By Maren McInnes
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — When Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, took a job on the Monroe city council, he unwittingly began what would become a 30-year political career.
While he was serving on the city council, the mayor of Monroe was called on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Okerlund stepped in. He served as mayor for six years, and thereafter spent the next 13 years as chairman of the Sevier County Commission.
Today, Okerlund is the Senate Majority Leader in the Utah State Legislature. He has been representing District 24 since 2009, a mostly rural district that comprises all or part of eight counties: Beaver, Garfield, Juab, Kane, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Utah, and Wayne.
During the 2015 Legislative session, Okerlund is sponsoring several bills. Three bills have already been drafted including SB14, Renewable Energy Tax Credit Amendments. This bill would create tax incentives to encourage businesses to move to rural parts of the states. When businesses, like mines, are set up in rural areas, they often aren’t near communities. Therefore, the businesses must run power lines, water lines, gas lines, and transportation infrastructure for great distances. This creates a high initial costs and high utility costs for these businesses, Okerlund explained. SB14 would provide a post-performance tax incentive for these businesses.
The Children’s Justice Center Amendments, SB155, would provide for children’s justice centers in Kane and Garfield counties. Children’s justice centers are safe places with good people where children who have been in abusive situations can come, Okerlund said.
The third bill, Coal Ash Regulations Amendments, SB154, would amend the definition of solid waste in the Solid and Hazardous Waste Act. Okerlund explained that there is a new EPA regulation on ash and he is working with the Department of Environmental Quality and industry leaders to “do something that makes sense for Utah.” Other bills include one to address replacement of survey markers inadvertently lost or destroyed in forest fires, one dealing with local boards of health, and a handful of others that are still being drafted.
In addition to sponsoring his bills, Okerlund has many responsibilities as the Senate Majority Leader. Okerlund must sets agendas for caucus, run the Senate floor, and attend to the Executive Appropriations budget. In managing the chamber floor, his two main responsibilities are to make sure that bills are moving and ensure that senators are in attendance to present bills. Moreover, he explained, leadership must “set the agenda for how the different ideas that end up being bills, that end up being policies, move forward.
The most important—and time consuming—responsibility he has is with Executive Appropriations. The Executive Appropriations Committee must come up with a budget three days before the session is over. Last year, he said, members worked weekends and late nights to complete the budget.
“The most important thing we do is the budget,” said Okerlund. “If we did nothing more than pass the budget every year—and we do a good job passing that budget—probably the state continues to run.”
There are some big issues that will be addressed this 2015 Legislative session, Okerlund said, adding, “this session is probably going to end up being the weightiest session that I’ve been involved in, just because of the really difficult issues that we are dealing with and the long-term consequences of them.”
Given the matters at hand, Okerlund appreciates hearing from those he represents. “I love to hear from my constituents,” he said, adding that the best way to reach him is through text message or any other kind of message.
Contributor: Sterling Randle