President Adams 2021 Opening Day Speech

January 19, 2021

President Adams’ Opening Day Remarks

Thank you former Senator, now Director Hemmert, for being here today. You have been such a great friend. We will miss you, and we wish you the best.

We are also going to miss:

  • Allen Christensen

  • Deidre Henderson

  • Lyle Hillyard 

  • Ralph Okerlund

 Their wisdom, their institutional knowledge, and their friendship will be missed by all of us.   Thank you for your many, many years of service.

Today, we welcome five new Senators to the Senate.

  • John Johnson

  • Michael Kennedy

  • Mike McKell

  • Derrin Owens 

  • Chris Wilson

We are excited to have your talents, intelligence and fresh ideas in the Senate, even if some of those ideas come from the House! And thank you, all of you, for giving me the honor and challenge of serving as your Senate President again! It is a great honor. 

I want to personally thank Sister Lisa Harkness, Commissioner Jess Anderson, the Utah Symphony Ensemble, and the Hill Air Force Base Honor Guard for helping us today.

We have the best Senate staff, led by our incredible chief of staff, Mark Thomas. They have worked almost continually, beginning early in the morning, late into the night and on weekends, addressing concerns and unprecedented problems, for the past year. 

Our legislative staff from each office has worked tirelessly. Last year, everyone in the Legislative Branch and on Capitol Hill worked through complex issues during less-than-ideal circumstances. In fact, there have been so many people who have made this last year possible – the Capitol Preservation Board, Utah Highway Patrol, Utah National Guard, all law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals, teachers, business owners, maintenance, cleaning professionals, and all those who have stepped up during this last year.

In addition to all those I have already mentioned, I want to take a moment to thank especially Susan and my family for their support and help. They are the reason I became involved in public service. I love all of you. I know some of you are watching online. Thank you for your patience with me and your support. 

2020 has been a tough year, and we lost people dear to us – some from COVID-19 and some from other causes. I want to take a moment to remember all those we have lost, including, most recently, Allyson Gamble and Rep. Lou Shurtliff.

Allyson navigated the needs of the three branches, the media, the public and visitors for more than 20 years. She truly made this building, our Capitol, the People’s House.

Rep. Shurtliff was an incredible public servant. I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve with her in the House and she was a strong advocate for education. She will be greatly missed in the Legislature.

Many of us have lost family or friends to the COVID-19 virus. Please join me and silently stand for a few moments of reflection and respect for ALL those who passed away in 2020.

The last 12 months have been unprecedented and historic. We began the 2020 General Session one year ago, unaware of what was to come. Physical distancing had yet to become part of our regular vocabulary. We did not think twice about gathering in large groups, and surely, none of us imagined a day when we would need to stockpile face masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

We also saw hurricane winds, earthquakes and unrest in our country and at our state Capitol. The events of this summer and in the past week have caused me to reflect on our country’s and state’s history. We need to learn from the lessons of the past – to avoid the pitfalls of those who have gone before us. We will lose what makes our country the beacon of hope, the American dream, everything that is so precious to us if we continue down this path. Our very freedoms are at stake.

The effort to discredit and censor those we disagree with is disheartening and alarming. Our country is unique because we can have a difference of opinion, regardless of political opinions or views, without fear of harm.

I call on protesters – in our state and around our nation – to practice their constitutional rights in a peaceful and orderly manner. Abide by law and order. We will not tolerate violence and civil disorder.

We cannot let our differences divide us. We need to take the lessons we have learned throughout the course of this pandemic, especially lessons of collaboration.

In the Senate, we bring individuals together – Republicans, Democrats, stakeholders and constituents – making sure the process is inclusive so that we accomplish the best policies for our state by finding unified solutions.

Our work this year is just beginning. We have a long road ahead of us and many things have changed, including the annual general session. Instead of gathering with all our family and friends, we have limited family members and senators. Some senators are here in the Capitol and some senators are joining virtually. But we are all convening, and we are ready to do the people’s business and represent our constituents. What a difference a pandemic makes.

Last year, in April 2020, we called ourselves into a virtual special session for the first time in the history of our state. We were responding to the imposed economic shutdowns. We formed a joint commission that immediately passed recommendations to open up non-emergency medical procedures and other businesses, including restaurants, gyms and hair salons, which had been shut down.

Following the legislatively formed commission’s recommendations, those and most other businesses have opened in some form since May 1, 2020. Nothing good just happens.

