2021 Legislative Update: Week Six
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Week six of the general session has been both challenging and rewarding. There were great discussions regarding our budget for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, with revenue estimates showing the longstanding strength of Utah’s economy, despite unprecedented financial challenges due to COVID-19. This year, a historic $400 million increase will go toward public education. Read the full press release here.
On the more challenging side of things, we have been presented with a number of bills that involved emotional testimony and required a great deal of careful deliberation. A constituent requested that I explain my opinion of one of these difficult bills, HB302 Preserving Sports for Female Students, in my newsletter. I appreciate the opportunity to do so as this is important legislation with the potential for far-reaching consequences.
HB302 Preserving Sports for Female Students
My concerns with HB302 include 1-constitutional challenges resulting in costly litigation for the State and taxpayers, 2-economic impact from the loss of events, tournaments, sponsorships, etc. who withdraw participation from Utah because HB302 is not in accordance with policies established by athletic associations at every level, and 3-the detrimental effect on vulnerable youth of the LGBTQ community who are at an increased risk of suicide. Of the 80,000 high school athletes in the state of Utah there is currently not a single transgender participant. However, in our community of Cache Valley, there have been 13 young people who have died by suicide in just the past 8 weeks! I do not know the particulars or if LGBTQ issues were involved, but regardless of the reasons, this is extremely concerning to me.
As a father of five daughters, four of whom played sports on a high school level, I support ongoing conversation and legislation that resolves concerns and appropriately advocates for female athletics. HB302 was not defeated in committee. The vote to adjourn the meeting grants an opportunity to step away from the emotional intensity for a time and the possibility of resuming additional deliberation of an extremely complex issue. I would invite you to listen to all of the HB302 hearings with an open heart and mind to considering both sides of the issue and all the potential unintended consequences. https://le.utah.gov/~2021/bills/static/HB0302.html
I am very appreciative of all the input I am receiving from you. I recognize it is frustrating when your elected officials may not handle a bill exactly as you want. Please know that I do hear you and that I care about your concerns. I am honored by your trust and support in electing me as your senator, and I remain committed to decide my vote in accordance with my conscience, the Constitution, and my constituents.
Highlights from this week’s legislation:
988 Mental Health Crisis Assistance
When people experience a medical emergency, the default solution is to dial 911. For decades, that option has worked well for most people. However, for those experiencing a mental health crisis, that solution hasn’t been as effective. Instead, there is a national mental health crisis hotline where 90 percent of individuals are stabilized over the phone at the cost of $40. This process prevents police or EMS from being dispatched and eliminates potential hospital or ambulance bills for the individual in need.
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, which begins in July 2022. S.B. 155 passed the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
Last week, we announced the state will provide approximately $100 million in tax relief to Utah citizens. Though Utah’s economy is in an advantageous position compared to other states, many Utahns are still struggling, and the Senate wants to provide tax relief to those who need it most. The tax relief package targets families, veterans and elderly Utahns and will be accomplished by three bills: S.B. 153, S.B. 11 and H.B. 86.
- S.B. 153 Utah Personal Exemption Amendments, restores part of the dependent tax exemption, which was reduced in the 2017 federal tax reform, increasing 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 in our great state.
- 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, benefiting many Utah seniors living on a fixed income.
In-Person Instruction Prioritization
Recent reports found that several schools throughout Utah have closed for 40 percent of the academic year, leading to a 600 percent increase in students failing all classes. S.B. 107 In-Person Instruction Prioritization, ensures students have the opportunity to learn in the classroom, whether that be in-person or virtual learning. S.B. 107 passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
Higher Education Speech
Currently, broad and ambiguous anti-harassment policies are one of the most common ways universities censor free speech. The federal law addressing this issue comes from a U.S. Supreme Court case that defines when speech crosses the line to criminal conduct. H.B. 159 Higher Education Speech, sets a standard all state universities can follow to ensure free speech is respected on campus. H.B. 159 passed in both the Senate and House and will now go to the governor.
Vehicle Registration Renewal Notices
Last year, the Utah Tax Commission discontinued postcard mailers reminding vehicle owners when their vehicle registration renewal is 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 registration renewal reminder mailers. This bill passed on second reading with unanimous support in the Senate.
Grant Program for Small Businesses
Many businesses felt the impact of COVID-19 this year, particularly small businesses. S.B. 202 Grant Program for Small Businesses, creates a grant program that will be administered by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for small businesses that experienced significant loss due to the pandemic. The grant covers three months of fixed costs, including payroll, rent, utilities and insurance. S.B. 202 passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.