|Business and Economic Development|
In an effort to help our Utah businesses thrive and allow for more innovation, we passed H.B. 217 Regulatory Sandbox Program Amendments, which creates a “sandbox” program where companies can suspend certain regulations for a limited period of time while they test new ideas. This allows companies to see if their ideas work before enacting regulations. It is important to note that H.B. 217 does not suspend regulations pertaining to public health and safety measures.
Electronic Free Speech
Over the past year, there have been concerns regarding the unfair censorship of individuals online. The Utah Senate sees the dangers of these practices within Big Tech and took action by passing S.B. 228 Electronic Free Speech Amendments, which increases transparency within social media corporations to protect users from unequal censorship. Under this bill, social media organizations must notify users anytime their content is censored. Once notified, users can appeal the moderation and provide evidence in opposition to the censorship. Additionally, this bill requires social media companies to release a complete list of moderation practices, allowing individuals to make informed decisions and holding organizations accountable for unfair practices.
H.B. 348 Economic Development Amendments, reworks the state’s economic development strategy by creating the Utah Economic Opportunity Commission. A decade ago, the sole priority of the state was to attract jobs. While this proved successful, we now have additional needs due to the growth in our state. The goal is to shift our focus from economic development to economic opportunity, which includes ensuring that Utah citizens can acquire housing, college graduates can find work, families can have financial stability and stay-at-home parents can enter back into the workplace when they desire. This bill also reorganizes the Governor’s Office of Economic Development into the new GO Utah Office, putting them in charge of coordinating economic development tasks among local and private development entities. Finally, this bill creates a grant program designed to enhance broadband services in rural Utah. This is an important step forward in our long-term economic development and opportunity planning.
S.B. 167 Utah Film Economic Incentives, provides tax credit certificates for productions, films and series when they film in Utah. These incentives are not disbursed until post-production, when the film projects have met the requirements. The film industry has generated more than 7,600 jobs and $147 million in salaries in our state in 2019. This bill will strengthen rural communities by investing in local jobs, stimulating the economy and increasing Utah’s profile as a filming destination.
As I mentioned earlier, the Legislature passed historic state funding for education during the 2021 General Session. In addition, we passed S.B. 142 Public Education Funding Amendments, which seeks to ensure Utah students receive equal funding by assessing our public education revenue and current funding structure. S.B. 142 would allow the legislative Public Education Appropriations Committee to make recommendations to better distribute funds throughout the state.
Teachers and Counselors
Utah is currently experiencing a shortage of teachers and school counselors in public schools. Several school districts are working on innovative approaches to meet teacher needs. H.B. 381 Grow Your Own Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline Program, creates a grant program to assist Utah paraprofessionals, school counselor assistants and school counselor interns in obtaining licenses to become teachers or school counselors and provides a scholarship to certain school employees.
Parents and Students
The pandemic forced students across the country out of their in-person classrooms and into virtual learning environments. The shift to online learning, resulted in a record number of students failing. S.B. 107 In-person Instruction Prioritization, ensures students have the opportunity to learn in the classroom once again. Parents will be given the ability to determine what is best for their child, whether that be in-person or virtual learning. The primary objectives of the bill are to keep all Utah schools open at least four days a week, implement the “test to stay” program for schools that reach the two percent positivity rate to prevent soft closures and require higher education institutions to provide a certain amount of courses in-person.
In a continued effort to address learning losses due to the pandemic, the Legislature passed S.B. 148 Public Education Modifications, providing transparency for parents and educators to address any learning loss students may have experienced during the pandemic. Schools will allow students to access information regarding performance reports and standards. This bill will facilitate a positive relationship between parents and teachers as they work to address learning losses.
S.B. 226 Online Education Program Revisions, allows online course providers authorized by the Board of Education to offer classes for students through the Statewide Online Education Program. In 2011, Utah was recognized for allowing students access to free and online courses. This bill will ensure students have additional options to courses that best fit their needs and learning styles.
Elections and Government
Every year, the Utah Legislature works to ensure Utahns can engage in government processes. During this session, we passed legislation that continues to provide accurate and secure elections.
Last year, while many states scrambled to put together their mail-in-ballot elections, Utah was already well prepared and was a standard for other states to follow. While we are proud of how well we handled the elections, there is always room for improvement. For example, we found that ballots occasionally are mailed to deceased voters. H.B. 12 Deceased Voter Amendments, creates a more uniform process to rectify this issue. When a Utahn passes away, the bill requires that the death certificate be sent from the state registrar to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office within five business days of the certificate’s registration. The certificate will then be sent to the county clerk’s office, where the deceased name can be removed from the voter rolls. Before each election cycle, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office will crosscheck each name against the United States Social Security Administration data.
