Letter sent July 19, 2016
Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day! This past month has been an eventful one.
One of the significant but quiet events was the unveiling of Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz’ Public Lands Initiative (PLI) crafted over the last several years, with much thoughtful input from local and state officials. Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund spoke for all of us when he commented, “Land management decisions should always be local decisions. People in my district like the Public Lands Initiative because of the inclusive process and balanced result. We plan to use our land, as careful stewards, in a manner that will benefit our families now, and for all the generations that follow.”
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser added, “The sweep of world history shows that centralized government control has led to environmental disaster more often than it has ever led to preservation. Utah legislators support the Public Lands Initiative because it respects local expertise, local processes of self-government, and local citizens. The rightful stewards of land are those who live close to it, and who will live with the results of their decisions for years to come.” The Utah Legislature has passed two resolutions in favor of the PLI process. It’s a balanced bill that has come at the end of a remarkably inclusive process, so I hope you’ll give the congressmen your support on this piece of legislation.
We also met in a special session to consider nine bills. We passed eight of them, including steeper penalties for those who use drones to interfere with those fighting wildfires. You can see the complete list, below, or visit the Senate Site for more information. You can find the highlights from our interim committee meetings here.
For those of you who need a refresher on special sessions, the legislature can only pass laws when they are in session. According to the Constitution (Article VI, Section 2 and Article VI, Section 16), our session begins the 4th Monday of January and cannot exceed forty-five calendar days. However, sometimes – in between sessions – issues will require more immediate attention. If laws need to be considered during the interim, the Governor can convene a special session. We try to reserve special sessions for consensus items, minor technical fixes, and emergencies.
Special Session Highlights
Economic Development Revisions (SB 3002)
Sponsor, Senator Bramble, Floor Sponsor, Representative Val Peterson
Utah’s tech economy has enjoyed strong growth in recent years. This bill seeks to build on this success of our “Silicon Slopes” economy by creating a sales tax exemption for qualifying data centers. Specifically, it exempts sales tax for the purchase of machinery, equipment, or normal operating repair or replacement parts by a data center. In general, a sound tax policy exempts business inputs and taxes outputs. This bill passed both chambers.
House Vote: 60-7-8
Senate Vote: 24-1-4
Criminal Justice Reinvestment Amendments (HB 3004)
Sponsor, Representative Hutchings, Floor Sponsor, Senator Shiozawa
This bill will allow the judiciary to provide notifications for court dates. When people fail to appear for a court date, an arrest warrant is issued, which creates additional cost and stress for both the courts and citizens. We’re all familiar with doctor’s and dentist offices calling patients to remind them of upcoming appointments. Similar reminders will make a large difference for people who need to appear in court.
The bill also requires better risk assessments to fine-tune the supervision of those who may need more scrutiny and services and also expend fewer resources on those offenders that need less supervision. The bill also allows the Board of Pardons and Adult Probation and Parole to implement an earned-time program. For those offenders who are able to meet certain criteria, they are rewarded for their hard work by receiving earned-time, which would potentially shorten their probation. This bill passed both chambers.
House Vote: 64-5-6
Senate Vote: 22-0-7
Grandparent Rights Amendments (HB 3005)
Sponsor Representative Christensen, Floor Sponsor Senator Adams
During the session this last winter, the legislature passed a bill to ensure grandparents rights. The governor vetoed this bill with the explanation that it was too broad and created some unintended consequences. This bill narrows the focus to specific instances where parents have terminated their parental rights and a relative adopts the child. In these instances, grandparents, by default, will have rights to visit the child. If the adoptive parent is opposed to the grandparents having rights, they can bring their case to the judge and have the grandparents right removed. This bill failed in the House.
House Vote: 27-40-8
Controlled Substance Database Modifications (SB 3001)
Sponsor Senator Weiler, Floor Sponsor Representative McCay
In the 2015 General Session, SB 119, Prescription Database Revisions, modified the Controlled Substance Database Act regarding the use of information from the database. That bill required law enforcement to obtain a search warrant in order to access the database. An unintended consequence of that bill was that probation and parole officers lost access to the database. SB 3001, states that probation and parole officers do not need a search warrant to gain access to the database. This bill passed in both chambers.
