Friends and Neighbors,
Week 2 of the 2017 Legislative Session is in the books! A total of 11 bills have passed through the entire legislature but committee agendas and reading calendars are filling up with bills in a hurry.
We had some exciting events happen on the floor this week. We witnessed the proposal of Senator Henderson’s intern (she said yes). Senator Anderegg read an emotional citation honoring the Search and Rescue Dog Handlers that participated in the effort to find his missing niece – Annie Schmidt and bring closure to his family. ( https://goo.gl/5JL0ed ) Senator Henderson sponsored a resolution honoring a true American hero and Utahn, Gail Halvorsen.
My bill (SB171) , which designates Native American Rock Art as our official State Work of Art, has advanced through committee and will now be heard on the Senate Floor.
I’m also sponsoring a resolution (SCR03) asking the Department of Energy to adequately fund the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Project . In 2000, Congress passed the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act of 2001 which required the United States Department of Energy (DOE) “to establish a remedial action program and stabilize, dispose of, and control uranium mill tailings and other contaminated material at the Moab, Utah, uranium ore processing site and associated properties in the vicinity”. Last year, approximately $38 Million was appropriated but that appropriation is $7 Million dollars short of the $45 Million the project is estimated to require. This bill passed unanimously out of committee. Listen to the hearing here. This bill has passed the Senate and now awaits consideration in the House.
Recognizing Snow Removal Crews Throughout Utah (SCR 5)
Concurrent resolution to recognize local snow removal crews is presently underway. On January 13, 2017, Terry Jacobson, a UDOT snow removal crewman, suffered a collision by a semi that sent his plow truck crashing down a 300 ft embankment. Because of this, the Utah Legislature is moving quickly to highlight, as well as appreciate, the dangerous work our snow fighters undergo in order to provide safe roads and an improved quality of living. Snow removal crews have already driven over 2.7 million miles of road in the process of their work, often amidst the worst weather Utah has to offer. Senator Ralph Okerlund, who is sponsoring this resolution, is working to guarantee their labor does not go unnoticed. This resolution received enthusiastic reception in the Senate Committee recently, and will reach the Senate Floor this coming Friday.
Resolution to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation (HCR 11)
This week, the House debated a resolution that calls on President Trump to overturn President Obama’s Bears Ears decision. The resolution sharply criticizes President Obama for using the Antiquities Act—which was designed to help protect Native American structures and objects—to set aside 1.5 Million acres of Utah land for environmental protection. Among other things, the resolution chides Obama for ignoring the wishes of the residents of San Juan County-many of whom are Native American. This resolution passed the House and will now be heard by the Senate.
Protection of Law Enforcement Officers’ Personal Information (SB31)
This session, I am sponsoring a bill to protect the private information of our police officers. Specifically, this bill establishes criminal penalties for posting a police officer’s, phone number, etc. online or selling their personal information. These same penalties apply to those who sell the information of the children or spouses of our police officers. This bill provides a little bit of protection for the officers that keep us safe.
Dental Managed Care Amendments (SB 51)
Senator Allen Christensen presented his bill, SB 51 Dental Managed Care Amendments to the Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee on the 31st. For the last decade, the State of Utah has not offered dental services under Medicaid to anyone other than children and pregnant adults. In 2013, the state contracted out Medicaid dental care to two out-of-state companies, Premier Access and Delta Dental.
The companies are going through a change to their reimbursement models. Instead of paying dental providers for each separate dental procedure, Premier Access will now pay providers a monthly lump sum for each patient. This bill would require that dental care under Medicaid use a fee-for-service reimbursement model.
This payment model, called capitation, is designed to control costs by motivating providers to be more careful in ordering expensive treatments or procedures. The committee heard from pediatric dentists who feel like the capitation model ends up creating an environment where providers provide subpar care in order to make enough money to stay in business. They also pointed out that many in the field are choosing not to be Medicaid providers as a result of capitation. One pediatric dentist testified that capitation has not hurt his practice, it has instead changed the focus to prevention.
Asset Forfeiture Transparency Amendments (SB 70)
Provides additional transparency and reporting over the asset forfeiture process. In addition to current reporting requirements, SB70 requires that law enforcement agencies reporting on a forfeiture action shall include: information on related criminal charges; the value of seized property seized; the agency’s share of property received from a federal forfeiture case; the agency’s costs incurred in making the required reports; the agency’s costs incurred for storage of seized property; and the legal costs incurred by the prosecuting attorney;
It also amends the list of information to be provided regarding a forfeiture, and requires that the information be reported by a law enforcement agency, when transferring disposition of property resulting from a forfeiture matter to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice; and the law enforcement agency has been awarded any share of property forfeited by the federal government.
Post-conviction DNA Testing Amendments (SB 76)
SB76 modifies the requirements to obtain post-conviction DNA testing by providing that the new evidence shall establish by a reasonable probability that the petitioner would not have been convicted, or would have received a lesser sentence, rather than requiring that the evidence will establish factual innocence. It also removes the provision denying post-conviction DNA testing if DNA testing was available and the defendant did not request or present DNA testing at trial for tactical reasons.
