Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We completed our last full week of the legislative session. We will adjourn the entire 2020 Legislative Session on Thursday, March 12th. We have passed a little over 200 bills so far, but we will spend the majority of our time next week debating bills on the Senate floor, so that number will increase significantly before we conclude our business.
Here are a few of the highlights from week 6:
While we do not have the final budget prepared yet, our Executive Appropriations Chairs have assured us that we will be increasing education funding again this year. Utah legislators consistently prioritize education funding and have increased it from $2.8 billion to $3.8 billion in the past five years alone. We are expecting to see a 5 percent increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) and over $500 million in new money to education.
Education Funding Proposal
Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, with a population expected to double in the next 40 years. The Legislature is taking important steps to protect education funding as Utah’s population grows and the economy fluctuates. S.J.R. 9, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Use of Tax Revenue would allow the use of income tax revenue to support services for children and individuals with disabilities, including social services that supplement educational needs and support students’ physical and mental health. This proposal is subject to voter approval and will take effect if Utahns approve it during the November 2020 general election. This bill generated a lot of debate in the Senate and ultimately passed. This bill will now be considered in the House.
Insulin Access Amendments
Utahns with diabetes are facing barriers to accessing insulin. Over 200,000 Utahns have diabetes, and about 50,000 depend on insulin. Insulin is expensive, costing upwards of $2,000 per month. Many patients struggle to afford it; others needing insulin are turned away at pharmacies when their prescriptions have expired. Roughly one in four insulin-dependent individuals are being forced to ration their insulin — using less than they are prescribed. This has led to exacerbated health problems and some fatalities. H.B. 207, , Insulin Access Amendments, presents a series of solutions to address the state’s insulin crisis. It provides for dispensing changes, bulk-purchasing and low-cost plans. This bill passed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and is currently on the 2nd reading calendar.
You can listen to the committee presentation here.
Distracted Driver Amendments
Distracted driving causes thousands of accidents in Utah each year — an estimated 25 percent of all Utah accidents. Hand-held cell phone use while driving has been illegal in Utah since 2007. Since it is not a primary offense, enforcing this law has been difficult. For example, law enforcement cannot pull drivers over for texting while driving on the freeway. As the law currently stands, hand-held cell phone use while driving is only punishable when coupled with another primary traffic violation. H.B. 101, Distracted Driver Amendments, would make holding a cellphone while driving a primary offense. Drivers would still be permitted to communicate on their phones in a hands-free manner, using means such as bluetooth, cell phone mounting devices or simply resting their phone in a secure spot. Drivers would be allowed to briefly tap or swipe their phones to answer calls or use cell phone assistants like Siri or Ok Google. Exceptions would be allowed during emergencies.
Twenty-two other states have passed similar laws, and are seeing declines in motor vehicle accidents. This bill generated considerable debate on the Senate floor, but ultimately passed on the 2nd reading.
You can listen to the floor debate here.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) continually making headlines, many Utah citizens are asking about our state preparations. The short answer: Utah is ready. Utah and its citizens are uniquely prepared to handle this situation. We have a culture of collaboration, preparedness and caring for neighbors.
Even though this is a worrisome public health situation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes the immediate coronavirus health risk to the general public is low. There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19. Accurate information, facts and prevention tips about COVID-19 can be found online at coronavirus.utah.gov as well as on social media – @UtahCoronavirus. Utah citizens can trust these sources, which are being continually updated.
To help reduce the spread of all sickness, we can each take preventive steps, including
- Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue and then throwing the tissue in the trash
- Proper handwashing – 30 seconds with warm soapy water – taking care to include both thumbs
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
- Supporting our personal immune systems through adequate rest and good nutrition
- Staying at home if sick.
These practices will not only help prevent the spread of the coronavirus but will also help protect against seasonal flu viruses.
Please Join Me!
I’ll be holding my last session town hall meeting this Saturday morning at 7:30am at the County Council Chambers in the Historic Courthouse at 199 North Main in Logan. Please join me! Bring your friends, thoughts, and ideas about how to make Cache City, Utah a better place. If you cannot attend in person, the town halls will be livestreamed on Facebook on the Cache County Facebook page. We will resume town hall meetings this summer, please suggest some topics you would like to see us cover.
You can connect to me online via Facebook (Senator Lyle W. Hillyard) or on my favorite, Twitter (@senlylehillyard). I can also be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 435-757-0194. You’re welcome to join me at the Capitol any time this session – you would be a welcome guest.
Senator Lyle Hillyard