Senator Sandall: Week Four of Our Legislative Session

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

With week 4 of the 2020 Legislative Session over, we are now more than half-way done! Monday, the 17th was Washington and Lincoln Day, a Utah state holiday that gave us a much-needed three-day weekend to recharge for the second half of our session. There are a lot of bills still to consider, and we must do our most important job, pass a balanced budget. Not only do the people of Utah deserve it, the Utah Constitution requires it.

Remember, you can click on any of the linked bills in this letter to take you to the bill homepage. The most recent version of the bill will be displayed. You can also click to find the status of the bill, vote counts, and all the audio/video of floor and committee debates. Thank you for your interest in our legislative process.

Bigamy Amendments

S.B. 102, Marriage and Bigamy Amendments modifies provisions defining the crime of bigamy. Utah has some of the most severe bigamy penalties west of the Mississippi River. Under current Utah criminal code, bigamy is a third-degree felony, punishable by a $5,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence. S.B. 102 proposes to reduce bigamy to an infraction in Utah — similar to laws in many other states. Associated fines will still exist. This bill does not condone polygamy or make polygamy legal in Utah.

Severe penalties Utah originally established to prevent the practice of polygamy now appear to be helping perpetuate it. Fearing prosecution, polygamous communities tend to isolate themselves. Children grow up without exposure to other ways of life and often without access to public education. S.B. 102 does not promote the practice of polygamy by decriminalizing it. In fact, polygamists living in states with similar laws are seeing declines in polygamy as participants become more socially integrated.

Utah’s severe bigamy laws have had led to many unreported crimes. Serious crimes — such as abuse — often go unreported and unpunished due to fear of losing employment, being penalized with fines, being imprisoned or having children taken into state custody. At the same time, according to state policies already in place, polygamists are not penalized for the practice alone in the absence of other crimes — in spite of anti-cohabitation laws still in the law books. The intent of the law isn’t to change current law enforcement practices but rather to reduce fear and allow societal integration. This bill aims to help members of polygamous communities receive improved legal representation and protection.

In the News: Deseret News |

Delivery Driver Age Amendments

S.B. 142Delivery Driver Age Amendments reduces the age requirement from 19 to 18 for food and delivery platforms such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, etc. This bill won’t affect liability or employee driver insurance. Most states that have already adopted similar statutes now have more drivers participating and helping fulfill consumer needs.

You can listen to the committee presentation here.

Higher Education Amendments

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill limiting the Regents’ Scholarship to students attending state colleges and universities. Up until last year, students attending WGU, Westminster College, BYU and LDS Business College could still receive the Regents’ Scholarship. This year, S.B. 117Higher Education Financial Aid Amendments would allow the Regents’ scholarship to be used at any northwestern accredited nonprofit institution. This expands the scholarship eligibility from only state schools to include Western Governors University, Westminster College, BYU and LDS Business College. This bill also appropriates $5 million to the State Board of Regents for student financial aid in Fiscal Year 2021.

You can listen to the floor presentation here.

In the News: KSL

Secondary Water Requirements

Last year, S.B. 52Secondary Water Metering Requirements required all water districts in Utah to meter new secondary water services using pressurized systems. This year, S.B. 51Secondary Water Requirements changes a few requirements originally included in last year’s legislation. As much as secondary water metering is needed, the funding will not exist in the near future. S.B. 51 will exempt secondary water suppliers in counties of the third, fourth, fifth or sixth class. The bill passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.

Listen to the bill’s presentation on the floor here.

Tax Credit for Educator Expenses

Each year, Utah teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to supplement teaching and classroom supplies. In recent years we have worked to raise teachers’ salaries and improve overall education funding. S.B. 69, Tax Credit for Educator Expenses enacts a refundable income tax credit of up to $500 for specified educator out-of-pocket expenses. While just a small step in improving teacher compensation, this bill aims to directly compensate teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies. S.B. 69 passed in the Senate and will now go to the House for consideration.

Listen to the debate on the Senate floor here.

In the News: KSL |

Personalized License Plates

Amid a controversial license plate debate in Utah that made national headlines, S.B. 97Personalized License Plates Amendments gives Utah’s Motor Vehicle Division added clarification and authority regarding what is admissible on personalized Utah license plates. For example, it allows the Motor Vehicle Division to refuse to issue license plates with combinations of letters and numbers disparaging an ethnic group. The bill allows combinations of letters or numbers referring to an official state symbol. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that specialty license plates constitute government speech because they are state issued. This bill includes an amendment to recognize and consider Utah’s non-discrimination law. The Motor Vehicle Division brought forth concerns about offensive and otherwise problematic personalized license plates during Rules Committee review with suggested language and other recommendations. This bill will give the Motor Vehicle Division broader authority to approve or deny personalized license plate requests. This bill passed in the Senate and will be considered in the House.

You can listen to the floor presentation here.

In the News: Deseret News | Fox 13 |

Traffic Code Amendments

Current Utah law states a driver cannot pass a school bus when it is stopped and its stop-sign-arm is extended. Last year, the transportation department of the State Office of Education conducted an informal study. On a single school day, all school bus drivers were asked to write down how many times drivers failed to stop for their school buses. On that single day, bus drivers documented over 900 violations of this law.

