News

    2017 Issues Survey

    If you haven’t already, please take the District 64 2017 Issues Survey.

    Visitors to the Capitol

    I love getting visits from constituents.  This week, I was able to host more neighbors and friends on the floor.  Are you next?

    Melia Harris Melia Harris, Dental Hygiene Day
    Westside Elementary Students

    Break Time – A quick look at interactions that happen between meetings

    Congressional Visitors

    On Thursday, Congressman Stewart spoke briefly on the House Floor, touching on a few of his priorities, including reforming the tax code and strengthening national defense. Click here to watch his remarks (begins at 15:34 mins).

    Congressman Chaffetz spoke in our open caucus meeting and focused on his recent meeting with Pres. Trump in the White House.  I was able to ask him about how Congress plans to change the Affordable Care Act.  His answer presented a reasonable, measured approach to a set of proposals that include changes that can happen immediately and those that will take a while.


    Congressman Stewart
    Congressman Chaffetz
    Congressman Chaffetz

    Alfie Boe

    Famed tenor Alfie Boe, now a Utah resident, visited the House Floor and sang “Danny Boy.”

    Alfie Boe sings "Danny Boy"
    Alfie Boe

    UVU & SUU Days on the Hill

    This week, both Utah Valley University and Southern Utah University hosted their annual visit to the capitol to highlight the great things that are happening on campus.Almost every day, we have breaks to learn about important issues.

    SUU Students Visit the Capitol
    SUU Day on the Hill

    My Issues – A quick run-down of what I am working on for you

    Education Funding

    On Monday, our committee will send our final recommendations regarding public education funding to the Executive Appropriations Committee. I am still pushing for local flexibility.  However, I recognize that there are some instances where equity or other concerns need to be prioritized.  This is where the hard work of the legislature kicks in – understand what programs should be prioritized, how much to allocate to them, but recognizing that every dollar that gets earmarked is one less dollar that local districts will have to address local priorities.

    Vaccinations and Exemptions

    I have been working with many stakeholders since last April to come up with changes to the state law regarding vaccination requirements in schools. Our work has resulted in a set of three bills – HB308, HB309, and HB310. As with any compromise, I am sure that nobody is getting everything they want, but everyone should be able to live with the changes being proposed. It will be an interesting process to see if we can get them all passed and funded.

    Highway Safety and DUI

    On Friday, Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, spent the day at the Capitol to answer questions about lowering the legal limit on Blood Alcohol Concentration from .08 to .05. Her support was joined by the Utah Highway Patrol, Department of Transportation, Utah County, Utah PTA, Utah Medical Association, AAA Foundation, and many others. She spoke as part of my presentation to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and the bill passed out with a favorable recommendation on a 9-2 vote.  The key takeaway from her presentation is that this is not about stopping people from drinking, it is about stopping people from dying.  You can listen to the full presentation here.

    Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr and Rep. Thurston presenting
    Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr and Rep. Thurston presenting to the
    Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

    Key Bill Tracker – My view on some of the more notable bills to hit the House Floor

    HB164 Municipal Enterprise Fund Amendments (Rep. J. Moss)

    This bill relates to how cities use fee collections and their Enterprise Fund to pay for local needs.  This was the most popular topic in my email inbox from residents of district 64 with 100% of the contacts urging me to vote against it.  I have been in touch with Mayor Curtis and the bill sponsor and I am confident that a substitute version of the bill is ready for consideration that makes needed changes instead of harming the cities.  I plan to vote for the new version, but will continue to look to my local leaders and constituents to make sure it is meeting local needs.

    Election Bills

    There are quite a few election bills making their way through the system.  This coming week, we will be considering a new version of SB114 that attempts to address the issue of plurality in primary elections.  I hope to have more to report next week.

  • Presenting a bill in committee meeting

    2017 Week Two Wrap-Up

    Constituent News

    2017 Issues Survey

    If you haven’t already, please take the District 64 2017 Issues Survey.

