|Business and Economic Development |
- Inland Port
In 2018, the Legislature created the Inland Port Authority. Since then, a series of legislation has passed to further improve the project while working to get feedback from stakeholders adjacent to the inland port area and input from others throughout the state. This year, H.B.347, Inland Port Modifications, makes technical changes related to tax increments, improves infrastructure plans to include energy-related facilities, and encourages the Inland Port Authority to use funds to reduce environmental impacts. Listening to and partnering with the community is critical as this project develops. S.B.112, Inland Port Amendments, makes provisions for a community enhancement program. It ensures citizens within and surrounding the port a voice in addressing concerns and sharing ideas directly with the Inland Port Authority. You can get more information and updates here.
- Paid Family Leave and the Infant at Work Pilot Program
The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides employees 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave following childbirth. Allowing paid leave for new mothers employed by the state of Utah will assist families and help state employers with recruitment and retention rates. S.B. 207, Paid Parental Leave Amendments, will provide three weeks of postpartum recovery leave at 100 percent of an employee’s wages. In addition, we passed H.B. 264, Infant at Work Pilot Program, allowing the Department of Health to pilot an infant-at-work program. This program will allow employees at the Department of Health to bring their children to work for the first six months after birth, or until children become mobile.
- Rural Economic Development
While Utah has experienced tremendous economic development, not all parts of the state are thriving. Some rural areas need support through targeted economic development programs. S.B. 95, Economic Development Amendments, creates grant programs to help rural counties develop their local economies. This bill makes third- to sixth-class counties eligible for $200,000 of funding annually after creating community economic development advisory boards. Qualifying counties may also access additional funds subject to a matching requirement.
Did you know Utah has a AAA credit rating? We have held this top-notch rating ever since the rating systems were created in the 1960s. This credit rating reflects our state’s commitment to a balanced budget and fiscal restraint. We are the only state in the nation to have never lost our AAA rating! To preserve this rating and promote continued fiscal prudence, we passed S.B. 115, Bonding Amendments. This bill mandates paying principal, premium and interest on general obligation bonds before using specific revenue in other ways. It will ensure Utah maintains its AAA bond rating.
Utah voters legalized medical cannabis over a year ago, and our first cannabis pharmacy opened for business just a few weeks ago. Medical cannabis is still new to our state, and ongoing adjustments may be required to ensure a successful system. The Legislature passed two bills this year to address needs brought to our attention by industry stakeholders. S.B. 121, Medical Cannabis Amendments, provides additional packaging options, increases patient caps, helps private employers establish guidelines and provides job protections for public employees. H.B. 425, Medical Cannabis Modifications, was introduced later in the session after S.B. 121 had been passed and signed by the governor. H.B. 425 broadens the definition of a “research university” to include more Utah schools, addresses disclosures for owners of cannabis companies and allows letters from doctors to continue as sufficient documentation for patients through the end of the year as we work on getting cards issued.
- Public Education Funding
We are working to protect, stabilize and expand Utah’s K-12 public education funding. Two bills we passed this year will further these efforts. S.J.R. 9, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Use of Tax Revenue, proposes we expand the use of income tax revenue to fund critical programs for children and individuals with disabilities. This is subject to voter approval and will be included on the ballot in November of this year.
If voters approve the proposal, then we have a plan of action ready for exactly how we will move forward to protect, stabilize and expand public education funding. H.B. 357, Public Education Funding Stabilization, would move 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 annually to reflect enrollment growth and inflation. In addition, H.B. 357 establishes a reserve fund to meet education funding commitments during economic downturns. This bill creates a reliable, growing education funding framework, and is supported by leaders and stakeholders in the education community. This is a step forward in creating a thoughtful education funding plan.
