Dinosaurs, scandal and more: The quirkiest 2018 Utah Legislature happenings

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Utah senators stand during the national anthem. Legislators passed–and failed–a wide variety of bills during the 2018 session. (Laura Seitz/The Deseret News via AP)

From dinosaurs and cremation to scandal and driverless cars, the Utah Legislature addressed a range of unusual topics during its session this year.

You can now run a red light, sometimes
HB416 now makes it legal for drivers to run red lights–if they come to a complete stop and made sure no oncoming traffic or pedestrians are nearby, that is. Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, sponsored the bill to let late-night drivers or drivers in rural areas save time by running red lights.

Lawmaker resigns after prostitute tells all to British tabloid
Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, resigned after British tabloid The Daily Mail revealed Stanard paid a prostitute for sex on two separate occasions in 2017. The tabloid made public texts Stanard sent to the woman, Brie Taylor, making plans to meet.

Stanard resigned from office Feb. 6, five days after the article’s publication.

Martha Hughes Cannon ousts Philo Farnsworth

Courtesy Utah State Capitol
A statue of Martha Hughes Cannon stands on State Capitol grounds. A similar statue will soon replace Philo T. Farnsworth’s statue at the U.S. Capitol. (Utah State Capitol, Capitol Preservation Board)

A Senate Concurrent Resolution will replace Utah’s statue of Philo T. Farnsworth with the statue of Martha Hughes Cannon in the U.S. Capitol. This decision spurred debate about who’s the best representative of Utah in the nation’s capital.

Cannon was Utah’s first female senator who also ran against her husband for office, and won. Philo T. Farnsworth was attributed the invention of television. Lawmakers and citizens came together and decided that Farnsworth had his days in the sun and now it’s Cannon’s turn to take over.

Ten-year old helps create bill selecting Utah’s first state dinosaur
Ten-year old Kenyon Roberts created a bill to make the Utahraptor the state’s first official dinosaur and convinced Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo to sponsor it. The dinosaur has only been found in Utah, and originally Roberts wanted it to replace Utah’s state fossil, the Allosaurus.

The Utahraptor was passed as Utah’s first official state dinosaur. The Allosaurus will remain as Utah’s state fossil. (AP Photo)

Because Utah claims to have the best collection of Allosaurus fossils, they compromised and changed the bill to make the Utahraptor the state’s first dinosaur. The bill passed in the house and the senate and is awaiting signature from the governor.

While some legislators argue that bills like these are a waste of time, Bramble disagreed, saying it’s worth their time to indulge a ten-year old.

Too drunk to drive, but not too drunk to carry a gun
HB328, a bill that would have allowed intoxicated individuals to use guns to defend themselves in their own homes, failed to pass after being moved to committee in the session’s final days.

HB328 would have amended HB155, a bill passed last year which raised Utah’s blood alcohol content from 0.08 to 0.05. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, faced criticism for sponsoring the bill which would allow people to use guns while intoxicated, but not drive if their blood alcohol content exceeded 0.05.

The American Beverage Institute argued the bill was “hypocritical,” publishing an advertisement with the headline “Too drunk to drive, but sober enough to carry a .45?” in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Bill to put down animals in a more humane way killed in committee
SB187, a bill that would ban using gas chambers to put animals down died in Committee March 1 on a tied vote.

SB187, which would have banned use of gas chambers to put animals down, failed to pass. (Utah Senate Instagram)

“The concept of the gas chamber, without any doubt, is a much less humane way of ending an animal’s life than injection,” said John Ziegler, a critical care anesthesiologist. The bill failed to pass after agencies presented the argument that gas chambers are needed to put down wildlife and feral animals that are difficult to manage.

Chemical cremation now legal
HB0121 passed, a bill that would make alkaline hydrolysis, otherwise known as chemical cremation, legal in the state of Utah for licensed funeral homes.

Many funeral homes are already prepared for the process which involves breaking down cadavers through a pressurised process involving water and lie. After the cadaver is dissolved, the bones are cremated and can be returned to the family. The process claims to be more green than traditional cremation and creates more options for families of the deceased.

Driverless cars fail to pass
HB371 could have prepared Utah streets for Autonomous vehicles. While Utah law doesn’t explicitly prohibit them, this bill would have expressly allowed them access to Utah roadways. One of the main hangups was insurance liability. It never made it through the house, but this isn’t the first time we have seen legislation like this. Stay tuned for the 2019 session.

Utah’s most liberal lawmaker to resign
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, known as Utah’s most flamboyant, liberal and outspoken lawmaker, announced plans in February to retire at the end of the 2018 session. Dabakis has served in the Senate the past six years promoting legislation ranging from an anti-discrimination LGBTQ bill to a bill limiting campaign contributions. Dabakis has not announced whether he will run for another office.

UTA to be replaced by TDU
A bill to change the name of UTA (Utah Transit Authority) to TDU (Transit District of Utah) passed in the house and the senate this session. The name change is estimated to cost $50 million. The bill also drastically changes the structure of management.

The UTA name will be replaced by TDU in 2018 if the governor chooses to sign the bill. (Photo courtesy UTA)

Wrapping up 2018, on to 2019
The Utah Legislature addressed a wide range of topics during their 2018 session. Bills that were signed into law will be implemented across the state unless vetoed by the governor, and bills that failed to pass may make a re-appearance in the 2019 session.

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