2016 Legislature ends with $14.5 billion budget and Medicaid expansion

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Utah House members cheered as Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, announced “Day 45” the morning of Thursday, March 10, and lawmakers wrapped up the final day of lawmaking on Utah’s Capitol Hill midnight that day.

Rick Bowmer
Members of the Senate debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

Among measures that garnered attention during the 2016 Session included spending about $14.5 billion on the state’s budget, expanding Medicaid funding for Utah’s poorest and a controversial measure to end Utah’s death penalty. Some legislators left with bitter feelings about the end to two medical marijuana bills and a bill that would have expanded hate crime protections.

Officially, lawmakers filed nearly 800 bills and considered nearly 300 resolutions. Only a fraction of those passed the breakneck legislative session that started on Jan. 25.

Education gets funding boost

Lawmakers decided to spend about $440 million for education, sending more to schools than Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had proposed in his budget. Te new budget would cover extra students expected in public schools next year and send public schools about $80 million more for teacher pay or other programs.

Lawmakers pass limited Medicaid expansion

Lawmakers passed a limited Medicaid expansion after failing to agree on a deal for several years. The proposal will; cover mostly childless adults who are homeless or in programs such as parole, probation or treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. It will cost Utah about $30 million, but a tax on hospitals would cover just under half of that cost. 

Hate crimes bill stalls

The law enforcement and criminal justice committee passed SB107, but the bill failed to get enough votes in the Senate. The bill would have adjusted Utah’s hate crimes laws and including enhanced methods for prosecuting them.

Rick Bowmer
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-Washington County, sponsored a bill to expand hate crime protection. (Associated Press)

Lawmakers declare porn a public health crisis

Utah’s lawmakers passed a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis. The measure will allow for more research, education and funding for pornography recovery programs throughout the state. The measure, SCR9, received both praise and ridicule from national media.

Medical marijuana 

Rick Bowmer
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, speaks during a committee hearing Monday, March 7. Representatives rejected a plan to legalize the use of edible marijuana products by those with chronic conditions. (Associated Press)

Two bills proposed legislation for the use of medical cannabis products for patient treatment. Despite interest in the bills, both failed to pass.

Overdose-reversal drug OK’d for use with opiates

The group of bills aimed at promoting Naloxone, a drug that could be a temporary fix for Utah’s opiate overdose epidemic, passed the House and the Senate

Utah keeps death penalty

A bill that would have added Utah to the list of 19 states that have eliminated the death penalty failed to pass during this year’s legislative session. SB189, a bill that would eliminate the punishment for a first-degree felony homicide was not among one of the 475 bills passed during 2016. Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, proposed that all capital punishment for felony homicide cases end after May 2016.

Vaping tax dies

HB333, a bill that would create a hefty 86.5 percent taxation on e-cigarettes and other vaping products, passed out favorably with a 7-5 vote in the Revenue and Taxation Committee earlier this month but failed to pass the full Legislature.

Drivers get new choices for license plates

Utah drivers now can choose from at least 10 different types of license plates, including ones added this legislative session for veterans and another stating  “In God We Trust.”

Lawmakers vote to build more homeless shelters

Lawmakers supported important pieces of legislation that tackle the issue of Utah homelessness from a different angle. Rather than sending all the homeless in Salt Lake County to the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City to the winter overflow to Midvale, HB436 would fund building more and smaller shelters in other, yet-to-be determined neighborhoods.

Public lands management bill gets nod

Lawmakers are stashing away nearly $5 million to be used for a potential lawsuit attempting to force the federal government to turn over control of more than 30 million acres of public lands in the state.

Rural areas to get more parks

HB52 passed and is geared toward helping rural areas build more parks. It also carries throughout the state to provide better infrastructure. 

State Fair Park to stay how it is

After a long battle over the location and management of the Utah State Fairpark, HB173 has finalized the decision that the fair park will stay exactly how it is — but with a little more legislative input and funding.

Adoption rights remain unchanged

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015 file photo, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, gestures on the house floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Gay rights advocates say Powell's proposal to require Utah judges to favor heterosexual couples over same-sex couples in adoptions or foster care placements is blatantly unconstitutional. Powell says last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage doesn't stop Utah from preferring that a child have a mother and father instead of same-sex parents.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, drew fire from gay rights advocates over his failed roposal to require Utah judges to favor heterosexual couples over same-sex couples in adoptions or foster care placements. (Associated Press)

Two competing bills, one that supports gay adoption rights, and the other one favoring heterosexual parenting, both failed to pass during this year’s legislative session

Child human trafficking bill protects victims, takes away perpetrators’ excuses

A bill that modified the Utah Criminal Code in regards to the human trafficking of a child passed through the legislature with little difficulty. HB105, sponsored by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, stipulates that believing a minor to be over age 18 does not serve as a defense against human trafficking of a child.

“Once people aren’t able to say, ‘I didn’t know,’ we can work towards real progress,” said Ben Forsgren, a member of BYU’s Anti-Human Trafficking Club.

Utah takes a stand against non-compete agreements

Utah lawmakers passed a bill that limits non-compete agreements. Non-compete agreements are typically issued by businesses to employees as a condition for hiring. These agreements limit current and former employees from becoming employed by competing businesses.

Bill passed by medical alliance will bring more health care providers to Utah

Legislators, nurse practitioners and physicians worked together to pass a bill this session. SB58 allows a nurse practitioner to independently prescribe Schedule II controlled substances as long as he or she meets certain criteria. This bill will increase the number of health care providers in the state, which is especially notable in rural areas where healthcare may not currently be easily accessible.

Contributors: Caitlin Thomas, Jessica Coombs, Ryan Morgan, Jaren Wood, Kayla Goodson , Aaron Endy, Zoe Woolf McGinn, Karma Hammouz, Samantha Clark, Kalli White, David Boyle, Mariana Chrisney and the Associated Press.  

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