August 2020 Special Legislative Session

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Last week, the legislature convened the August 2020 special session. During the session,  the Legislature passed 20 bills on a range of issues, including providing Utahns and Utah businesses financial relief by waiving state income tax on PPP loans and CARES Act money, modifying the 2020 general election process, addressing issues related to public education funding and adjusting the state budget to further address the impacts of COVID-19.

Below is a brief summary of some of the legislation passed with a link to each bill page. From the bill page, you will be able to find audio and video of committee meetings and floor time discussions. For a full list of bills from the special session, click here.

S.B. 6005, Income Tax Amendments

This bill exempts federal stimulus money that individuals receive from state corporate and income taxes and includes a forgiven loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, an individual recovery rebate, and a grant or funds provided by the state or a local government using federal funds. This exemption puts Utah in line with a federal tax exemption that also exists on these stimulus funds.

S.B. 6007, Amendments to Elections

The bill prepares the state to conduct the November General Election in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic by making temporary changes to the Election Code. The bill affirms that Utah’s elections will be conducted by mail and that in-person voting options will be available, as they have in the past. It also gives election officers the ability to provide outdoor polling locations and flexibility to change processes, policies and procedures to protect the health and safety of poll workers and voters. Finally, the bill prohibits ballot harvesting, requiring that a ballot must be returned by a voter or a member of the voter’s household.

H.B. 6002, Supplemental Budget Balancing and Coronavirus Relief Appropriations 

This bill continues to address budget issues resulting from the pandemic. It also appropriates federal and state funds to respond to the pandemic.

Federal CARES Act Funds

The bill finishes appropriating the state’s $688 million share of the federal CARES Act money, including the following notable appropriations:

  • $25 million for broadband internet access in eastern and northern Utah.
  • $4 million for Wi-Fi access to residences in San Juan County.
  • $15 million more for classroom supplies, equipment, and enhancements.
  • $40 million for several economic recovery items listed in S.B. 6009 (see below).
  • $15 million to add equipment and expanded capacity for the state medical lab.
  • $750,000 to add intensive care unit beds in smaller communities.

Unemployment Benefits

In light of the expiration of enhanced federal unemployment benefits at the end of July, the bill provides an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits to those who find themselves out of work due to the pandemic.

Other Items
The bill also provides funding for several other important areas, including:

  • $490,000 to sustain the operation of some state-run health clinics.
  • $1.1 million to give teachers at our Schools for the Deaf and Blind pay raise.
  • $500,000 to provide expanded legal defense for those who are unable to afford it.
  • $1 million for pre- and post-conviction services and supervision at the local level.
  • $1 million for additional job training and re-training through Utah State University and the Utah Industrial Alliance.

H.B. 6012, Public Education Funding and Enrollment Amendments 

Public educations students are changing schools more frequently and in higher numbers than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This creates several challenges the bill addresses:

  • Because school funding is based largely on enrollment, high enrollment changes make it difficult to distribute funds accurately. The bill provides the State Board of Education flexibility to conduct enrollment counts at any time and as many times as needed throughout the year to accurately adjust school funding distribution.
  • The bill allows a charter school to provide preferential enrollment next year to a student whose parents opted for home/online school due to COVID-19 this school year.
  • The bill raises caps on charter school enrollment for online charter schools and funds the increase with a combination of federal funds and money left over from the state’s contribution to last year’s minimum school program.
In addition, the bill reestablishes a salary supplement program that gives a $1,000-2,000 salary increase to teachers that are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

H.B. 6001, Uniform Electronic Wills Act Electronic Wills 

Enacts the Uniform Electronic Wills Act to affirm that a person can finalize a will electronically, using video conferencing, without the direct presence of the person making the will or acting as a witness.

S.B. 6009, Cares Act and COVID-19 Assistance and Recovery Amendments

This bill makes some changes to seven economic assistance programs the state created earlier this year to assist some individuals and industries. The adjustments are in response to observations of the strengths, weaknesses, and popularity of certain programs. The bill makes changes the following programs and, through H.B. 6002, increases and reallocates funding for these programs:

Agricultural Operation Grant Program 

This program has only used $12 million of the original $20 million it was appropriated. In order to ensure the funding is able to get to those who need it, the bill removes $20,000 and $40,000 caps on the amount of grants the Department of Agriculture is allowed to award under the program.

Individual Rental Assistance for COVID-19

The bill changes qualifying thresholds for a resident to receive rental assistance. Instead of being required to demonstrate financial hardship, an individual must demonstrate a negative impact from COVID-19. The bill also allows a landlord to apply for assistance on behalf of a tenant, requiring that the grant funds be applied toward the tenant’s rent. Because there have been fewer applicants than the known need, the bill allows the Department of Workforce Services to use a portion of program funds for outreach.