- Teacher Supports
Some teachers shine in helping at-risk students. Their work and passion are greatly needed, and we want to invest in them. I was the floor sponsor for H.B.107, Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools Incentive Program Amendments, which expands bonuses from $5,000 to $7,000 for teachers in high-risk schools where over 70 percent of students are enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs. This program was first implemented three years ago to attract and retain teachers in high-risk schools within the Granite School District. These measures have significantly decreased faculty turnover. Previous statute only allowed fourth grade teachers to receive bonuses. H.B. 107 will expand this program to include first, second and third grade teachers.
High-quality early childhood education drives future academic success. I was also the floor sponsor of H.B.114, Early Learning Training Assessment Amendments, which will improve early childhood education in Utah by creating assessments and programs to promote literacy and improve learning in English language arts and mathematics.
- Student Supports
We care deeply about our students and wish to see every student succeed. We passed many bills this year aimed at supporting students and helping them succeed. I was the floor sponsor for H.B. 222, Start Smart Utah Breakfast Program, which will expand school breakfast access in public schools. To keep our kids safe on their commutes to and from school, H.B. 84, Traffic Code Amendments, increases penalties for motorists who endanger schoolchildren by illegally passing a stopped school bus. Across the nation, school administrators and parents are discussing high school start times as studies reveal the impact insufficient sleep has on teenagers. H.C.R. 3, Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Consideration of a Later Start Time for High School, encourages local school districts and charter schools to research and consider the potential benefits of a later high school start time. We also expanded Utah’s Early Warning Program with H.B. 392, Early Warning Program Amendments. Piloted in the Ogden School District, this program helps at-risk students meet education goals, and brought significant increases in high school graduation rates.
Legislative efforts have helped Utah’s high school graduation rates increase 11.4 percent during the past decade. We will continue to push for statewide educational improvements.
- Higher Education Governance
To better meet the higher-education needs of Utah’s students and employers, S.B. 111 Higher Education Amendments, creates a unified system of higher education, bringing the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) and the Utah System of Technical Colleges under the same governance umbrella. Merging the two systems will reduce overlap and duplication, provide improved coordination, promote comprehensive strategic planning and make administrative efforts more efficient — allowing state education funds to be leveraged in new and important ways.
S.B. 111 will benefit students by allowing school credits to transfer seamlessly between all 16 state colleges and universities. This will protect students’ investments of time and money, reduce student loan debt and increase graduation rates. It will help make higher education more accessible for Utahns, particularly in rural areas. In addition, it creates partnerships to ensure school programs and courses align with evolving job market demands.
- Scholarships and Financial Aid
S.B. 117, Higher Education Financial Aid Amendments, allows Regents’ scholarships to be used at private, nonprofit colleges and universities within the state while also limiting the amount of scholarship funding available for use at private institutions. It ensures Utah scholarship funds go to Utah students whether or not they attend Utah’s state schools.
Promise Scholarship Program
Last year, the Promise Scholarship was created to help students qualifying for Pell Grants. It was designed to cover tuition and fees when federal financial aid falls short for low-income students. This year, financial aid counselors reported that waivers accepted by low-income students acted as artificial barriers to receiving financial aid. H.B. 103, Utah Promise Scholarship Program Amendments, removes that barrier to students receiving aid through FAFSA.
In Utah, only 38 percent of eligible students complete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. Because these students then miss out on available federal student aid, about $55 million in federal education funding is left on the table annually. Lacking funds, students who might otherwise attend college miss this opportunity. H.B. 256, Student Aid Amendments, requires high school students to complete the FAFSA to be eligible for student aid. It also allows students and parents to opt-out if they don’t want to fill out the FAFSA — for example, if they believe they won’t qualify. H.B. 256 also requires schools to direct students to financial aid advisors.
- Campus Safety
We want to ensure a welcoming, safe environment for Utah’s college students. S.B.80, Campus Safety Amendments, requires the State Board of Regents to study public safety services on college and university campuses and present a final report and recommendations to the Education Interim Committee and the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. Utah’s colleges and universities will help collaborate in researching improved campus safety measures. The most recent concerns higher education stakeholders are bringing involve the role of campus police and appropriate ways for them to function as they work to protect students and institutions.
