Utah’s 2019 legislative session ended at around 11 p.m. Thursday night. Lawmakers celebrated passing more bills in this session than in any other session — 573. The previous record was 535.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert praised legislators for their efforts, noting they didn’t shy away from tackling complex, important issues.
“It’s been a very impressive effort,” Herbert said.
Throughout the session, which stretched from Jan. 28 to March 14, some bills soared through the process and others met an early end.
A group of reporters from The Daily Universe covered many of the debates, successes and failures on Capitol Hill this session. Here’s what happened to some of the more well-known bills:
Bill to make BYU Police subject to public records laws
BYU students will now have greater access to police reports and information about campus crime after Utah lawmakers voted to make the BYU Police Department subject to Utah’s public records law.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsored SB197, which will subject private university police departments, including BYU Police, to open record requests. The bill passed unanimously through both the House and Senate without opposition and is now awaiting Herbert’s signature.
The bill comes on the heels of the decertification of BYU Police by Utah Public Safety Commissioner Jess L. Anderson after the campus police force failed to conduct an internal investigation. Anderson said between April 2016 and April 2018, former BYU police officer Lt. Aaron Rhoades inappropriately shared information from a police database with the school’s Honor Code Office.
Anderson also listed BYU’s failure to comply with GRAMA requests as a reason for the decertification, which is scheduled to take place by September.
Despite the school’s original statement against SB197 and appealing open records requests cases to the Utah Supreme Court, BYU counsel Heather Gunnarson and Police Chief Chris Autry voiced support in favor of the bill at a committee hearing and thanked Bramble for his work.
“We agree that university police should be subject to the same level of transparency and accountability as any other law enforcement office within the state,” Gunnarson said.
— Katie Harris
Abortions in Utah now limited to 18 weeks
Utah legislators have limited abortions in the state to 18 weeks with the passing of HB136, likely drawing legal challenges for abortion advocates.
“With the nation’s highest birth-rate, Utah should be the safest place in the country for women and children, born and unborn,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, in a news release.
The bill originally limited Utah abortions from the previous 20-22 weeks to 15 weeks but was revised by the House to 18 weeks. While anti-abortion advocates applaud the passing of HB136, the new law will likely face strong opposition and potential lawsuits. The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and Utah ACLU both say they plan to challenge the legislation. Herbert said he hasn’t made up his mind about whether to sign the bill.
— Lilian Whitney
LGBTQ proponents take a loss with failure of conversion therapy bill
A bill that would have banned conversion therapy on Utah LGBTQ youth failed, spurring criticism from LGBTQ youth and an apology from Herbert.
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, sponsored HB399, which met opposition over controversial language limiting the conduct of mental health professionals while meeting with LGBTQ minors. A few legislators introduced a number of substitutions, which caused the bill to stall and die in committee with limited time at the 2019 session’s end. The controversy inspired young LGBTQ rights activists to stage a sit-in at the Capitol.
Troy Williams, the executive director of LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah, resigned from Herbert’s task force following the bill’s failure, accusing the governor of “turning his back on LGBTQ youth.”
Herbert voiced support for the LGBTQ community in a March 7 apology statement.
“I am prepared to make sure that we develop good policy that protects our LGBTQ youth,” Herbert said. “I invite you to work with us as we work with the Legislature and all those affected to protect you and end abusive therapeutic practices in Utah.”
With a large amount of support garnered by LGBTQ activists, it’s likely a similar version of the bill will emerge in the 2020 session.
— Katie Harris
Bill cracking down on hand-held cell phone use while driving fails
Lawmakers hit the brakes on Rep. Carol Spackman Moss’ bill HB64, which would have made the use of hand-held cell phones while driving a primary offense in Utah.
Lawmakers voted 3-5 against HB64 during a committee hearing Feb. 9, halting the legislation’s progress.
“Everyone has a story about almost being hit or know someone injured or killed by someone who was distracted by their phone,” said Moss, a Democrat from Holladay. “People need to have both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel to stay safe, especially on the freeway.”
While HB64 failed this year, a 2018 poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics showed a 75-23 margin of Utahns who reported they would support legislation banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.
— Lilian Whitney
Medicaid Expansion initiative gutted despite residents’ protests
Utahns voted in the November 2018 midterm elections to institute a medical expansion initiative that would cover up to 133 percent of Utah’s poverty level, amounting to about 150,000 impoverished Utahns.
This session, lawmakers passed SB96, a bill sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, to gut the initiative, known as Proposition 3, and scale back spending on the project. The bill is dependent on a federal waiver and would also increase sales tax to fund the project.
While some Republican lawmakers believe President Donald Trump will approve the waiver, others feel there is no guarantee. Utah would be the first state to institute a Medicaid expansion under Trump’s presidency. HB472, a similar bill, was passed last year, and a waiver was never provided. This is one of the factors that inspired the 2018 ballot initiative.
