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The Better Boundaries Initiative is backed by members from both political parties, including co-chairs Jeff Wright, a Republican, and Ralph Becker, a Democrat, who spoke to City Weekly. The aim is to establish an independent commission that will be delegated with the task of redrawing political districts. “In a sense, it is to combat gerrymandering,” Wright says. The initiative has two key components. First, it would set up a commission comprising Democrats and Republicans, and a chairperson appointed by the governor. The board’s task would be to map out legislative districts and U.S. House of Representative districts. The commission would submit its maps to the Legislature for final approval. The second aspect is establishing a set of standards that would guide the commission as it figures out fair boundaries. The standards ask that communities and neighborhoods stay together, for example. “Currently, the process is very broken,” Becker says. “We have a system where legislators are picking their voters. They’re deciding where the boundaries are. Incumbents are deciding how to protect their districts.” A byproduct of the system as it stands, is that many elections in the state aren’t competitive, the Better Boundaries Initiative argues. When the district is drawn to favor a candidate from one political party over another, it deters challengers from running. “We don’t have boundaries that reflect the natural boundaries of communities,” Becker adds. “There’s a need for that. It’s recognized all over the country. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Democratic or Republican state, where the legislature—as is true in Utah—makes these decisions unilaterally and doesn’t have any standards or transparent processes. And you get bad results.” The duo is optimistic about the prospect of getting the initiative on the ballot and getting voted into law. Polling shows a majority of the state supports the idea. (DWH)

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Our Schools Now is on a mission to put more money into the education system by imposing a small tax across a wide base. In essence, the initiative calls for a .45 percent tax increase on both income and sales tax to raise about $700 million earmarked for education. Importantly, says campaign manager Austin Cox, the initiative is led by some of the state’s most-respected business leaders. Cochairing the movement are Gail Miller with the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson, and Ron Jibson, who recently retired as CEO of Questar (now Dominion Energy). “Three of Utah’s premier business leaders are really coming to the side and aid of Utah teachers,” Cox says. “Recognizing, one, that we’re not doing enough to put [teachers] in positions to be successful; and, two, that education is really the foundation for economic success.” The proposal aims to increase per-pupil spending by $1,000. “Utah is the lowestfunded state in the nation per student so this would take us up just a couple of spots,” Cox says. Based on the group’s calculations, it would cost the median household about a

dollar a day. “Are you willing to invest a dollar a day in our local schools so that we can provide our teachers the resources they need to be successful?” he asks. Cox rattles off a list of ways the money could be spent: upping teacher salaries, cutting classroom sizes, offering teacher mentorships and professional development, investing in early childhood education and purchasing technology. “There are so many things that are absent in our schools because of lack of funding that would give teachers the resources they need to reach our students to provide more individual learning opportunities, to make sure our students are coming to school and ready to learn when they are there,” he says. For years, school funding advocates had convened with lawmakers, hoping that they could get a bill passed through the statehouse. But that funding uptick never happened to the degree the members had hoped, even after sitting on committees and drafting plans. “We’ve done just about everything, and they have said, ‘We’re not able to do this,’” Cox says. “The only way we feel we can get this done is to go to voters with a citizens’ petition.” (DWH)

The Legislature debated a medical marijuana bill last year. But, not to many people’s surprise, it didn’t pass. For months now, the Utah Patients Coalition along with others have been collecting signatures to get medical marijuana on the ballot in 2018. DJ Schanz, who heads the Patients Coalition, told City Weekly last week they’ve already collected about three-fourths of the required signatures and expect to reach the goal by April. Carl Wimmer, a former state representative, co-sponsors the ballot initiative. Even though he says he’s not a “huge supporter of ballot initiatives, and it takes a lot for me to sign a ballot initiative,” he believes in the process and public representation—one area he thinks the Legislature has failed when it comes to medical marijuana. “In this particular case, the Legislature just appears to not have the will to move forward with the vast majority of something the people support and something that will help some of the most vulnerable people in society,” Wimmer says. “It appears they just keep kicking the can down the road and pay lip service to appease people when they

really do nothing.” Gov. Gary Herbert, in response to a student’s question at a middle school in Riverton in early January, said, “I think it’s going to happen,” according to a Salt Lake Tribune article. The governor’s office later clarified he wasn’t speaking about any specific initiative. However, it’s clear this year’s ballot initiative has a lot of support, albeit absent from Capitol Hill. Wimmer, now an ex-Mormon, has criticized the LDS church and Legislature for being too intertwined since he left the political world in 2012. He says that’s a major reason legislators haven’t passed anything regarding medical marijuana. “I think the majority are doing what the LDS church wants done regardless of their constituency and I believe a majority of voters support [medical marijuana],” Wimmer says. “The fact is, by supporting this, they would be doing the will of their constituency—every indication is the church is not supportive and as long as they’re not supportive, the Legislature will not support it.” (RH)

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City Weekly January 18, 2018  

The No-Fun Zone!

City Weekly January 18, 2018  

The No-Fun Zone!