    Visitors to the House Floor

    I love getting visits from constituents.  This week, I was able to host two neighbors and friends on the floor.  Are you next?

    Rick Anderson and Andalyn Hall Visit the House Floor Rick Anderson, Utah Banker from Provo

    Andalyn Hall, State FFA Officer and delegate from Springville

    Break Time – A quick look at interactions that happen between meetings

    Almost every day, we have breaks to learn about important issues. It is always enlightening and sometimes it is a chance to make new friends and run into old friends.

     

    On Wednesday, the Utah Film Commission was in the rotunda, including a working set from Granite Flats complete with cast and crew.


    With cast on set of Granite Flats

    Scott Christopher and Jodi Gleave (make-up artist)

    Friday was Wear Red for Womens Health Day.  As I was having my cholesterol tested, I noticed that the nurse sharing our table was none other than Leann Bordelon.  We met a few years ago while working on genealogical research and discovered that our children are related.

    Leann Bordelon
    Leann Bordelon

    My Issues – A quick run-down of what I am working on for you

    Education Funding

    We are now reviewing all of our current budget items. I am still advocating for a higher prioritization of public education funding and more local control. It looks like an uphill battle, but this might be the year that we make progress.

    DUI

    Work moves forward to save lives by lowering the legal limit on Blood Alcohol Concentration from .08 to .05.  (1 in 6 fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver has a driver with BAC below .08).  This is not a “round em up” bill but rather establishing a new social expectation that there is no safe level of drinking and driving.  The intent is to reduce crashes by reducing the number of people drinking and driving.

    Daylight Saving Time

    Stopping the changing of the clock continues to be the most frequent issue for my constituents.  While such a big change will take a lot of work, the first step of many that would be required to have the state stop changing our clocks twice a year was successful.  We have a long way to go, but there is hope.

    Key Bill Tracker – My view on some of the more notable bills to hit the House Floor

    HCR11 – Resolution on Bears Ears (G. Hughes)

    As you may have heard, the House passed HCR 11 which urges President Trump to rescind the Bears Ears Monument designation.  While there are many parts of our state with archaeological sites that need protection, this designation was not an appropriate use of the Antiquities Act, locks up thousands of acres of School Trust Lands and sets back progress on an agreement to transfer some federal lands to local control.  HCR 11 is likely to pass the Senate this week.

    HB 11 – Boards and Commissions (N. Thurston)

    Currently there are 414 boards and commissions staffed with appointed volunteers.  Of these, 340 have no partisan requirements; the governor appoints people based experience and qualifications.  HB11 would add 29 of the remaining 74 to the list of those with no party membership check.  The bill was amended on the house floor to reduce the number to 24 and add a provision that the governor may not inquire or consider party membership in making the appointments.  Despite opposition from liberal groups who prefer party quotas over qualifications, the bill passed the House with 51 votes.  It is likely to do similarly well in the Senate.

    HJR3 – Convention of the States (M. Nelson)

    Your comments keep pouring in and I greatly appreciate that.  I have heard from many people on both sides of this issues in roughly equal numbers.  It is very pleasant to see that people that I respect can disagree with each other about something so critical without being uncivil.  For me this was a very difficult decision and I only made my final decision on the day of the vote.

    This resolution has passed the House and will go to the Senate for further consideration.  I do not know what will happen there, but everyone should feel free to continue to make your opinion known by contacting your senator.

    As I mentioned last week, I believe that it is both necessary and wise that we as a country figure out and define the process for how states could actually use that power to safely and reasonably put forward needed changes that Congress has been unwilling or unable to make. I definitely support the Article V process as a legitimate opportunity for states to propose amendments and I support the concept of a convention of the states to propose amendments.

    However, moving toward a convention should be taken very cautiously.  Is this the time? Are these the reasons?  Is it strictly necessary?  Is there some other way?