- Mental Health Services
We are working hard to improve and expand mental health services throughout the state. H.B. 32, Crisis Services Amendments, is designed to change the way the state responds to people experiencing a mental health crisis. It will fund 24-hour crisis receiving centers expected to serve up to 85 percent of the state’s population. The bill funds five additional Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams to support rural areas across the state. In addition S.B. 89, Mental Health Services Amendments, will create a Mental Health Donation Fund to ensure high-risk patients receive needed treatment whether or not they are insured. Advocacy groups will work to fundraise on behalf of the fund. H.B. 246, Mental Health Workforce Amendments, requires the University of Utah School of Medicine to create two additional residency posts in psychiatry. Most Utah counties need more psychiatrists, and more with training in pediatric and adolescent care are needed. This bill also creates a grant program to provide a training module for certain professionals working with children and adolescents.
- E-cigarettes and Vaping
Nicotine in one e-cigarette pod can equal 20 cigarettes. Utah’s youth are quickly becoming addicted. This session, the Legislature passed a number of bills to protect our youth, addressing school policies, regulating product standards and availability, and using taxation to prevent and mediate addiction. H.B. 58, Electronic Cigarettes in Schools Amendments, will establish rules regarding vaping on school property and adds harms of vaping to the health curriculum. S.B. 37, Electronic Cigarette and Other Nicotine Product Amendments, will place a 56 percent excise tax on all vaping products and generate an estimated $24.1 million to halt the vaping crisis. H.B. 23, Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Amendments, raises the legal vaping age from 18 to 21 in alignment with federal regulations. It requires ID age verification, makes it a crime to sell tobacco or vaping products to an individual under 21 and allows licenses to be revoked if retailers do not comply. H.B. 23 also prohibits retail tobacco specialty shops (which sell vaping products with flavors more enticing to children) from being located within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other community locations.
- Medical Care Improvements: Billing Transparency, Insulin Access and Efficiency
Rising costs of healthcare and balance billing (aka “surprise billing”) are major concerns for many of us. During this session, we passed a number of bills that will move the needle on these important issues. S.B. 155, Medical Billing Amendments, requires healthcare facilities and providers who engage in balance billing to submit a report to the insurance department, which should lead to better industry regulation. It specifies information healthcare providers, facilities and insurers must report, and creates a sunset date. Another exciting bill we passed was H.B. 207, Insulin Access Amendments, which makes life-saving insulin more affordable, and removes other barriers for Utahns dependent on insulin. This bill creates a co-pay cap of $30 per month for each prescription and allows pharmacists, pharmacy interns and registered nurses to prescribe insulin. It allows a grace period when prescriptions run out. It also establishes a state-run bulk-purchasing program for state employees and Utahns without insurance. S.B. 70, Determination of Death Amendments, aims to reduce costs associated with end-of-life care and enhance efficiency. After a doctor records that death is imminent for a hospice patient, this bill allows an attending nurse legal authority to determine death has occurred when the patient later passes away. Finally, H.B. 195, Identifying Wasteful Health Care Spending, will reduce health care costs, particularly in hospital and clinical settings, by requiring the Department of Health to contract with an organization that will analyze and identify non-evidence-based health care. This will hopefully help streamline successful methods of diagnosing and treating patients.
I hope you are all keeping safe, healthy and calm as we work together to combat COVID-19. The state is working hard to maximize health outcomes and minimize disruptions. Leaders are laser-focused on protecting the health of citizens as well as the health of Utah’s economy. During this session, we allocated $24 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. Additionally, Utah has access to over $6 million from the federal government.
- $16 million 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.