Some Utahns are upset the Utah Legislature repealed measures the people voted on. Should Trump reject the bill, measures are in place to institute the original initiative; however, Utah could wait years for a decision before the waiver is signed or rejected, as was the case last year.
“The Legislature should never, ever touch a citizen’s initiative,” Utah Grassroots Chairman Don Guymon said.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, agreed and opposed the bill when the Senate voted to pass SB96.
“I would rather us put into place the voter’s will. I’ve seen new voters that were so excited coming to do these initiatives and excited to be part of the process, especially young voters and then they see that we go backward on our word,” Iwamoto said.
— Katie Harris
Sexual assault, domestic violence bills pass House, Senate
Multiple bills awaiting the governor’s signature address sexual assault and abuse.
Proposed changes range from creating a statewide day of awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBT community to increasing victim protections during court proceedings. HB20 would protect vulnerable adults by increasing the penalty of human trafficking vulnerable adults.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored several of these bills. She said her goal concerning HB19, a bill to extend domestic violence protective orders throughout the pretrial process, was to “think about the rights of the victim, but also to think about the rights of the alleged perpetrators.”
— Harriet Norcross
Law to increase the age to buy, use tobacco products
Lawmakers voted to bump the legal age to buy and use tobacco products from 19 to 21 years old incrementally over the next couple of years. However, before giving HB324 final passage, legislators added an amendment that the change does not apply to active duty military members, their spouses or their dependents.
Other tobacco related legislation pitched this session was a bill labeled HB252.
Legislators behind the bill sought to place the same taxes on nicotine products that are already in place for traditional cigarettes, but the idea won’t become law anytime soon. While the House passed the bill, the Senate never considered it.
— Camilla Owens
Law makes it easier for Utah minors to receive help of a lawyer
More than one in four Utah youth represented themselves in court without the help of a lawyer in 2018, according to a report by the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. SB32 sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he hopes a new law will ensure Utah minors meet with legal counsel before waiving their rights to be represented in court.
Many youth face serious charges for misdemeanor offenses that may influence their future employment and education opportunities — charges that are often dismissed or diminished with the help of a lawyer.
“Juveniles facing criminal proceedings are entitled to the same Sixth Amendment protections to counsel that adults are,” Weiler said. “We have some areas of the state where quite frankly we look the other way.”
SB32 would make legal counsel more accessible to minors by assigning a public defender to every youth facing charges. The bill would require the estimated 15,000 minors facing misdemeanor charges annually in Utah to consult with a public defender or hire private legal counsel before waiving their right to be represented in a court of law.
— Lilian Whitney
Lawmakers kill resolution seeking to enhance existing gun restrictions
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, sponsored a resolution that proposes stricter enforcement on existing gun laws rather than creating new ones. In the end, lawmakers killed HJR7.
Maloy said he tried to find a solution to gun violence without infringing upon residents’ constitutional right to bear arms, and for that reason, he said he could not reconcile any restriction. He said proper enforcement of existing legislation would be sufficient.
“It’s everything we can do to protect our society while also protecting the rights of our people,” Maloy said. “We cannot just allow law-abiding citizens to be turned into criminals.”
— Harriet Norcross
Birth certificate bill causes stir, pulled from session
Utah lawmakers sent HB153 for study in the months between now and the next legislative session after it drew controversy.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, proposed HB153 to modify the law to dictate whether people can change their gender on birth certificates and driver’s licenses. However, some members of Utah’s LGBTQ community said the bill created prejudice.
— Camilla Owens
Air quality, environmental impact bills pass
A few bills passed that affect Utah’s air quality. Two worth noting are HCR13, which encourages Utah refineries to produce Tier 3 gasoline to improve air quality, and SB144, which requires the Department of Environmental Quality to measure the environmental impact of Utah’s Inland Port.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, who sponsored HCR13, said Tier 3 gasoline contains less sulfur than other fuels, which makes its emissions cleaner. She also said three of Utah’s five oil refineries already produce Tier 3 fuel.
SB144, sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake, would require the state to collect air quality and water quality data about a new inland port. Lawmakers passed the bill and it awaits the governor’s signature. She said the bill is one of many to come that refers to Utah’s new inland port, which was created only last year with SB234.
— Katelyn Stiles
Opioid drug drop box bill passes
Rep. Brad M. Daw, R-Orem, sponsored HCR1, a bill allowing pharmacies to host secure drug drop boxes. Traditionally, police stations serve as secure locations for drug drop boxes in Utah. The bill passed and awaits Herbert’s signature.
“Utah is a geographically large state with a substantial portion of the population living in rural areas,” Daw said. “Some citizens must drive over 20 miles to place their unused drugs in a designated drop box.”
Daw said he wants to make it easier to for Utah residents to dispose of their prescription drugs while restricting drugs from those for whom it wasn’t prescribed.
— Camilla Owens