Lawmakers finish 45-day legislative session

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Lawmakers file into the House of Representatives in the Utah Capitol building Thursday, March 8, for the final day of the 2018 legislative session. (Dani Jardine)

SALT LAKE CITY — Protesters, legislators and their family members flooded the Capitol Thursday to bring the 45-day 2018 legislative session to a close.

Dani Jardine
Legislators’ family members came to the Utah Capitol building Thursday to observe the excitement of the last day of the session. (Dani Jardine)

Until the clock struck midnight on the final day, the Utah Legislature contested, discussed, passed and stalled bills in a last-ditch effort to get through the seemingly endless pile of legislation introduced this session. 

From marriage licenses to nursing programs, legislators addressed many topics the BYU community can directly relate to.

No wage increase for tipped employees

HB118, which would have raised the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.13 to $3.25, died in committee on March 1. Only two representatives voted in favor of the bill, while 10 representatives voted against it. This is the second failed attempt by the Legislature to raise the minimum wage for employees who work for tips.

Minority leader Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored the bill. King told committee members the $2.13-per-hour rate has not been altered since 1991.

“It’s significantly less than what is required for them to comfortably make ends meet,” King said.

King also said about 71.5 percent of tipped employees in Utah are women.

“This is a gender issue to a significant degree here, and I think we ought to be more sensitive to that,” King said.

BYU students and faculty help get marriage license discount bill passed

Utah engaged couples who invest in premarital counseling or education can now receive a $20 discount on their marriage licenses. Almost a thousand people supported the bill through a change.org petition created by BYU senior Megan Griffes.

“Family is really important, and having strong families in society helps everybody socially, but also the government financially,” Griffes said.

BYU professor Alan Hawkins, co-chair of the Utah Marriage Commission, estimates the bill could eventually save Utah taxpayers $2 million each year.

BYU students and staff help stall university sex assault reporting bill

A bill that would have allowed universities to report sexual assault cases to the police without the victim’s permission failed after its sponsor did not attend a hearing.

HB254 faced strong opposition from more than 50 victim advocate groups across the nation and garnered criticism from BYU students and staff. Opponents said taking the power from sexual assault victims to report assault would not encourage other victims to come forward.

Sexual assault awareness advocates said HB254 would impede sexual assault survivors from getting the help they need. Although HB254 failed this year, experts anticipate similar legislation will be introduced in the 2019 session.

BYU nursing program could see more funding

SB147, a bill that will provide more funding to nursing schools and programs, awaits the governor’s signature. Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, sponsored the bill hoping to address Utah’s shortage of nurses. With more funding, Utah will hopefully gain more nursing students, and eventually, more nurses.

“We need to increase our nursing enrollment and graduation in the state in order to meet our healthcare needs,” Millner said. “There’s no one more connected than our nurses in terms of providing the kind of quality care that we all expect.” 

Hands-free cellphone bill fails

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, sponsored HB64 which would have made driving while talking on a handheld cellphone a primary offense. The bill was voted down during a House committee on Feb. 9. During the meeting, family members of people killed in accidents caused by distracted drivers spoke in favor of the bill.

Elissa Schee, whose daughter was killed in a car accident caused by a truck driver talking on his cellphone, said, “I hear a lot of people talk about their rights in their motor vehicles. I would like to know where my daughter’s rights are.”

Lawmakers hope to reduce Utah suicides

According to Utah’s Public Health Data Source, Utah’s suicide rate is consistently higher than the national rate. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10–24, and one person is estimated to die by suicide every 14 hours in Utah.

Utah lawmakers passed HB41, ensuring Utah suicide prevention hotlines are available 24/7, and formed a Youth Suicide Task Force.

The Youth Suicide Task Force Gov. Gary Herbert formed in response to rising suicide rates and is made up of activists, mental health workers, political leaders and religious leaders. They have already designed a three-step suicide prevention plan including improving crisis response, enhancing protective factors and reducing risk factors, as well as passing a piece of legislation that diverts a quarter million dollars to develop crisis prevention programs.

Bill restricting abortions of Down syndrome fetuses fails

HB205, which outlaws the abortion of babies with Down syndrome, passed in the House by an overwhelming margin, but never made it to the Senate. The bill would have fined individuals that perform abortions on Down syndrome pregnancies.

HB205 was a message bill, as experts acknowledged it would be impossible to determine the reason parents choose to end a pregnancy, but those who voted for it believed it was an important message to send. HB205 also would have required doctors who perform abortions to provide clients with information about Down syndrome.

Hate crimes bill stalls

A bill that would have tightened penalties on hate crimes in Utah never made it out of the Senate. Hate crime legislation has been brought to the capitol many times in recent years but Utah hate crime law has remained relatively untouched since 2006.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, sponsored the bill and said his biggest motivation for getting this bill passed was suicide prevention and criminal justice reform. He hoped tighter legislation would have discouraged such acts from happening in the future.

Troy Williams of Equality Utah said the current legislation is insufficient and the bill would have provided a desperately needed fix.

Lawmakers give money to repair Olympic venues

The Utah Legislature approved a Senate concurrent resolution approving the possibility of entering another Winter Olympic bid in coming years. The budget would be $1.3 billion for updating the well-maintained previous Olympic sites.

