Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Week seven of the legislative session has come and gone and we are officially finished with the 2020 General Legislative Session. It has been a productive 45 days. We started a bit slow but finished strong. There were many bills left when the clock struck midnight, but that is the beauty of a 45-day session. If the legislation is important, it will come back next year.
We worked on many difficult, complex issues this session. Good legislation usually takes time, research, contemplation, and reasoned debate. I often think of the good that could be accomplished if the federal government ran as smoothly as the Utah legislature. Though there are differences in perspective and opinion, we all have similar goals, which include a balanced budget every single year.
Remember, your voice is needed. Most changes to state law start with a citizen contacting their legislator. Hopefully this newsletter has been useful to you. I’m always open to suggestions about ways to improve.
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.
We passed our “bill of bills”, our big budget bill, on the last night of the session as per usual. I’m happy to report that this year we are appropriating $255 million for K-12 education enrollment growth and a 6% WPU funding increase. Education is a top priority for us and so this was an easy decision to make.
We are a state that takes pride in preparedness and so we have also allocated $26 million in one-time funding and $132 million in ongoing funds to our rainy-days funds.
This budget puts $17.9 million ongoing and $5.9 million one-time monies for mental health services for crisis situations. We are also putting $7.3 million one-time in for air quality programs.
Warning Labels Amendments
Movies are rated, allowing people to evaluate their choices to participate and avoid undesired content. H.B. 243, Warning Labels Amendments, will require other forms of material to include warning labels in Utah. It permits the attorney general or a member of the public to bring an action against a person who distributes pornographic materials without a visible warning or without specific searchable text for a website. The bill allows a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each violation and creates a process for curing the violation and paying a reduced penalty. A portion of all penalty payments will go to the Crime Victims Reparations Fund.
Reporting Requirements for County Jails
S.B. 240, Reporting Requirements for County Jails, passed the Senate 27-0 vote. It requires county jails to report specific information if incarcerated individuals die: name, gender, race, ethnicity, age & any known prior diagnosis. State prisons are already required to do this. Recently there was a three-fold rise in deaths among Utah’s county jails. Without data, it’s more difficult to evaluate and address problems.
Bail and Pretrial Release Amendments
H.B. 206, Bail and Pretrial Release Amendments, permits judges to allow some individuals accused of crimes—such as first-time nonviolent crime offenders—to await trial at home. Around 65 percent of people currently incarcerated in Utah are awaiting trial. This burdens our prison system and costs, taxpayers, a great deal of money. It also costs many individuals accused of crimes undue trauma. Most people incarcerated while awaiting trial have not committed violent crimes and are not considered flight risks: they simply cannot afford bail. Prior to incarceration, many have jobs, stable housing and families. As a result of pretrial incarceration, many lose jobs. In many cases, accused individuals spend more time in prison awaiting trial than they spend paying for their crimes after trial. Pretrial incarceration is also associated with higher rates of recidivism.
H.B. 206 passed the Legislature and will be sent to the governor for his consideration.
Concurrent Solution on Emotional Support Animals
Currently, federal law protects citizens’ rights to emotional support animals (ESA), which overrule housing and airline policies at no additional cost to owners. Unfortunately, ESA laws are commonly misused to get around housing and airline rules, which places an unfair burden on citizens using support animals for legitimate medical purposes. S.C.R 13, Concurrent Resolution Encouraging More Study on Emotional Support Animals, encourages the President, Congress and Utah’s congressional delegation to require an in-person doctor’s evaluation before obtaining an ESA. The bill passed in the Senate and the House and will now go to the Governor for consideration.
You can watch the Senate floor presentation here.
Infant at Work Pilot Program
Bringing newborn children to work is becoming more common in the workplace. H.B. 264, Infant at Work Pilot Program, would allow employees at the Utah Department of Health to bring babies to work for the first six months of their newborn’s lives or until their children become mobile. Several other states have implemented similar pilot programs or full infant-at-work policies for employees. The benefits of these programs include higher employee retention rates, increased employee productivity and higher workplace morale. Parents save on childcare costs and benefit emotionally from improved work-life balance. The bill passed in the Senate and the House and will now go to the Governor for consideration.