The Legislature also worked to improve transparency for voters in regard to where their ballot is in the process. H.B. 70 Ballot Tracking Amendments allows you to sign up for email or text message notifications when your ballot has been mailed, received or counted.
Conceal Carry Firearm Amendments
H.B.60 Conceal Carry Firearms Amendments, allows anyone who is over 21 and legally allowed to possess a firearm, to carry a concealed weapon in public without a concealed carry permit. This bill also establishes a Suicide Prevention and Education Fund in which a portion of funds collected from the concealed carry permit class will go toward firearm safety and suicide prevention efforts.
Energy & Air Quality
Three years ago, the Legislature passed a pilot program for counties along the Wasatch Front to conduct emissions inspections of diesel vehicles. Through this program, Utah was able to eliminate 1,250 tons of pollutants from the air. S.B. 146 Emissions Testing Amendments, made this a permanent program due to its tremendous success.
Workforce Solutions for Air Quality Amendments
In the first few months of the pandemic, we experienced less traffic and improved air quality as a result of an increase in people working remotely. S.B. 15 Workforce Solutions for Air Quality Amendments, allows more state employees to work remotely during bad air quality days to decrease the number of cars on the roadways. The bill also requires the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to notify state agencies of mandatory air quality action days and special circumstance days so those agencies can encourage teleworking for their eligible employees.
We strive to make data-driven decisions in the Legislature. To help better understand the state’s energy efficiency, we passed H.B. 131 State Facility Energy Efficiency Amendments. This bill requires state facilities to submit utility efficiency information to be used by the State Building Energy Efficiency Program, enabling us to make the best decisions regarding conserving energy in Utah.
The well-being of Utahns continues to be a priority for the Utah Legislature as we work to expand Medicaid resources and affordable healthcare.
Utah is currently experiencing a shortage of doctors. Care providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants (PA) are used to meet healthcare needs throughout the state, particularly in rural communities. This session, the Utah Legislature considered various bills to expand physician assistants’ scope of practice, including S.B. 27 Physician Assistant Act Amendments, which expands a PA’s range of practice to allow a pathway for PAs to operate without a supervising physician once they receive sufficient training. Another bill, S.B. 28 Physician Assistant Mental Health Practice, focuses specifically on our psychiatric healthcare shortage in Utah by allowing a PA who specializes in psychiatric mental health to engage in the practice of mental health therapy if they meet specific training requirements.
We also expanded the scope of practice for Nurse Practitioners through H.B. 287 Nurse Practice Act Amendments, allowing nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances without a letter of authorization from a practitioner in some instances.
This session, we passed several bills to further efforts in support of healthcare affordability for Utahns. We passed H.B. 206 Epinephrine Auto-Injector Access, which allows patients to purchase EpiPen medication at a discounted price. The Legislature also passed HB 262 Children’s Health Insurance Amendments, which seeks to expand the coverage of uninsured children throughout the state by creating the Children’s Health Care Coverage Program. In addition, we passed H.B. 202 Health Care Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits a health care provider from misrepresenting that the provider is a contracted provider under a health benefit plan.
Expanding mental health services to all Utahns and decreasing suicide rates continues to be a priority for us. Below are just a few of the bills passed that create additional services and further enhance these efforts.
● S.B. 161 Mental Health Systems Amendments, ensures funds for mental health services keep pace with inflation by requiring consensus estimates to factor in cost increases for mental health within the Medicaid program. This bill also prohibits revoking the license for medical providers who seek mental health help.
● Last year, Congress established 988 as the national mental health crisis hotline number. S.B. 155 988 Mental Health Crisis Assistance, helps Utah get ready for the launch of the new hotline number by applying for Medicaid waivers to help pay for treatment, creating an account for crisis response funds to pay for the call center, developing mobile teams and follow up treatment and increasing additional members to existing commissions to assist in the rollout of 988.
● H.B. 336 Suicide Prevention Amendments, creates a reporting process for the Utah Medical Examiner to obtain youth suicide data for the Health and Human Services Interim Committee to study. The Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health will also be required to provide training to healthcare organizations. Additionally, the bill changes a coupon program to a rebate program that incentivizes individuals to obtain a biometric gun safe.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 24. In an effort to target services to our youth, we passed H.B. 81 Mental Health Days for Students, adding mental health as a valid excuse for a school absence. Other states that implemented this attendance policy have seen a decrease in youth suicide rates. Additionally, we passed H.B. 93 Youth Suicide Prevention Programs Amendments, which expands the education of suicide prevention to elementary and secondary grades and requires the language of the programs to reflect the specific age group.
