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We’re less than two weeks away from the end of the 2022 session at midnight on Saturday, March 12.

The last major milestone coming is Crossover Day on Wednesday. That’s when bills introduced in the House must pass the House and head to the Senate and vice versa with Senate bills.

Sunday was officially the last day for bills in the House and Senate to get out of committees in order to have time to be read three separate days before getting voted out to the opposite body Wednesday. But neither the House or Senate met this weekend, so Friday became the default final day for bills to get out of committees.

I sometimes call this particular day the Day of Tears, because many lawmakers get upset when their bills don’t make it over the finish line, especially when their bills were on committee agendas last week. It creates anger, even among fellow members of the same party.

••••••

As I write this on Friday, I’m watching committee agendas change with every refresh of the browser. House Bill 4001, the broadband bill, has literally come on, then off, then on, and then off the agenda for the House Finance Committee.

It was back on the agenda for the House Finance Committee’s afternoon meeting Friday after sources told me a detail had been worked out.

I’ve been keeping an eye on that bill since it first was taken up by the House Technology and Infrastructure almost at the start of the Committee session. And nearly from the start it confused even Republican members of the committee. Half of the bill created a new oversight commission to keep an eye on the new Department of Economic Development.

The other half includes various fund accounts dealing with broadband expansion – funds that have been introduced a few times over the last couple of years in other pieces of legislation only to die by the end of session. HB 4001 also includes provisions to punish internet service providers for not keeping their broadband expansion promises.

From the rumblings I keep hearing, the bill has caused heartburn among some Republican caucus members and was more of a Trojan horse. For example: you don’t need a bill to create an oversight commission. It can be done with a swipe of a pen by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House agree to create it. During the committee process, several delegates questioned why HB 4001 wasn’t two bills.

The bill also gave the Public Service Commission the authority to issue “Eligible Telecommunications Carrier” status to companies being funded by the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund. Those companies make promises to complete certain broadband projects or reach certain service metrics.

The bill gives the Attorney General to authority to verify the companies are meeting their obligations. If they’re not, then the PSC can issue fines. But the PSC doesn’t regulate internet service providers unless they have a telecommunications component. The PSC can regulate Suddenlink and Frontier to an extent in regards to internet service, but only because one is a cable company and one of a telephone company. I think the PSC would rather either have full control of internet service providers or have no control, but not a mixture of both.

As someone remarked to me, usually bills that get the designation “4001” are supposed to represent the top priority of the majority caucus. Does the fact that this bill has problems a sign of division in the caucus?

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I raise that issue, because it seems like there is some bitterness on the issue of certificate of need (CON) repeal. The pressure by some in the Republican caucus to push for repeal started pushing away Republican delegates who might have otherwise supported repeal or reform.

I’m told Republican House members have been told not to do discharge motions to get their bills out of committee, or to amend other bills in order to get their stuck bill inserted into someone else’s bill, otherwise known as “Christmas treeing.” So last week when they saw several amendments meant to repeal CON in different ways inserted in a bill to simply remove birthing centers from CON, it did make some members happy.

The amendments failed and the bill passed the next day by a wide margin. And the Senate has a couple of bills dealing with CON that could perhaps also be amended to do a full repeal or a skinny repeal. But at this point, I think the ground has been salted against CON repeal, at least for the remainder of this session.

••••••

As I write this, it does seem what I predicted is coming to pass. The session has been relatively quiet except for a handful of bills meant to appease the Republican base with red meat. There have been a few bills aimed at economic development and incentives, but nothing I can call blockbuster legislation.

The remaining 13 days will be spent with the House and Senate vetting each other’s bills. The budget bill for the next fiscal year should start moving as well.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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