You can watch the floor presentation here.
Education Funding Proposal
We passed legislation that will protect, stabilize and expand K-12 public education funding in our state. The two bills comprising the proposal, S.J.R. 9 and H.B. 357, support services for children and individuals with disabilities. Implementation of the proposal is subject to voter approval in the November 2020 general election.
S.J.R. 9, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Use of Tax Revenue, passed the Legislature, which would extend the use of income tax revenue to fund critical programs for children and for individuals with disabilities.
H.B. 357, Public Education Funding Stabilization, will protect, stabilize and grow Utah’s education funding. This bill moves the Minimum School Program funding (which includes WPU—the weighted pupil unit) to a constitutionally protected account for K-12 education. It will also automatically adjust education funding for enrollment growth and inflation. In addition, this establishes a reserve to meet educational funding commitments during economic downturns.
If approved by voters in the November 2020 election, the proposal would amend the Utah Constitution to allow the use of some income tax revenue to support services for children and for individuals with disabilities, including social services that supplement educational needs and support students physical and mental health.
Also, $75 million will be placed in the education stabilization account, and approximately $3.6 billion of K-12 education funding will be moved to the Uniform School Fund, which is constitutionally dedicated to K-12 education.
Additionally, in the current year budget, the Legislature is increasing the WPU by 6 percent and putting $200,000 in ongoing funding to the T.H. Bell Teaching Scholarship to retain teachers.
The enactment of H.B. 357 is based on a constitutional amendment, which is subject to voter approval in the 2020 general election. S.J.R. 9 will be on the ballot this November.
Start Smart Utah Breakfast Program
We want to see every student succeed. Though, we know that some Utah students face significant barriers, including not getting enough to eat daily. To help address this need, we passed H.B. 222, Start Smart Utah Breakfast Program. It creates a program to expand school breakfast access in public schools. While this bill initially failed in committee, it was reconsidered a week later with a new substitute and then passed out of the Senate committee unanimously with a favorable recommendation. This bill passed in both chambers and will be sent to the governor for his consideration.
Substance Use and Health Care Amendments
On the first day of this legislative session, Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of the Utah Supreme Court expressed concern that our prisons are becoming de facto mental health institutions. A high percentage of inmates struggle with addictions and mental illness. Addressing these issues will help reduce recidivism. H.B. 38 Substance Use and Health Care Amendments, will help ensure inmates with behavioral health challenges are put on Medicaid 30 days prior to their release so that issues that led to their incarceration can be managed following their release.
H.B. 38 also creates a telehealth pilot program to make sure inmates’ conditions are properly diagnosed, and that they are getting the mental health services they need well before being released from jail. This bill passed in both the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his consideration.
Listen to the bill presentation on the Senate floor here.
Exploitation of a Minor Amendments
A disturbing scenario was recently described in a committee and on the Senate floor. Two sixteen-year-olds are dating and the boy talks his girlfriend into sending a risqué picture to him. The boy later sends the picture to ten friends. These friends did not request the picture or even consent to it being sent, but the moment they receive it they are guilty of a 2nd-degree felony. It doesn’t matter if they save the picture or forward it on. The moment the inappropriate photo is on their phone and therefore in their possession they are guilty. S.B. 232, Exploitation of a Minor Amendments, creates an affirmative defense as long as the individuals are under the age of 18 and are within two years of the age of the minor and agree to delete the photo if the victim or police request it. The bill passed in the Senate and the House and will now go to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Watch the bill presentation on the Senate floor here.
Gambling Machines and Sweepstakes
Under the Utah Constitution, gambling is prohibited under “any pretense.” S.B.214, Gambling Machine and Sweepstakes Amendments, addresses loopholes in the law leading to unregulated gambling in some Utah communities. This bill modifies definitions to clarify which types of machines are legal and prohibits the operation of fringe gaming devices. In addition, it enhances criminal penalties for individuals who own or operate fringe gambling devices, not consumers who play them. Oftentimes, fringe gambling allows individuals to insert cash into a slot machine-like device where they push a button in hopes of winning cash prizes. Fringe gambling devices have cropped up in convenience stores, gas stations, beauty salons, vape shops and even laundromats.
