By Abigail Norton
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah State Senators kicked off the legislative session at the State Capitol with families and friends in tow, even as the Senate President serenaded the body.
Along with the pomp and circumstance, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, set the stage for the expected big issues of the session: anti-discrimination, prison relocation and Medicaid expansion.
The session started with an invocation by Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Utah Symphony sextet played the national anthem after which the Utah National Guard presented the colors.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, expressed thanks to the senators for taking time out of busy schedules and away from their families to be a part of the Legislature.
“We have a lot of very difficult issues to work with,” Okerlund said, “All are going to be working for the betterment of the state of Utah.”
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, also made remarks, expressing the Senate Democrats’ commitment to make the state a better place to live in.
“Most importantly is making sure that the people are heard and that people have great representation,” Davis said.
Niederhauser expressed his gratitude for tax commissioner and former Senate president John Valentine for attending the first day of the legislative session. He also expressed thanks to Elder Bednar and his wife, the Utah National Guard, the Utah Symphony Brass, and the Senate personnel.
Niederhauser took time out of his speech to highlight three new senators to the chamber, using family photos and anecdotes as means of introduction. Sen. Alvin Jackson, R-Highland, pictured in a black and white photo, got his start on Capitol Hill in Washington lobbying for the aviation industry.
Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, was acknowledged as the former president of Weber State University. Niederhauser recalled an instance where Millner was sick but told him they were “taking the stairs” together, recognizing her as a hard-working and committed individual.
Niederhauser recognized Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake, for doing Girl’s State, a program that allows young women to learn first-hand how their local and state legislature work. “Oh how lovely were the ’70s,” Niederhauser said sarcastically, as he pointed out his wife in Iwamoto’s same Girl’s State photo. Niederhauser even paused to sing the Girl’s State song, eliciting applause from the chamber.
Later in his speech, Niederhauser recounted the history of the Utah Capitol and state Constitution. Niederhauser said, “The Capitol is a symbol of our public policy and a reminder of the hard work, sacrifice and dedication of our forbearers.”
Niederhauser paid tribute to the late House Speaker Becky Lockhart with a moment of silence.
“We are a cog, we are not the cog wheel,” said Niederhauser who addressed the importance of recognizing what Utahns have. Lockhart died suddenly on Jan. 17 after an unexpected diagnosis and battle with an aggressive brain disease.