    While the national debt is problematic, I don’t think a balanced budget amendment could be crafted that will actually solve the problem.  It might help a little, but it will have to contain provisions for addressing times of war and national economic crisis, which happen with surprising regularity.  While this issue is important, the resolution fails to address the underlying problem of the activist judiciary, abuse of the commerce clause, and unresponsiveness of U.S. Senators to their state legislators.

    While I agree with the overall goals and outcomes of the resolution, I am not convinced that it is properly focused.  If I thought that this process would lead to a government that respects the will of the people, properly defers to the rights of states, and restores the judiciary to its proper role, I would have supported it.  After a couple of years of studying and serious reflection, I am just not there yet and voted “no,” at least for now.

  • IMG_20170123_102513162

    2017 Week One Wrap-Up

    The first week of my second term has come and gone.  It seemed to have happened so quickly.  Here are a few thoughts and reflections.

    Town Halls

    This year, I have identified three dates for Town Hall meetings where I will be present.  The following events are sponsored by the local chambers of commerce.  These events include free breakfast and you are invited and encouraged to attend at least one of them.

    • Feb 4, 7:30 a.m. – Nebo School District Offices, 350 S Main, Spanish Fork
    • Feb 18 and Mar 4, 7:30 a.m. – IHC Northwest Plaza, Clark Auditorium, 1134 N 500 W, Provo

    Coming to the Hill?

    I love getting visits from friends and neighbors! I have already had a few visitors from District 64 on the hill, including Latinos in Action from Dixon Middle School and Barrett Raymond, who came up for Nurse Practitioner Day. Last year, many of you stopped by to see how the Legislature functions, get involved or just say, “hello.”  If you are planning to come to the Capitol, please let me know the day before so we can arrange a time to meet and give you a chance to visit the House floor (and take a selfie if you don’t mind)!

    Barrett Raymond Barrett Raymond sat with me on the House Floor for Morning Floor Time on Nurse Practitioner Day.
    Lucy Ordaz Lucy Ordaz brought her Latinos in Action students from Dixon Middle School for a tour of the capitol (and a lot of selfies).
    BYU students BYU Students Miranda and Briley came for BYUPAS speed mentoring.

    Legislative Involvement

    It is important for me to hear from you during the legislative session.  You are encouraged to follow me on Instagram (@normthurston64) or Twitter (@normthurston) and Facebook (Norman K Thurston). If you want to reach out to me, the best way is to send me an email (normthurston64@gmail.com) or a text (801-477-5348).  I also welcome phone calls, but most of the time I am not available to take your call, but you can leave a message.

    All voters from District 64 should take the 2017 Issues Survey

    Big Issues

    Week 1 has been quiet compared to the last two years in terms of “big issues” popping up.  I have added to my home page some thoughts on what may come up as well as a summary of the projects I continue to work on.  

    Education Funding

    The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee has met twice already, and so far we have been going through required technical details.  We adopted a base budget which is a fall-back or safeguard. In case future budget negotiations fail, we agreed that we will essentially do the same thing that we did last year.  However, most of my colleagues agree that changes are needed and we need to work hard to come up with a better solution for the coming year.  Personally, I will be advocating for a higher prioritization of public education funding and more local control.

    Convention of the States

    So far, this issue has generated the most interest by my constituents.  

    As a child I was taught that there are two ways amendments to the Constitution can be proposed.  They can start in Congress and they can start with the states.  Both routes mentioned contain safeguards. I believe that it is noteworthy that the founding fathers recognized that we can’t always rely on Congress to take care of needed changes, and that the states have the right and ability to effect change.  So far, the states have never taken advantage of that power.  I believe that with power comes great responsibility, and states (and Congress) should proceed cautiously in making any changes to the Constitution.  

    It is both necessary and wise that we as a country figure out and define the process for how states could actually use that power to safely and reasonably put forward needed changes that Congress has been unwilling or unable to make.  I have supported some efforts to do so and not supported others.  I will be looking closely at the organization and details before voting on proposals on this issue. I invite you to share your thoughts with me.