Statistically, gambling is highly correlated with increases in theft, alcoholism, financial distress, family instability and violence. Locations with fringe gambling devices often become hotspots for other illegal activities, such as prostitution and drug dealing. Often fringe gambling devices are placed to specifically target the financially disadvantaged—those who can least afford to lose.
S.B. 214 passed in both the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his consideration.
You can watch the floor presentation here.
Special Needs Scholarships
The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarships to provide tuition assistance for eligible special needs students enrolled in eligible private schools. In the past, this scholarship has been funded from the general fund, making it difficult to grow the scholarship. H.B.332, Special Needs Scholarships Amendments, is modeled after the Carson Smith scholarship and will be funded by individual and corporate income taxes. Corporations and individuals can receive tax credits for donating to the scholarship.
H.B.332 passed in both the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his consideration.
You can watch the floor presentation here.
S.B. 207, Paid Parental Leave Amendments, provides three weeks of postpartum recovery for mothers employed by the state of Utah. This important change will make the state a more competitive employer. Providing paid parental leave leads to greater recruitment and workforce retention rates. It is also associated with improved worker morale and productivity. It also helps decrease the likelihood that families will need government assistance within the first year following childbirth.
The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides employees 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave following childbirth. Due to financial constraints, unpaid leave is not an option for many families in the United States. State employees currently use their paid sick leave and annual leave to offset unpaid maternity leave. Not having access to paid parental leave disproportionately affects females and younger employees. It creates instability in the workplace and makes the Utah State Government less competitive in attracting qualified employees. S.B. 207 passed in both the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his consideration.
Watch the bill’s presentation on the Senate floor here.
The Legislature has allocated over $20 million to bolster state and local efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Funding includes targeted programs to protect Utah’s seniors, who are particularly susceptible to the virus.
- $16 million was allocated to the Division of Finance for coronavirus response
- $4 million can be drawn from the Disaster Recovery Restriction Account
- $2 million for local health departments to create intensive response programs for seniors
- $250,000 to Meals on Wheels, a program targeted to assist senior citizens
- $250,000 to the Food Box Program, which provides 10 days’ worth of boxed meals to seniors
- $250,000 in new home medical testing services to help minimize the spread of the illness
- $250,000 in home supportive services programs for vulnerable populations
Additionally, Utah will have access to over $6 million from the federal government.
On March 12, state leaders, Utah Coronavirus Task Force representatives and health department officials jointly announced the implementation of precautionary measures across the state to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus:
- Avoid mass gatherings of more than 100 people
- If you become sick, stay home to prevent infecting vulnerable citizens
- If you believe you are infected, call your healthcare provider before going in so they can take precautions to protect other patients and visitors
- If you are over 60 years of age, do not participate in gatherings of more than 20 people
- If you are immunocompromised, do not participate in gatherings of over 20 people
- Work from home, if possible
- Offer sick employees paid leave, if possible, to prevent infecting all employees
- Restrict visitor access to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes – monitoring both employees and visitors for symptoms of COVID-19
- Remember that Utah’s water supply is as abundant and dependable as ever, so water bottles are not a necessity.
The state is making these recommendations to keep Utah’s current situation from becoming critical. This is not a statewide quarantine. It is important not to give in to fear. About 80 percent of people who contract COVID-19 will only have minor symptoms similar to a typical cold or flu virus and will need little to no medical attention. People who are over age 60 or have preexisting health conditions are at greater risk, but Utah has excellent medical facilities. 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
- Social distancing – 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
- Use telehealth and/or call ahead before just showing up at the doctor to protect patients and healthcare providers, limiting potential exposures to novel coronavirus
- Updates and additional prevention tips can be found online at coronavirus.utah.gov
Additionally, the Legislature passed S.J.R. 16, which permits the Utah Legislature to conduct electronic meetings as needed under specific conditions. In the event of any emergency, state leaders will still be able to conduct business, address problems and serve the people of Utah. The resolution meets all requirements prescribed by the Open Public Meetings Act.
I’m grateful for all the work being done by health care workers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. 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,
Senate District 17