In some cases, students in higher education institutions with religious beliefs are expected to participate in activities that interfere with their beliefs and may infringe on their fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. S.B. 244 Student Religious Accommodations Amendments, requires the Utah System of Higher Education to reasonably accommodate student absences from exams or other academic requirements due to a student’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
Another area of concern is broad and ambiguous anti-harassment policies that lead universities to censor free speech. While higher education institutions are responsible for addressing harassment on campus, they also have a constitutional obligation to do it without infringing on students’ free speech rights. H.B. 159 Higher Education Speech, sets a standard all state universities can follow to protect free speech on campus.
Access to Higher Education
Data shows that education can reduce the odds that incarcerated people will reoffend once they are released. H.B. 279 Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth, provides students in custody with concurrent enrollment credits through a virtual learning program administered by Dixie State University.
In another effort to expand higher education accessibility in Utah, the Legislature passed S.B. 45 Higher Education Classes for Veterans, allowing veterans to audit courses offered at state institutions of higher education for a nominal fee.
Homelessness and Housing Affordability
Homelessness and housing affordability are priorities for Utah lawmakers. In fact, housing prices are rising at a rate of 12 percent annually, and economists estimate that Utah has a gap of over 53,000 affordable housing units for individuals with average or low incomes. S.B. 164 Utah Housing Affordability Amendments, is designed to stimulate growth in affordable housing without interfering with the free market. The bill provides support and funding for low-income renters at risk of eviction. It also encourages political subdivisions to inventory surplus government land for possible future affordable housing developments.
Currently, some types of residential housing units are off-limits due to burdensome municipal regulations, preventing homeowners from creating Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU). This prevents individuals with extra space in their homes from converting the area into a rentable apartment. H.B. 82 Single-family Housing Modifications, removes some of the obstacles that keep homeowners from having ADUs within the walls of their homes.
The state has put immense effort into getting people off the streets and into homes. H.B. 347 Homeless Services Amendments, enhances coordination efforts between agencies by creating the Office of Homeless Services within the Department of Workforce Services and establishes the state homeless coordinator within the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
With the onset of COVID-19, Utahns watched the Emergency Management Act take effect for an extended period for the first time in our state’s history. It became clear the Emergency Management Act is not structured for long-term emergencies such as a pandemic. After listening to Utahns’ concerns, the Legislature began working with the Governor’s Office to create checks on broad executive emergency powers.
- S.B. 195 Emergency Response Amendments, limits extensive executive emergency powers during long-term emergencies without hindering rapid response. It does not disrupt the executive branch’s or health department’s ability to respond to short-term emergencies, such as natural disasters.
- H.B. 294 Pandemic Emergency Powers Amendments, provides for the termination of emergency powers and certain public health orders–including mask mandates–related to COVID-19, upon reaching certain thresholds of positivity rates, vaccinations and other criteria.
- H.B. 43 Emergency Procurement Declaration Modifications, modifies reporting requirements related to an emergency procurement and limits the term length of a contract for emergency procurement.
- S.B. 86 Amendments to the Price Controls During Emergency Acts, amends the standard of evidence required to cite a person for a violation of the Price Controls During Emergencies Act (PCDE) and amends provisions regarding when a price is excessive. This bill also requires the Division of Consumer Protection to consider certain factors in determining whether to investigate, contact or request information from a seller for a violation of the PCDE Act.
Public Safety, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
Over the last year, the state has had substantial conversations regarding police reform. One of the conversations has been about the importance of de-escalation training for law enforcement officers. H.B. 162 Peace Officer Training Amendments, requires 16 hours of additional training for law enforcement, including mental health, crisis intervention and de-escalation control courses. S.B. 38, K-9 Policy Requirements requires that police dogs and handlers in the state of Utah undergo an annual certification process. It also amends Utah law to provide liability protection for officers and agencies if the dog acts in a way contrary to the officer’s commands.
Law enforcement officers are usually the first to respond to 911 calls, regardless of the reason for the call. Quite often, people who call 911 are trying to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis, which most police officers aren’t trained to resolve. S.B. 53 Behavioral Emergency Services Amendments, makes additional mental health crisis training available for emergency service professionals. Agencies throughout Utah can create teams of appropriately trained professionals to respond specifically to mental health emergencies. These professionals will be licensed to treat individuals and provide them with proper resources.
S.B. 102 Peace Officer Training Qualifications Amendments, changes Utah law to allow lawful permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years to serve as police officers. This change will help create police departments that more closely resemble the diverse communities they serve.
Use of Force
In Utah, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been involved in conversations with various law enforcement organizations, including Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and the Utah Department of Public Safety. These groups worked towards a common goal of addressing law enforcement use-of-force standards in the state of Utah. S.B. 106 Use of Force Amendments, requires that POST establish statewide use-of-force standards and conduct an annual review of those standards.