The goal is for the 2030 Olympics, but 2026 isn’t off the table. Fraser Bullock, co-chair of the Olympic Exploratory Committee, said they plan to participate in the bidding process for 2026 because there is potential for a dual award, like the awards of Paris and Los Angeles for the Summer Olympics.

Changes to domestic violence law pass

HB160 passed and will require cellphone providers to allow victims of domestic violence to switch their phone and account from their abuser’s name to their name while keeping the same phone and number. This makes it easier for them to separate their account from their abuser and to protect their information.

SB27 also passed. This bill changes the requirements for someone to get a protective order. Under the previous law, to receive a protective order against a stalker or abuser, the victim had to be a relative or have lived with the abuser. SB27 changes this requirement so the protection can be taken out against any consensual sexual partner.

Medical marijuana bills pass

HB195, a bill to grant the terminally ill the right to try cannabis-based treatment, passed. This bill allows patients to receive medical marijuana under the recommendation of their physician.

HB197 also passed. HB197 will require the Department of Agriculture and Food to manage the cultivation and distribution of cannabis-based products for medical research and treatment.

Bill to abolish death penalty gains momentum, but fails to pass

Despite gaining recent momentum, HB379, which would have made it illegal for the state to seek the death penalty, did not pass.

During a House hearing on March 2, bill sponsor Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, moved to have the bill sent back to the rules committee and hopes it will be revisited during the next legislative session.

“Bills of this magnitude that have a huge impact on our state, maybe are best left for a future session,” Froerer said.

Lawmakers take aim at opioid abuse

HB399, an opioid abuse prevention bill, passed the Senate on March 7. The bill is aimed to educate the public on the risks of opioid use. It will require pharmacies to put labels addressing the risk of overdose and addiction on opioid bottles. It will also require pharmacies to provide informational packets outlining risks, alternative options for pain relief and resources for help with addiction.

“If we don’t better educate our public, we should have no surprise downstream (when) we have innocent people addicted,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, the bill’s sponsor.

The Senate also passed HB435 on March 8. This bill will provide dental benefits to the homeless suffering from drug addiction. A pilot program run from the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry found that those receiving dental care along with drug recovery programs were far more likely to overcome their addiction.

Gun control fails to pass in Legislature’s final days

HB483, a gun control bill written in the wake of the Florida shootings, failed to pass in the final days of the legislative session. The bill would have restricted gun access for people at risk of shooting themselves or others.

Family members or friends of individuals believed to be at risk of harm would have been able to request restraining orders for their loved ones under the bill. HB483 was heard on March 6, just two days before the session’s adjournment, and while it was too late in the session to be passed, legislators plan to sponsor similar legislation during the 2019 session.

Lawmakers support creation of new national park

Lawmakers approved SCR8, which shows the official support of the Utah Legislature to the U.S. bill that would create Escalante Canyons National Park, and three new monuments, Grand Staircase National Monument, Kaiparowits National Monument and Escalante Canyons National Monument.

HR4558, the U.S. bill, awaits the governor’s signature and would allow the new park to be the first locally managed national park. The legislators hope with the official support of SCR8, HR4558 will move forward in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Fireworks will have more restrictions

HB38, restricting fireworks use in Utah to 10 days each year, passed and awaits the governor’s signature. Fireworks will be allowed July 2–5, 22–25, Dec. 31 and on Chinese New Year.

The bill also restricts the times during these days when fireworks are legal. They can be fired between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. except on July 4 and 24, when they are allowed until midnight and Dec. 31 and Chinese New Year, when they are allowed til 1 a.m. the next morning. Sen. Jani Iwamoto, R-Salt Lake, said these changes are necessary because there have been high numbers of fire hazards in recent years. 

‘Manslaughter’ expanded to include suicide assistance

HB86 passed, expanding the crime of manslaughter to include intentionally and knowingly providing another with the physical means to commit suicide, according to the bill’s text.

Rep. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork, sponsored HB86. He said previously, Utah was one of six states without anti-suicide legislation.

“We simply want to add to the toolbox that legislators can use to protect life,” McKell said. 

Driver’s education will now include pollution instruction

HB331, passed by both the House and Senate, creates educational information about how drivers can improve air quality and the effects of vehicle emissions. The law requires the information be given to driver’s license applicants and driver’s education students.

Bill to create preschool task force barely fails to pass House

HB164, a bill that would have created a task force to explore state-funded preschool options, failed to pass after a close vote of 33 to 36. Utah is one of seven states that does not fund a preschool program. Current prekindergarten programs serve roughly 17 percent of eligible children in Utah, according to findings from the State Policy and Research for Education Working Group.

“Utah really has no comprehensive state strategy for early childhood,” Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, said, adding that he would have had the task force address how we can better prepare Utah children for kindergarten. Legislators will try creating state-funded preschool options again in the 2019 session.

The Universe’s 2018 legislative reporting team worked together to cover this wrap-up story. Top row from left to right: Hannah LaFond, Jenna Alton, Lilian Whitney; bottom row from left to right: Katelyn Stiles, Katie Harris, Sahalie Donaldson. (Dani Jardine)
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