- 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.
Below are some resources related to protecting small businesses, finding jobs, receiving unemployment insurance and staying healthy measures.
Small Businesses and SBA Loans
The U.S. Small Business Administration and Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development worked together to secure low-interest loans for Utah’s businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19. You can access resources here.
State Orders Restaurants and Bars to Suspend Dine-in Services
On March 17, the Governor’s Office, in coordination with Utah Department of Health and Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, issued an order to suspend dine-in services. You can read more about this action here.
Unemployment and Childcare Assistance
If you or someone you know has lost income because of the COVID-19 virus, the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) can help determine what resources are available, such as unemployment insurance, food assistance, childcare and energy assistance. Learn more here.
- 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.
Valuing Life and Honoring Remains
- Protecting Infants/Newborn Protections
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. 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.
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