SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Before Utah lawmakers kicked off their annual session about 45 days ago, legislative leaders pledged to do something about Medicaid expansion to help thousands of the state’s poor without health coverage.
But Thursday afternoon, lawmakers acknowledged they were walking away from the session with nothing. Negotiators between key Republican leaders and the governor’s office were unable to bridge divides between the House and the Senate over who to cover, how much to spend and whose money they’ll use.
In an unusual, last-minute press conference, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert joined lawmakers as they announced they will try again later this summer after spending the next few months trying to hammer out a deal.
Here’s a look at where Medicaid, the gas tax and some of this session’s biggest issues were left as lawmakers adjourned at midnight Thursday:
With their failure to reach a deal during the session, Herbert and legislative leaders said Thursday that they instead will to form a group of six who will tackle the issue with the hopes of reaching a deal by July 31. After that, lawmakers would meet in a special session to pass the plan.
The group of six will be made up of the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, Senate president, and two lawmakers in each chamber who have spearheaded Medicaid talks. Herbert said Thursday night that the details about the group’s work, including if they would be working in public meetings, had not been worked out.
Herbert and a coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans, including Senate GOP leaders, have aligned behind a plan that the governor’s office has worked out with the federal government. Under that tentative deal, Utah would use a chunk of federal money to enroll the poor in private plans.
House lawmakers have rejected that proposal, arguing the federal money may not be there down the road. They have instead proposed a plan that requires Utah to pony up more of the cost while covering fewer people. House Republican leaders argue it offers the most stability.
RELIGIOUS RIGHTS AND GAY RIGHTS
Utah’s House of Representatives on Wednesday night gave final approval to a landmark anti-discrimination bill that protects gay and transgender people and religious rights.
In an unusual move, the governor signed bill Thursday evening, something usually reserved for days or weeks after lawmakers adjourn.
The bill has earned a rare endorsement from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has helped fast-track the measure through the Legislature.
Conservative opponents have argued that the proposal, which is limited to housing and employment, doesn’t go far enough to protect religious rights.
Lawmakers also passed a bill Thursday night that allows government officials to refuse to marry couples, including same-sex couples, for religious reasons. The measure would require a county clerk’s office to designate someone to marry all couples if the clerk opts out. The LDS church is also supporting the bill. Herbert said Thursday night he’s inclined to sign it but needs to review it.
Utah, the only state in the past 40 years to carry out a death sentence by firing squad, is poised to bring back the Old West-style executions if the state cannot track down drugs used in lethal injections.
The Legislature gave final approval to the proposal Tuesday night, with lawmakers billing it as a backup plan as states struggle to find execution drugs amid a nationwide shortage. If an execution is scheduled, the bill requires lethal drugs to be obtained 30 days in advance.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has declined to say if he’ll approve or veto the bill, a decision that’s not expected to come for a week or so.
If he approves the measure, Utah would become the only state to allow an execution by firing squads if there’s a drug shortage.
About forty minutes before adjourning, House and Senate lawmakers finalized a deal to revamp the state gas tax. The deal that would convert the current 24.5 cents per gallon flat rate to a percentage that could adjust with the price of gas, as House lawmakers had pushed for. The rate would start at 12 percent. That’s the equivalent of a five cent increase from the current rate, something the Senate sought.
The proposal would also include provision for allows local governments to institute a 0.25 percent sales tax to help pay for their road needs.