H.B. 84, Traffic Code Amendments increases penalties for motorists who pass a stopped school bus. As frustrating as it may be for drivers to wait a few extra seconds, it is vital to ensure the safety of Utah’s school children as they enter and exit school buses. H.B. 84 passed in the House and Senate and returned to the House for concurrence.

You can listen to the bill presentation on the House floor here.

In the News: Deseret News |

State Water Policy

Complex and increasing demands for water require aggressive efforts to protect our state water supply. H.B. 41State Water Policy Amendments outlines state water policies and requires an annual review of these policies to ensure effectiveness. Utah is one of our nation’s most arid states. Great care must be taken to maintain an adequate, reliable, affordable and sustainable water supply. Annual reviews will help ensure best practices are being followed to promote conservation efficiency, meet water infrastructure needs, support food production, protect the environment, maintain water quality in lakes and rivers and monitor intended and unintended consequences.

You can listen to the floor presentation here.

In the News: Fox 13

Emerging Technology Talent

Technology has evolved significantly over the last decade. Several other states are proactively preparing their workforces for careers in emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning. It is time for Utah to do the same. Many of Utah’s tech companies are unable to staff all their high-end research and development positions. Too often, this forces them to recruit out of state. We need to produce tech talent at the highest levels to meet industry demands and help Utahns secure these desirable jobs.

S.B. 96Emerging Technology Talent incentivizes public universities to work with industry leaders in creating multi-disciplinary programs and preparing a highly skilled tech workforce. This will help Utah contribute to scientific discovery and engineering innovation on a broader scale. S.B. 96 also creates an advisory board that will review proposals and make funding recommendations. This bill passed unanimously in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.

You can listen to the floor presentation here.

School Leadership Development Amendments

We can all appreciate the value of outstanding teachers. They motivate, educate and inspire our children. Even the best teachers can become worn out and leave without the support of good leadership. Research conducted by the Utah State Board of Education shows principals are a deciding factor in whether teachers stay at high-needs schools. Research conducted by the Bush Institute indicates that an effective principal can improve student achievement by as much as 20 percent. While we recognize the great benefits of effective principals, many principals lack opportunities to receive mentoring or coaching. S.B. 99School Leadership Development Amendments creates a school-district grant program enabling mentoring and coaching for Utah’s new and aspiring principals.

This bill passed unanimously in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.

Here is a summary of the issue created by the Utah State Board of Education. You can listen to the floor presentation here.

In the News: Deseret News

Medical Cannabis Amendments

We legalized medical cannabis in Utah over a year ago. As we work to implement changes, we continue to receive feedback on needed adjustments. This year, S.B. 121, Medical Cannabis Amendments makes several changes addressing important issues raised by stakeholders. Here is a summary highlighting the changes outlined in the bill. Some notable changes include additional packing options, increased patient caps, clarification that private employers may set their own guidelines on cannabis, and affirming that public employees will not be subject to adverse employment action unless they are impaired. This bill passed in committee with unanimous support.

You can listen to the presentation here.

In the News: Deseret News |

Budget Update

This week we received an updated state revenue forecast. Thanks to hard-working citizens throughout the state, Utah’s economy continues to expand, and the most recent forecast indicates higher revenue numbers than previous forecasts.

The ongoing General Fund forecast indicates an available $92 million. Previously, we were on track for a $51 million deficit for our one-time General Fund needs, but recent collection numbers increased by $38 million, leaving us with a $12 million deficit for one-time General Fund needs.

As we have seen for several years now, Education Fund revenues outpace General Fund revenues. One-time funds in the Education Fund are estimated at $323 million, with $518 million in ongoing education funds.
While our economy is strong and thriving, these numbers highlight a problematic structural imbalance in our state budget. Education has been and will continue to be a top priority for us as legislators. We also have many other important state needs to address. Budget requests seeking money from the General Fund are quadruple our available revenues for that fund, and that’s without even considering bills with fiscal notes and big-budget items like Medicaid. We are not yet in a crisis, but the structural issues with our budget are easily visible even in a good year.

Over the next few weeks, the Legislature will thoroughly review and determine how to fund critical items such as transportation, social service programs, and public education, to which $80 million has already been dedicated in the base budget.

You can learn more about the budget here.

I Look Forward to Hearing from You!

Connect with the Utah Senate for updates wherever you live on social media. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and all sorts of other sites. Feel free to visit our new website for updates, articles, and information: https://senate.utah.gov/.

I’ll try to continually keep you informed about my work on the Hill – likewise, please keep in touch – I’d love to hear your insights and opinions.

I can also be reached by email at ssandall@le.utah.gov. My mobile phone number is (435) 279-7551. You’re also welcome to join me at the Capitol.

If you’d like to meet with me in person during the interim or the legislative session, you can reach Jason Gould at jgould@le.utah.gov. He’ll help us get in touch.

I’m truly grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation – and thanks for paying attention.

Until next time,

Scott Sandall
Senate District 17