Lawmakers examining zoning for drug recovery centers

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SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Utah Legislature’s Judiciary Committee have called for a review of laws that define zoning regulations for drug recovery centers.

Bryan Pearson
Lawmakers met at the Capitol Wednesday, May 18 to look at legislation for the 2017 session. (Bryan Pearson)

Under the Affordable Care Act, recovery centers can operate six-week programs that can cost as much as $30,000 for each individual, with as many as 10 people per facility. Normally, these revenue-generating facilities fall under a business zone. Utah, however, has seen a number of centers open in single-family homes, claiming exemption from city zoning ordinances through the federal Fair Housing Act.

“These businesses use the word ‘disability’ and say they are immune from state law or local ordinances,” said Committee Chair LaVar Christensen, R-Draper. “So there’s no public hearing. There’s no input. City councils are told they have no discretion.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act categorize individuals in drug recovery “disabled,” allowing them or their service providers to request reasonable accommodations from cities. Whether variance in local zoning constitutes a reasonable accommodation, though, is a matter that has yet to be resolved.

Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, said the committee must “scrutinize” the proper interpretation of the Fair Housing Act and when federal statutes preempt the enforcement of state and local law. Christensen called for examination of the possibility of discrimination and effects on traffic that residential drug recovery centers may create.

Andrew Liggal, a public policy advocate with the Disability Law Center, reminded the committee that just because disabled individuals make a request for an accommodation does not mean they are entitled to it.

“It’s not a mandate on the local government that they must do something,” Liggal said. “There can be a negotiated resolution.”

George Chapman, a former Salt Lake City mayoral candidate speaking as a member of the public, expressed his concern for residents of drug treatment centers in single-family homes.

“These people aren’t supposed to be driving, so I see a line of people walking to the store a mile away,” he said. “They’re effectively in a prison.”

Another concern raised about drug treatment centers is the potential revocation of “disabled” status if a resident engages in drug use. “If they are active substance users, they are no longer considered an individual with a disability and are no longer protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act or Fair Housing Act,” Liggal said.

The Judiciary Committee will coordinate with the Political Subdivisions Committee to study the proper balance between federal and local jurisdiction in upcoming legislative interim meetings.

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