Last year, we also received and deployed more than $1.5 billion CARES Act funding.  We focused that funding on helping save lives and save livelihoods. We protected the constitutional legislative process and put limits and regulations on the governor’s state of emergency power and pushed for more personal responsibility and fewer restrictions on businesses. We will continue that work this legislative session. 

We found and allocated money for hard-hit industries and families to assist those struggling. Through the legislative process, we pushed for a balanced, blended and holistic approach to manage COVID-19 – protecting people’s health, lives and livelihoods.

What are the results of our efforts?

Utah’s case fatality rates are the lowest in the nation at .0045. That means if you test positive for COVID-19 in Utah, you have a 99.55 percent chance of survival. Again, the lowest case fatality rate in the nation. We all hope with the new vaccine distribution strategy that focuses on saving the most vulnerable, that death rates will dramatically decrease.

If we vaccinate those 65 and older, we eliminate 77 percent of fatalities by focusing on just 10 percent of our population. Vaccinating those 65 and older is the most significant step we can take to protect lives and livelihoods.  If we do that, we can open up the parts of our economy that are still struggling, including our entertainment facilities, convention centers and hospitality services.

We have not forgotten the segments of the economy that are still struggling. We will continue working tirelessly to find the balance needed. And we will not forget them. Let’s focus on saving the most lives possible and opening up all parts of the economy by getting those who are most at risk, 65 and older, vaccinated.

Not only do we have the lowest fatality rate in the nation, but because of your efforts last April, Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

We are starting this session with budget surpluses. We are reinstating the cost of living increase appropriated last year for state employees. We are funding Medicaid enrollment increases.

Additionally, last summer, we funded a 1.8 percent increase in the WPU for our teachers, the only state in the nation to increase education spending during the pandemic. 

In December, we went a step further. The Executive Appropriations Committee recommended the full reinstatement of the 6 percent increase in the WPU. We allocated $95 million to fund growth and inflation in the public education base budget and provided educators with a one-time bonus, a COVID-19 stipend.

Because our state took a blended approach of protecting lives and livelihoods and kept the economy open, we were able to fund education and are now in a position to reduce taxes.

Other states took a drastically different approach to managing COVID-19. Let’s compare a couple of them. 

California projected a $5.6 billion surplus at the beginning of 2020, but the pandemic transformed those projections to a $54 Billion dollar deficit by the end of 2020. New York is forecasting to have a $59 Billion dollar deficit in the next two years. Hawaii is furloughing teachers because they cannot afford to pay them. That is tragic and heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, in Utah, we have nearly a $1 billion surplus in one-time funds available to replenish our rainy-day funds and half a billion dollars in ongoing revenue to help continue to push our economy on the path to full recovery.

We live in the greatest state in the nation. I am proud of everyone who has sacrificed and done so much during this past year – our medical providers, first responders, school staff and so many more.

I am especially proud of our teachers, including my oldest daughter, who is a 3rd-grade teacher in the Weber School District. She and the other teachers in her school have been teaching in-person five days a week since August, the start of the school year.  She has told me of the extraordinary efforts everyone has made in her school during COVID-19. 

I am grateful for the efforts of those who make the classroom clean and safe so that our children and grandchildren can get the best in-person education possible under the circumstances. They are the unsung heroes of 2020. I appreciate all educators and staff for their dedication.

In a recent visit to Utah, Dr. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, and Dr. Redfield, who heads up the CDC, recommended face-to-face instruction based on research. They didn’t find a difference in the spread of the virus among educators teaching online versus in-person, but found many students failing to learn in an online environment. 

Teachers have done an amazing job with the resources they have been given, but parents should have the option to have their kids be in the classroom.

We are seeing alarming reports that in the Salt Lake City School District, where there is no option for in-person learning, there is a 600 percent increase in students failing all classes, despite teachers’ best efforts.

We cannot let this happen in Utah. Our kids’ futures are at risk. With teachers now having vaccination priority, Salt Lake City School District needs to start face-to-face instruction now and give each student the best opportunities to learn.

As a state, we have proven time and time again that we can achieve greatness. This does not happen by accident. We come together, listen and act.

This year’s Senate coin has the Senate Seal on one side, and George Washington on the other. George Washington has many titles, the first being America’s First General, and the second being America’s First President. Both titles give him the highest distinction and honor. However, I believe George Washington’s greatest accomplishment was presiding over the Constitutional Convention and drafting our country’s most prized document, the Constitution. And so, I believe his greatest title was not General or President, but Chairman Washington.

There were 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention. Just like this Senate, not one person had all the answers, but each member contributed. The drafting of the Constitution was not done by one person or through an executive process, but through the formation of a convention, which is similar to our legislative process.