Government leaders are meeting daily and working hard to protect citizens. The state is in contact with top national leaders and health authorities, and is ramping up its testing capacity. Utah’s COVID-19 task force is assessing and addressing state needs as they evolve and posting daily updates. The task force is comprised of leading health experts, and they are coordinating with representatives from the business community to address economic concerns. You can find all the latest information on coronavirus.utah.gov. This website provides valuable, accurate information on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. There is also information on small business loans for business owners impacted by the virus and information on unemployment benefits for Utahns who find themselves temporarily out of work. For those whose jobs have been disrupted, you can view options at jobs.utah.gov, where 31,000 positions are currently open.
While this situation can feel overwhelming, difficult times often bring out the very best in people. We are grateful for the outstanding work of local leaders and charities, and for the many ways Utahns are working to protect and care for their neighbors. As we continue to exercise an abundance of caution, let’s look for ways to safely support our local businesses. May we take comfort in the fact that we have safely navigated scares with SARS, H1N1, Y2K, swine flu, droughts and wildfires in the past. We are a strong, well-prepared state — a state known for effective cooperation and kindness. We will get through this.
- Affordable Housing
As our state continues to grow, it is important to maintain affordable housing. S.B. 39, Affordable Housing Amendments, allocates $10 million to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, which is used to develop affordable housing for very low-income, low income and moderate-income individuals and families. This bill led many private business leaders to collaborate, commit to this cause and contribute funds of their own. For example, the Utah Housing Preservation Fund has donated $20 million to help preserve the state’s affordable housing units. In addition, S.B. 122, Housing Loss Mitigation Amendments, requires the Utah Department of Transportation to provide a yearly report to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee and to the Commission on Housing Affordability. The report will detail the number of moderate-income housing units lost in the previous year due to department actions. The Commission on Housing Affordability will then provide recommendations on how to address the loss of housing in those areas.
- Homeless Services
We continue searching for ways to bring aid and support to unsheltered communities. H.B. 440, Homeless Services Funding Amendments, will help cover operating expenses of Utah’s new homeless resource centers. It will allocate funds from the sale of the Rio Grande property. A portion of these funds will help cover outstanding debt in the creation of these resource centers, help meet shelter overflow needs and grant the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute authority to examine the issue of homeless governing structure. Once data is collected, the policy institute is expected to share findings with the Executive Appropriations Committee, Social Services Interim Committee, and Homeless Coordinating Committee by October 1, 2020. S.B.165, Emergency Response Plans for Homelessness, requires communities to develop a local emergency plan to respond to conditions posing risks to the health or safety of individuals and families experiencing homelessness — such as extreme weather conditions.
- Protecting Infants and the Unborn
Utah is known for strong family values. We value parents’ rights to make the best decisions for their families, we believe in investing in our children and youth, and we believe in protecting the unborn. We considered several bills this year pertaining to abortion and family planning. We passed S.B. 74, Abortion Prohibition Amendments, which would ban elective abortions in the state of Utah except in rare circumstances involving rape, incest, the possible death of the mother’s life or a lethal birth defect (as diagnosed by two physicians). This bill would only go into effect if and when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. S.B. 67, Disposition of Fetal Remains, will give women and parents the right to choose the final disposition of fetal remains following an abortion or miscarriage. For individuals not desiring to bury or cremate remains, the medical center is still held responsible for handling remains, and this legislation requires them to be handled in a respectful manner. Finally, H.B. 97, Newborn Safe Haven Amendments, extends Utah’s “Safe Haven” law deadline from 72 hours to 30 days. The Safe Haven law allows birth parents to safely and anonymously relinquish custody of a newborn baby at Utah hospitals — without questions or repercussions.
Utah law classifies bigamy as a third-degree felony, imposing a $5,000 fine and a five year prison sentence. Due to fear of imprisonment, paying high fines, losing employment, mistreatment or having children taken into state custody, serious crimes have been going unreported in polygamous communities. S.B.102, Bigamy Amendments, redefines the crime of bigamy to reduce fear and help members of these communities receive legal representation and protection. Bigamy and polygamy on their own have not been punished in Utah for years unless they occur in conjunction with other crimes. This law will lead to more crimes being reported and more criminals being prosecuted. It will also help integrate polygamous families, ensuring children have access to education and other opportunities.