  • State of Utah

    Vote 2016!

    I occasionally hear from people that there is no real reason to vote this year.  I beg to differ.  However you may feel about the Presidential Election, there are a lot of other contested elections at the state and local level that deserve your attention and consideration.

    Register to Vote (by Mail)

    With the election just a month away, it is important that you register to vote as soon as possible if you haven’t already.  Online registration is quick and easy.  And I highly recommend that everyone add their registration to the “permanent absentee list.” Doing so will request your county clerk to send you a mail-in ballot for all future elections.

    Elections in Our Area

    The exact elections vary from precinct to precinct.  The State Election Office web-site will allow you to enter your address and see exactly which elections will be on your ballot and provide you with tools to get informed.  Here is a summary of some of the contested elections that will be on the ballot in our area.  As you can see, this is a big election year and I hope you will take the time to get informed and vote.

    Office  Republican Nominee # of challengers
     U.S. Senate  Sen. Mike Lee  3
     U.S. House 3  Rep. Jason Chaffetz  1
     U.S. House 4  Rep. Mia Love  2
     Governor  Gov. Gary Herbert
    L.G. Spencer Cox
     3
     Attorney General  Sean Reyes  3
     State Auditor  John Dougall  2
     State Treasurer  David Damschen  2
     State Senate 7  Sen. Deidre Henderson  1
     State Senate 16  Sen. Curt Bramble  1
     State Senate 27  Sen. David Hinkins  1
     Utah County Commissioner  Nathan Ivie  1

    In addition to these contested races, you may also have the following elections and issues on your ballot:

    State School Board 13

    State Judicial Retention

    Local Judicial Retention

    not to mention Three Proposed Amendments to the State Constitution.

     

  • Salt Lake Chamber

    Summer Learning

    This summer has been a great learning opportunity for me.

    Bill Development

    Over the summer, I have been working with several stakeholders on key issues. Here are a few of the more time-consuming ones:
    Moving the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation – I sponsored HB 325 during the session to move the USOR from the State Office of Education to the Department of Workforce Services. A lot of work has gone into implementing this move over the summer. I have been meeting with those involved to make sure that everything goes smoothly and to resolve any potential issues before they become problems.

    • Government Accountability – There are several issues relating to government accountability that deserve our attention and that I have been following and exploring – 1) empowering and motivating health care consumers to shop for higher value health care, 2) reducing the regulatory burden and barriers on professions and careers, 3) improving the incentives of our welfare system to help pull people out of poverty.
    • Public Health – Last session, we spent a lot of time working on changes to laws regarding vaccine preventable illnesses with nothing to show for it. I have been working with stakeholders this year to see where the common ground lies to see whether we can make needed improvements.

    National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) Legislative Summit

    Earlier this month, I got to spend three and a half days in Chicago meeting with legislators from all over the country (and a few from other countries). Meetings started early each morning and each day was full of opportunities to learn about the topics all states are struggling with.

    Here are a few sessions that I found particularly interesting:

    • Prescription Drugs and Costs
    • Summary: Break-through products such as biologics and specialty drugs promise extended lives or first-ever cures for individuals. Yet some price tags in this $310 billion U.S. market have shocked those who foot the bill–including state governments, Medicaid, employers, health insurers and patients themselves. States are considering a variety of legislation to rein in costs, assist consumers or shift the burden. Terms such as “medically necessary,” “medication adherence,” “fail first,” “preferred drug lists,” “value-based purchasing” and “interchangeable biosimilar substitution” make state capitals sound like pharmacies. Hear state and medical experts sort out the headlines, the noise and the results so far.

    • Personalized Student Learning: The Future of Education?
    • Summary: States and school districts are experimenting with personalized learning in which student progress is tailored to student interests and based on mastery of content rather than seat time. Learn about state approaches and policies that support this transition.