John Jay, who was a member of the convention and later became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, said it best: “Let Congress legislate, let others execute, let others judge.”

Just like the formation of the United States Constitution, policy should not be created by the executive branch or judges but should be a deliberative process reserved for a larger, more diverse group of elected officials. Our Founding Fathers got it right – only a legislative-like group could create the most significant policy document in our country’s history. 

Many times, ideas need to be privately formulated. It has been said before we should think before we speak and measure twice and cut once. This private, thoughtful process was key to the creation of our Constitution. However, after the private, thoughtful process, the drafted Constitution was vetted by the public again and again.

Washington and the Convention completed their work on September 17, 1787, but it was not until almost three years later, in May of 1790, that all thirteen states ratified the Constitution, with some of the most significant rights, The Bill of Rights, added through the public process.

On each of your desks is a copy of the United States Constitution. This document stands as a testament to the legislative process – the same process we engage in, which allows for multiple forms of vetting, and most importantly, public input.

As we debate and consider policy during the next 44 days, we encourage input from all Utahns. This proper process allows us to avoid unintended consequences and is how policies should be implemented.  It is why we created a system to allow anyone to remotely participate and provide comments as if they were in the room.

For the first time in the history of our state, all committee rooms, including the four new committee rooms, have been wired for not only audio but video, which makes it possible for members of the public to join and give public comment virtually – almost the same way they could if they were in-person.

We value and understand the need for those outside the legislative body to contribute to legislation. With these new adjustments, we will have space for in-person and remote public feedback when appropriate.

This year, more than ever, we need the voice of the people. Moms and dads who cannot leave their children at home can now participate. Working individuals who cannot leave their 9 to 5 job can now participate. Rural Utahns who live six hours away can now participate. Those who have never been part of the legislative process before, this is your year.

This year, this virtual year, by working together, we can continue to find ways to improve the future for education, increase workforce opportunities, ensure upward mobility and assist those struggling during this pandemic. Our state is the best in the country for upward mobility.

Just like George Washington, the Utah Senate values actions over words. Our constituents’ actions, combined with legislative action, will transform policy and Utah as a whole.

In the upcoming session, I am committed to reinvigorating our mental health efforts. Throughout the pandemic, mental health needs have increased. Davis County’s receiving center for mental health has experienced amazing results. This program and others like it need to be expanded. We cannot ignore this growing concern. Utah should and will create models the country can use to help address this important issue.

More and more people are moving to our great state. We are the best location in the world to live in. We need to fund infrastructure. To alleviate congestion on our roads, we need to fund projects like double-tracking the Frontrunner and expanding highways and alternate routes, along with increasing our fiber optic system and, of course, water. 

We love our open spaces in Utah. We need to conserve our great outdoors and improve the trail and park capacity. These will not only improve our quality of life, but will draw people toward our state. These projects will be contributing factors to why all of us will want to stay in Utah.

Education and education funding will always be our top priority. We will continue to demonstrate this by increasing education funding even during a pandemic. We will also need to explore a more equitable education funding distribution and parents need to be given more control. 

Not only do we want to provide Utah students with the best education possible, but we also owe it to them to grow and develop our communities and economy, offering reasons for them to stay in Utah after graduation. The Point of the Mountain effort, Silicon Slopes, the Inland Port, Falcon Hill and rural economic development will be top priorities. We cannot allow unnecessary, burdensome business regulations stand in the way of innovation and family-sustaining jobs.

This session, we need to do even more. 

We need to reduce the burden on our senior citizens by reducing the state tax on social security and military retirement. We need to find solutions to reduce the tax on families and address the effects of federal tax reform on dependent children. And we even need to reduce the tax on productivity.

2021 will be the year of the tax cut!

Utah faced some incredible challenges in 2020, and we met adversity head-on. The great people of Utah deserve all the credit. Their fortitude enabled us to emerge from 2020 stronger, as individuals and as a state. Nothing good just happens.

Now, we have a lot of work ahead of us in the next 44 days. I urge you to be civil and respectful, even at times when we disagree. Let us set the standard for 2021 – our comeback year – for health, for jobs, for civility and to unite as a nation once again.

On this year’s coin is a quote from President, General, Chairman Washington, “Deeds, not words.” Washington’s actions, what he accomplished, were always greater than his words. He had a reputation like we do in Utah. He got things done. Now it is time to go to work and get it done.

Thank you. May God continue to bless Utah and the United States of America.

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