Senate Vote: 23-2-4
House Vote: 61-0-14
Unmanned Aircraft Amendments (HB 3003)
Sponsor Representative Ipson, Floor Sponsor Senator Vickers
Fire season started early this year with the Saddle Fire in southern Utah near Pine Valley. The fire started off small, but over the course of the last month that the fire has been burning, firefighting efforts have halted on five occasions due to unauthorized recreational drones flying into the restricted area. These drones prevent planes from getting the necessary retardant to the fire. This bill enhances punishments for unmanned aircraft vehicles that fly over restricted areas and interfere with firefighting efforts. These enhancements include making it a class A misdemeanor for drones to interfere in instances of wildfires, authorizes a judge to order that restitution be paid for any wasted retardant, and authorizes neutralization of the drone in certain circumstances. This bill passed both chambers.
Senate Vote: 25-0-4
House Vote: 67-2-6
State Fair Park Amendments (HB 3002)
Sponsor Representative Hollins, Floor Sponsor Senator Escamilla
This bill appropriates about $10 million for the Utah State Fair Park construction. The Fair Park will act as the new home to the Days of ’47 Rodeo as well as many other events, such as the World Series of Barrel Racing. When completed, it will be a state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena with the capacity to seat 10,000. The LDS Church has offered to contribute $3 million to this project, as have Salt Lake City and County. This bill passed both chambers unanimously.
Senate Vote: 25-0-4
House Vote: 69-0-6
Judicial Nominating Commissions – Amendments (SB 3003)
Sponsor, Senator Knudson, Floor Sponsor, Representative McKell
This bill makes changes to the Judicial Selection act regarding judicial nominating commissions. When a vacancy on a state court exists, a judicial nominating commission reviews applications, interviews selected applicants, and according to statute, certifies to the governor a list of the five most qualified applicants. The governor appoints a judge from among that list of five applicants. Occasionally the judicial nominating commission will address multiple vacancies for the same court at the same time. Under current law, the governor sometimes appoints multiple judges from the same list of five applicants. In order to assure that the governor always has the ability to choose from among at least five applicants, this bill requires nominating commissions to add one additional applicant for each additional vacancy being addressed. A single judicial nominating commission is currently addressing three district court vacancies. Without this change, the governor would appoint three judges from a list of five applicants. This bill passed both chambers unanimously.
Senate Vote: 25-0-4
House Vote: 67-0-8
Tax Credit Review Amendments (HB 3001)
Sponsor, Representative Jeremy Peterson, Floor Sponsor, Senator Curt Bramble
This bill requires the Revenue and Taxation Committee to review certain tax credits every year including low-income housing tax credits and economic development tax credits. Tax credits have the effect of reducing the total amount due on income taxes–some tax credits result in refunds if the amount of the tax credit exceeds the total amount of tax due and others result in a $0 balance. This bill passed both chambers.
House Vote: 69-1-5
Senate Vote: 25-0-4
Continuing Care Retirement Community Amendments (SB 3004)
Sponsor, Senator Deidre Henderson, Floor Sponsor, Earl Tanner
This bill provides that when a new person/entity takes over a lease of a continuing care facility, they are still required to honor existing contracts related to the property including the refund of an entrance fee. It also allows courts to direct a trustee to purchase both the land on which a continuing care facility is built and any infrastructure improvements associated with it under certain circumstances such as liquidation of the continuing care facility.
House Vote: 59-8-8
Senate Vote: 25-0-4
What do you think?
Thanks for tuning in and getting involved! I’d love to hear your insights and opinions. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re also welcome to join me at the capitol any time. Our next interim day is September 21st. I’d love to see you there.
I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation!
Until next time,
David Hinkins, Senate District 27