For law enforcement who were involved in maintaining order during protests last year, it became clear that most protesters were peaceful and law-abiding citizens. A very small percentage of participants were violent or destructive. H.B. 58 Riot Amendments more clearly defines rioting in Utah code and makes it harder for those charged with rioting to be quickly released from jail to return to rioting behavior.
Releasing individuals from police custody too quickly is also the subject of H.B. 47 DUI Revisions, nicknamed Sarah’s Bill, which allows a judge to deny bail to drunk drivers who have injured or killed someone if the court has sufficient evidence to support the charge. In some cases, drunk drivers pay bail and are released while still legally drunk. These individuals would be held in custody until their trial.
We passed legislation that will provide $100 million in tax cuts to aid families, veterans and elderly citizens and will further boost Utah’s economic success.
Individuals and Families
The Utah Legislature passed three pieces of legislation that will provide approximately $100 million in tax relief to Utah citizens.
- S.B. 153 Utah Personal Exemption Amendments, restores part of the dependent tax exemption, which was reduced in the 2017 federal tax reform and increased taxes for many Utah families. In 2018, the Utah Legislature brought back a portion of the exemption and is now seeking to restore even more of the exemption to further reduce taxes for families.
- S.B. 11 Retirement Income Tax Amendments, targets men and women who served in the armed forces by eliminating individual income tax on military retirement pay.
- H.B. 86 Social Security Tax Amendments, eliminates income tax on some social security income, benefitting many Utah seniors living on a fixed income.
Many businesses were hit hard by the pandemic and we have worked hard over the last year to provide targeted economic support to businesses throughout Utah with the CARES. This session we passed S.B. 25 Corporate Tax Amendments, which provide targeted relief to businesses that were negatively impacted by COVID-19. This bill allows businesses to carry back, for up to three years, a Utah net loss realized during 2020. The idea is if a business was profitable in the three years leading up to 2020, but then suffered a loss in 2020, it is likely due to the economic hardship brought about by the pandemic.
In an effort to better meet the needs of our growing state, H.B. 433 Amendments Related to Infrastructure Funding, establishes $264 million in bonding for public transportation and transit. This funding will go towards projects like double tracking the front runner. The bill also creates a dedicated revenue stream to fund transit solutions in cottonwood canyons.
Vehicle Renewal Notice
Last year, the Utah Tax Commission discontinued postcard mailers reminding vehicle owners when their vehicle registration renewal was due. Since this practice was discontinued in September, Utahns have asked for these mailers to be sent again. H.B. 170 Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice Requirements, officially requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to resume the use of mailers to remind owners when their vehicles are due for registration renewal.
While we know that we should signal when we merge into a lane, unfortunately, many don’t, which may result in accidents. H.B. 69 Traffic Code Amendments, changes the traffic code to clarify that a driver must signal when merging into another lane. This bill also prohibits a driver from operating a vehicle if there is an object, device, or build-up on the windshield that obstructs the driver’s view. This device/object must be less than 25 square inches in size.
We also updated the requirements for youth to receive their driver’s license. H.B. 18 Driver Education Amendments, extends the term of a learner permit from one year to 18 months. This change does not prevent youth from getting their license upon turning 16. In addition, this bill removes the required six observation hours for driver education observation for 15-17-year-olds.
As the second driest state in the nation, water conservation and the Colorado River are priorities to Utah lawmakers. H.B. 297 Colorado River Amendments has been created to preserve, conserve and protect Utah’s legal share of the Colorado River that was guaranteed in the Colorado River Compact nearly 100 years ago.
Approximately 60 percent of Utah’s population relies on the Colorado River for their drinking water, but despite being the most reliable water source in the western United States, Utah currently uses only 54 percent of what was allocated to the state in the Colorado River Compact. H.B. 151 State Infrastructure Bank Amendments, allows the state infrastructure bank fund to be used for public water and sewer infrastructure projects.
Along with Utah’s management of big water projects, it is important that individuals do what they can to conserve the water we’ve been allocated for household use and irrigation. S.B. 199 Water Amendments, creates a grant program to help small secondary water retailers install secondary water meters and directs the Legislative Water Development Commission to support the development of a unified, statewide water strategy to promote water conservation and efficiency.
State Data (as of March 15th)
Total Cases: 378,600
Total People Tested: 2,293,096
Total Hospitalizations: 15,129
Total Deaths: 2,027
Estimated Recovered: 364,676
Vaccines Administered: 1,010,700
Bear River Health Department
Total Cases: 20,277
Box Elder: 4,933
Box Elder: 4,807
Box Elder: 47
Vaccines Given: 1st Dose: 36,288
2nd Dose: 20,384
Tooele County Health Department
Total Cases: 6,045
7 Day Rolling Average Cases Per Day 12.46
Total Tooele County School District Active Cases 19
Vaccines Given: 1st Dose: 12,141
2nd Dose: 6,466
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.
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,