    • SmartLabel – Delivering Transparency to Consumers
    • Summary: Consumers are demanding to know more about the products they buy and consume, from food and beverages to body lotion and laundry detergent. Meanwhile, federal and state policymakers are engaged in conversations regarding the future of food and beverage product labeling. Hear a briefing from Pennsylvania Senator Rob Teplitz and The Hershey Company regarding the new industry product transparency tool, SmartLabel™–a mobile and digital tool that delivers detailed product information to consumers on demand.

  • Listening to tourism issues

    Constituent Comments

    A sampling of the many thank you notes received after the session:

    Dear Representative Thurston,

    We, as Utah Association of the Deaf board want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into HB325, be willing to listen to our concerns, work with us address these concerns and recognize the deaf community here in Utah.
    We know it was a very busy and challenging time for you and appreciate the time you took to meet with us, give us updates and listen.
    We are looking forwzrd to working with you again in the future.
    Thank you!

    Utah Association of the Deaf Board
    Stephen Persinger
    Pamela Mower
    Philippe Montalette
    Gabrielle Humlicek

    Representative Thurston,
    Thank you for you excellent work as the sponsor of the USOR legislation. I appreciate your confidence in me and the DWS team throughout the past session. The state is very fortunate to have a hard working representative like yourself representing the great citizens of Utah!
    Sincerely,

    Jon Pierpont

    Norm,
    Thanks for all you work with the Legislature. You are representing us well. Keep up the great work.

    Bill & Jo Greer

    Thank you for your support of the tourism industry in Utah!
    Leisure and group business marketing campaigns are bringing visitors to Utah Valley.
    Overall tourism tax increased by 14.8% in 2015.
    We look forward to attracting more visitors in 2016.

    Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Rep. Thurston,
    Thank you for your hard work this session. We appreciate all you do to protect the American dream in Utah by voting for lower taxes, less regulation, and economic prosperity for all.
    Best,
    Americans for Prosperity
    Evelyn Everton
    Heather Williamson

    Representative Thurston,
    Thank you so much for coming to have lunch with us and speak to us. We can’t wait to help, do, and inspire this year! Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to support the FFA.
    Sakia Brost
    Andalyn Hall
    Allesha Arehart
    Mariah Pace
    Mat Gonder
    Wesson Foy

    Dear Representative Thurston,
    Thank you so much for taking time in your busy schedule to meet with us. We appreciate your support for SB117. I love working in the Interior Design profession and glad you took time to listen to our message, especially since I am one of your constituents.
    Sincerely,

    Catherine Strange

    Dear Representative Thurston,
    Thank you for supporting the Beverley Taylor Sorensen Arts Program. The funding we received will provide Utah’s elementary students with an arts rich education. We appreciate all you do for our children.
    Lisa Cluff

  • Students from Westside Elementary in Springville visiting the State Capitol

    Local Control of Education

    You have almost certainly heard a lot about local control and the lack thereof regarding education recently. Here are my thoughts on two topics kicking around the news world in the last couple of weeks.

    SAGE Tests and Common Core

    The recent passage of the federal ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) provides some relief with regard to curriculum standards and testing that were incorporated in the No Child Left Behind Act.

    The governor and the State Board of Education have agreed to take advantage of that flexibility by considering the elimination of SAGE testing for high school children, and taking a serious look at changes to Utah’s version of Common Core (called Utah’s Core Standards). While this is a step in the right direction, I’m not optimistic that it will address the underlying problems.

    First of all, SAGE testing is flawed in both its concept and its methodology. While there is something to be said for an end-of-year test to see if children have met basic learning objectives, those in charge have a misplaced trust in the effectiveness of their tool to measure all sorts of things, like teacher performance and school quality.

    I will continue to support efforts to reduce or eliminate required end-of-year tests for any purpose other than basic assessments. Care should be taken to limit the amount of time and resources spent preparing for and implementing end of year tests.