Public Safety, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
- Body Cameras
Back in 2016, the Utah Legislature passed a body camera bill that set minimum standards for the operation of body cameras and their use by law enforcement. This bill did not include penalties in the event that a body camera is not activated or is intentionally turned off by a law enforcement officer. S.B. 210, Body Camera Amendments, requires police officers to document reasons they fail to comply with body camera requirements. The bill also allows a presiding judge to provide an adverse inference instruction to a jury in a criminal trial if an officer failed to comply with body camera requirements. This instruction allows a jury to infer that the missing video evidence would have been adverse or harmful to the police officer and not to the prosecutor’s case. This will provide clarity for the general public, law enforcement and the judiciary in cases when body camera footage is missing.
- Public Safety and Firefighter Retirement
Utah is fortunate to have such wonderful men and women working in public safety. They often put their lives on the line to protect us. It is imperative that we take care of them and meet their retirement needs so these professions will remain viable and attract qualified candidates. For the last two years, we have debated legislation dealing with public safety worker retirement plans. This year we passed S.B. 56, Public Safety and Firefighter Tier II Retirement Enhancements, which creates a restricted account for Public Safety and Firefighter benefits. In addition, it requires any funds appropriated by the Legislature into the account to be used to fund pickup costs. This ensures state funds will be used in addition to the 14 percent already covered by the employer’s portion of Tier 2 retirement benefits. S.B. 56 also amends the statute so line-of-duty benefits can be payable to a surviving spouse. This bill creates the account and stipulates account guidelines. H.C.R. 9, Concurrent Resolution Authorizing State Pick Up of Public Safety and Firefighter Employee Retirement Contributions, works in tandem with S.B. 56 by directing the state to make the financial contributions highlighted in S.B. 56.
- Search and Rescue Funding
If a person gets lost in one of Utah’s rural counties, the search effort is typically led by Search and Rescue volunteers. These volunteers are not paid for their time, and usually must leave work to take up the search. Other high costs are associated with these searches, and are often more than rural counties can bear. The state has implemented a system to offset some of these costs to the counties. S.B.152, Search and Rescue Funding Amendments, provides some additional funding for rural counties bearing high costs for rescues — such as areas attracting large volumes of hikers.
- Indigent Legal Options
Over the last few years, the Legislature has worked to ensure equal protection under the law in Utah’s courts. We have protected the rights of low-income individuals and families by ensuring legal defense for those unable to afford an attorney. We expanded our efforts this year. S.B. 139, Amendments to Indigent Defense, creates the Indigent Appellate Defense Division to serve rural counties under the Office of Indigent Defense Services. Appellate defense is a specialized field of law requiring expertise and experience. This bill provides appellate services to Utah’s smallest counties where there is currently no appellate representation for indigent individuals appearing in court. We also passed H.B. 206, Bail and Pretrial Release Amendments, to allow judges flexibility in considering a suspect’s circumstances before assigning pretrial detention. Many nonviolent first-time offenders cannot afford bail, and are incarcerated while awaiting trial even though they are deemed low flight risks. Many incarcerated citizens lose jobs while awaiting trial. Many end up serving less time after sentencing than they spent awaiting trial. Unnecessary pretrial incarceration puts an undue burden on taxpayers, individuals and families, and increases recidivism rates. While bail will still be used as a tool, H.B. 206 allows judges to base pretrial incarceration on a suspect’s risk of flight and risk to the community — rather than merely their ability to post bail. Finally, we passed H.B. 38, Substance Use and Health Care Amendments. This legislation will help Utahns with mental illness and substance abuse addictions to be properly diagnosed and treated during incarceration, and will help them continue to receive treatment after their release by requiring the state to work to place inmates on Medicaid 30 days prior to their release. This bill ensures that individuals can count on services and therapy during and after release. It will reduce recidivism and help individuals lead happier, more stable lives after paying their debts to society.