Commercial Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program

This program has used $13 million of the $30 million it was appropriated. In order to ensure the program is accomplishing its objective, this bill expands the program to provide mortgage assistance to businesses. The bill also increases the size of businesses that can qualify, including those with up to 250 full-time equivalent employees. It also allows startup businesses to receive rental or mortgage assistance if they can demonstrate a net operating loss over a four-week period. Finally, the bill changes the amount of funds a business may receive under the program to $5,000 per month per location, capping at a total of $30,000.

Cultural Assistance Grant Program

This program has expended all of the funds appropriated to it. The Legislature appropriated an additional $7.5 million to the program and removed a threshold stating that a recipient must provide at least 50 percent of grant funds as a direct benefit to consumers. It also lowered the threshold for the size of an organization that can qualify for a grant to organizations with a $300,000 budget.

Utah Works Program

This high-demand program has already expended the $9 million originally appropriated for it. This bill gives the program an additional $7.5 million.

PPE Support Grant Program

This program has expended $5 million of the $1 million appropriated to it. In order to ensure the program reaches the targeted businesses, the bill increases from $100 to $250 per full-time equivalent employee the amount of funds a business may receive to purchase personal protective equipment.

Impacted Business Grant Program

The most popular of the state’s economic assistance programs, it has expended all of the $25 million and an additional $10 million appropriated. The Legislature appropriated another $20 million for the program and allowed startup businesses to participate in the program. To better control the distribution of funds, the bill also includes graduated amounts a business can receive depending upon the revenue loss the business realized.

Oil, Mining, and Gas Grant Program

The bill creates the Oil, Mining, and Gas Grant Program within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to give grants to Oil, Mining, and Gas companies that have suffered revenue declines due to COVID-19. The office establishes an application process and qualifying criteria and may extend grants to an affected company equal to the amount of revenue decline the company realized.

Because federal CARES Act funds must be expended before the end of the year and some programs addressed in the bill are expected to have a higher demand than others, the bill allows the executive branch to shift funds from low to high-demand programs without legislative action.

Finally, the bill affirms the 120-day moratorium on evictions created through the federal CARES Act and affirms the state’s law providing three days for a tenant o cure an eviction notice.

H.B. 6003, Premium Subsidies Amendments 

The Utah Premium Partnership for Health Insurance program subsidizes insurance premiums for individuals who make just enough to not qualify for Medicaid. It directs the Department of Health to seek a waiver from the federal government to increase the premium subsidy under the program from $150 to $300. It also authorizes increased premium subsidies in future years.

S.B. 6006, Department of Health Executive Director Qualifications 

This bill changes requirements for the executive leadership of the Utah Department of Health. If the executive director of the department is not a physician, a physician is required as a deputy director. During committee and floor debate, it was pointed out how difficult it can be to find a physician with the necessary managerial and administrative experience to lead one of the largest state agencies in Utah. State law has never required a physician to lead the agency, so this change ensures that a physician will be in the director or deputy director role. It also stipulates that a deputy director must have at least five years of professional experience in public health programs.

S.B. 6003, Law Enforcement Tuition Reimbursement 

Reopens the Public Safety Officer Career Advancement Reimbursement Program for new applicants and ensures the availability of funding for eligible applicants on a pro-rata basis.

H.B. 6007, Municipal Annexation Revisions 

Repeals provisions of a bill passed during the 2020 General Session, H.B. 359, Municipal Annexation Revisions, that allow a municipality to annex an unincorporated area without the consent of the county in which the area is located.

S.J.R. 601, Concurrent Resolution on Federal Government Payment in Lieu of Taxes 

The federal payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) program is intended to compensate states for foregone property tax revenue they are unable to collect because they cannot place a property tax on federal lands. The resolution calls upon Congress and the president of the United States to pay the state much more under the PILT program to accurately reflect the amount of property tax the state would be receiving from federally controlled lands if they were subject to the state’s property tax.

Covid-19 Statistics

State Data (as of August 25th)
Total Cases:                            49,767
Total People Tested:               630,599
Total Hospitalizations:             2,969
Total Deaths:                           397
Estimated Recovered:             41,529

Bear River Health Department
Total Cases:       2,488
Box Elder:          431
Cache:                2,046
Rich:                   11
Recovered:         2,163
Box Elder:           329
Cache:                1,827
Rich:                   7
Deaths:               9
Box Elder:           3
Cache:                6
Rich:                   0

In the News:

FDA authorizes COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) to treat virus patients
Do masks that protect against COVID-19 also protect against air pollution? The answer is complicated
New virus cases decline in the US and experts credit masks
Saliva works just as well as deep nasal swab in detecting COVID-19, Utah researchers find
Utah man charged after he coughs on cops, claiming he has coronavirus

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