    More Federal Overreach

    I suppose there are very few who haven’t heard by now of the guidance issued by the federal government regarding students with gender dysphoria, whose perception of gender is different than their biological gender.

    I strongly object to the notion that the best way to help these students is a settled matter. Solutions should not be imposed on local schools by federal bureaucrats. First of all, federal law should have nothing to say about how states govern or operate their educational system. And beyond that, the guidelines themselves go far beyond accepted definitions and understanding of the requirements of federal law.

    I readily admit that many schools have not found a perfect approach to help children with gender dysphoria succeed in public schools. However, that is our problem to address and work through. It is clearly our opportunity and responsibility as a state education system.

  • Rep. Thurston speaking in the Rotunda

    Legislative Reflections

    It’s been about a month since my last post, so I think it’s time for a quick update.  Since the session ended in March, I have been enjoying the process of meeting with delegates from my district.  I love to meet with them to report on my activities and get their thoughts about what continues to be important.  In our district, caucus attendance was very strong and over 60% of the county delegates elected were not delegates last time.  I like the fact that new people want to be involved.

    In meeting with the delegates, a few issues have come up that I would like to provide more detail on.

    Pay As You Go

    One of the strengths of the legislative process is the constitutional requirement to balance the budget.  The net impact is that every bill that is going to increase cost to the state must be accompanied by dedicated funding.  One of the challenges to legislators is to secure funding for each bill you propose.  Sometimes that is done by identifying an existing source of money, but many bills have to be funded from the “surplus funds” that are available.  In either case, there is stiff competition for funds and House members are very serious about not passing bills that are not funded.  In legislative language, we refer a lot of bills to the Rules Committee “due to fiscal impact” and if funding is not secured, the bills do not come back for further consideration.

    Federal Money

    It is extremely frustrating that as much as 30% of our state spending is done with federal funds.  While some would argue that using federal funds is simply the way the state “pulls back” tax money that we have already paid, the problem is that those funds almost always come with strings attached.  The federal government uses the threat of blocking funds as a way to coerce the state into adopting policies that we really don’t like.

    The largest amounts of federal funding are spent on health care, education, and transportation, but there are federal fund components in almost every department.  While I can appreciate the desire to leverage federal funds to pay for existing programs, there has to be a point where the strings that are attached are simply not worth it.  Education is an excellent case in point.  In an ideal world, we would replace all federal education funds with local funds and not be bound by any federal requirements.  We have to start working our way to independence from federal overreach.

    Is this Bill for Real?

    Every year, we get a long list of bills that seem like they would make no difference at all, however, these bills take time in committee, time on the floor, and use taxpayer resources to develop and implement.  In recent memory, we have had bills to designate an official state dog (this one failed) and an official state work of art (passed – Spiral Jetty).  Other bills commemorate specific events, such as Bladder Awareness Month (passed – November).  Legislators are, and should be, free to propose any bill that they wish, and these bills are obviously important to someone, or they wouldn’t have been proposed.

    The real question is – how much time and energy should we devote to studying and debating these issues? Recognizing the right of my colleagues to propose this legislation, I think the best approach is to spend as little time as possible dealing with them – a quick up or down vote is the best path forward.

    Hemp Help for Kids with Seizures

    I have had a lot of questions about my stance on medical marijuana.  My position is simple – compassion based on science.  Most people don’t realize that I actually sponsored the only medical marijuana bill to pass this year.  The following link will take you to HB58, 1st Sub: http://le.utah.gov/~2016/bills/hbillint/HB0058S01.pdf. You can see that I proposed this substitute version that strengthens the existing program to make CBD Oil (a hemp extract) available to children with intractable seizures.  This is the version of the bill that passed with minor modifications.  I am pleased to have had a primary role in the development and passing of this bill that allows for compassion, but backs it up with science.

     

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