SB76 also provides that after the Utah attorney general responds to a petition for post-conviction DNA testing, the petitioner may reply to the attorney general’s response before the court makes a determination regarding allowing the testing. The bill passed committee unanimously.
Library Technology Use Amendments (SB82)
In the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee on the 31st, Senator Weiler presented SB 82 Library Technology Use Amendments. Senator Weiler said that about 15 years ago, Congress passed a law that stated that any library that accepts federal funds is required to filter internet content. About 12 years ago, the State of Utah said the same thing, that libraries that accept state funds are required to have filters on their internet connected computers. Both of these laws went into effect before the wide use of wireless internet.
Senator Weiler found out that some libraries only have filters on their computers that are directly connected to the internet. If the library provides wireless internet service, that service is not always filtered.
This bill is designed to extend the law that was created 12 years ago to include filtering of wireless internet at public libraries. Senator Weiler asked the State Library Association to provide a list of libraries in Utah that do not filter their Wi-Fi. Though there is a cost to a library upgrading its system to allow for filtering, there is no fiscal note with this bill. Separately, Senator Weiler has submitted a small appropriations request to be able to give these libraries grants to be able to upgrade their systems to allow them to add filters to their Wi-Fi.
SB82 passed out of the committee with a favorable recommendation on a vote of 6-0-2.
Civil Asset Forfeiture (SB87)
During the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Standing Committee, Senator Thatcher talked about his bill, SB87 Civil Asset Forfeiture Revisions. Senator Thatcher said that Asset Forfeiture is a tool used by law enforcement and prosecutors to enforce what most people believe, that crime should not pay. This tool allows law enforcement to seize and use assets gained through criminal acts.
Senator Thatcher believes that the state can do better than the current civil asset forfeiture law. The current law does not require a criminal conviction. Senator Thatcher has worked together with local governments, law enforcement, prosecutors, and the Attorney General’s office to come up with a way to increase the protections for citizens while still looking out for the interests of the public as a whole. The bill is designed to give the public more ways to get their property back if there is a seizure. There is a competing bill sponsored in the House and Senator Thatcher admitted that the bill will most likely go through additional changes as negotiations continue. The bill passed in the committee with a favorable recommendation on a vote of 5-0-2.
SB87 was amended twice on the Senate floor giving an innocent owner the opportunity to petition the seizing agency within 30 days and require the seizing agency to respond in writing to the claimant within 45 days of the claim or relinquish the property. The bill passed the senate unanimously. Listen to the floor time discussion here, here, and here.
Early Childhood Services Coordination Amendments (1SB 100)
The development of a child in the first three years of life are critical to a child’s future development and success. There are currently various programs run by several different state departments as well as private entities that try to help families in those first few years, but there is no alignment or communication among these different programs. 1SB 100 requires the Department of Workforce Services to conduct a service to see what services are currently available, what is helpful to families, and what gaps may still exist in the system. After the study is complete, the State will better be able to understand how they may best reach out to families and offer tools to help them in the first few years of a child’s development. This bill passed out of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee unanimously.
Emergency Administration of Epinephrine Amendments (SB108)
The current language in Utah law is extremely restrictive in its description of the lawful use of epinephrine auto-injectors. The bill is designed to open up the definition in code to include FDA-approved epinephrine auto-injectors from multiple manufacturers. The restrictive nature of current code made the life-saving medicine extremely cost-prohibitive for many Utah patients. This bill has many supporters including the Utah Medical Association, the Association of Registered Nurses, and the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities.
Sales Tax Collection Amendments (1SB 110)
Sales tax applies to all Utahn’s no matter where they make their purchases, online or in store, but currently only brick-and-mortar stores facilitate the collection of the sales tax. States across the US are running into issues with collecting sales tax from online purchases, because only companies with a physical presence in a state can be constrained to collect and remit the owed sales tax. This creates an unfair advantage to online retailers.
This bill establishes under what circumstances retailers not physically based in Utah would be required to collect and remit sales tax by establishing an economic nexus. Previous legislation has tried to tie economic nexus to number of transactions from a state, this bill chooses to shy away from transactions and instead focusing on earnings from the sales. In the event that a retailer earns over $100,000 of sales in Utah, they are required to begin collecting sales tax because their economic imprint is substantial in Utah. For an affiliate, the threshold is $10,000 of sales in Utah before they are required to collect sales tax. This bill passed out of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee with a favorable recommendation.
Election Law Amendments (2SB 114)
In 2014, SB 54 modified election code to provide an alternative route to the ballot, a candidate could go through a caucus, gather signatures, or do both in a primary partisan election. This created a potential problem with plurality of candidates. 2SB 114 changes the filing period and timeline of an election year to accommodate a potential runoff election. In the event that a primary has 3 or more candidates and none receive more than 35% after the initial primary election, then the top two candidates would go to a runoff primary in August in a vote-by-mail election. This bill would only impact partisan elections, which take place in the even numbered years. This bill passed out of the Senate with the expectation that the timeline in the bill will be amended in the House, pending voting clerk input.