- Transportation Governance
It is exciting to see our state grow, but with growth comes growing pains. As our population increases, so does the congestion and strain on our roads. We have worked for a few years now to improve transportation and transit in preparation for continued growth. S.B. 150, Transportation Governance and Funding Amendments, improves transportation governance by requiring greater coordination between transportation, housing and land-use stakeholders at transit-oriented development sites. It also requires UDOT to create a plan for a road usage charge as a new means for equitable payment for our roads and as an alternative to the current gas tax. S.B. 150 will also permit the state to participate in Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZ), allowing government entities to pioneer infrastructure and be reimbursed as development occurs.
- Clean Energy Vehicles
Good air quality starts with the vehicles we put on our roads. Electric vehicles are an ideal answer to reducing tailpipe emissions. Studies show that if we work toward a market-based electric vehicle state we can increase zero-emission vehicle supply and reduce emissions at the same time. H.B. 259, Electric Vehicle Charging Network, will develop an electric vehicle infrastructure, placing charging stations in rest-areas throughout the state. Developing these resources will boost market solutions and eventually allow the private sector to take over this project. Along these lines, H.B. 396, Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Amendments, establishes guidelines for a large utility company to invest up to $50 million in the project and scale the electric vehicle network. H.B.59, Tax Credit for Alternative Fuel Heavy Duty Vehicles, will continue to provide a tax credit for alternative-fuel heavy-duty vehicles, further improving air quality.
- Electronic Driver License
As technology evolves, more services and resources are becoming available electronically. This year we moved one step closer to making electronic driver licenses a reality for Utahns. S.B. 110, Electronic Driver License Amendments, creates a pilot program to allow some drivers to receive an electronic driver license in 2021. By 2022 we expect to issue electronic driver licenses to all Utah drivers.
- Personalized License Plates
Personalized license plates, also known as vanity plates, are a popular way of customizing a vehicle. Most of the time, these are fun, lighthearted combinations of letters and numbers created by the owner; however, the Motor Vehicle Division has determined this option is sometimes used to publicly disparage individuals and groups. S.B. 97, Personalized License Plates Amendments, grants the Utah Motor Vehicle Division authority to reject an application for personalized plates that are offensive or disparaging to a protected group — i.e. race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, physical disability or mental disability. The Motor Vehicle Division brought this proposal to the Legislature.
- Water Banking
Utah is a desert state, and water bills are often complicated and divisive. This year we passed S.B. 26, Water Banking Amendments, with unanimous support — not just within the Legislature, but among all 70 stakeholders involved. This legislation received broad support because it is an important step forward in addressing our state’s water needs. S.B. 26 creates a local, voluntary and temporary pilot for water banking, which will generate income for water right owners and increase access to water for others, better supporting Utah’s increased water demands. This pilot will be tested through three-demonstration projects in specific watersheds, and has a 10-year sunset period that can be extended or repealed. Cache County will be one of the first places to pilot this. You can learn more about water banking at utahwaterbank.org.
- Water Planning and Data Gathering
The demand for clean water and conservation is higher than ever. It’s important that we all contribute and play a role in optimal water use. H.B. 40, Water Loss Accounting, creates a working group that will study water losses not currently accounted for by state entities. The committee will be responsible for data gathering and will report results to the Natural Resources Interim Committee in October and November of 2020. In addition, the Legislature passed H.B. 41, State Water Policy Amendments, which will encourage state agencies to adhere to state water policies developed by the Water Development Commission and Natural Resources Interim Committee.
Please Join Me!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 435-757-0194. If you have any ideas for topics for future townhalls, please let me know.
Senator Lyle Hillyard