Week 6, the last full week of the 2017 Legislative Session is in the books. Next Thursday at midnight will mark the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. At this point in the session, we’re working to finalize the budget and complete the process of turning ideas into bills and turning those bills into law. Next week’s legislative schedule includes at least one more packed day of committee meetings, and three full days of up to 13 hours of debate on the Senate floor.
Setting and balancing Utah’s budget is a very deliberative process. Weeks of study and consideration by appropriations subcommittees pass their final budget requests on to the Executive Appropriations Committee. One of the proposed changes that will be considered is a 4% increase in Education funding. (See the full list here.) The Executive Appropriations Committee which is made up of Senate and House leadership will set the final budget for the upcoming year. Click here to find out more about the budget process.
Utah has a Constitutional requirement that we pass a balanced budget by midnight on the last day of session. That requirement and our compliance with that mandate has been the driving force behind the State’s high financial stability rankings for years.
Last week, my bill (SB171) –which designates Native American Rock Art as the official artwork of the state of Utah–passed the House and now awaits the Governor’s consideration. In this state, we have the good fortune to be surrounded by countless numbers of paleographic depictions left by some of Utah’s earliest inhabitants (I’ve included an example below). These depictions are vivid reminders of the contributions by Native Americans to our culture and history.
In 2015, the State School Turnaround Program was launched. It identifies the bottom 3% of schools and gives them three years working with the state board, district boards and staff and turnaround experts to improve their school. The original model needs some modification based on the implementation experiences last year. Under SB 234, the Utah Board of Education working with school turnaround committees would select facilitators who would be tasked with identifying the root causes contributing to the failure of the school and then select specialists who would work with the schools to specifically address those targeted areas. School success would be determined by statistically significant improvement. This bill passed out of the Senate this week and is now being considered in the House.
Student Assessment and School Accountability
Education legislation is a big topic every year. This year SB 220 seeks to reform our current system for student assessments and school accountability. Under this bill, our high schoolers would no longer take the SAGE test, but rather 9th, 10th, and 11th graders would take the ACT Aspire. Many students take the ACT in order to apply for higher education, and so switching to an ACT would help test students in a way they would find meaningful. This bill would also change our school accountability system to a criterion-based grading system and include a multiple indicator system to account for growth, proficiency, student barriers (such as language), and other meaningful indicators. After good discussion on the Senate floor, this bill passed out of the Senate this week.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune
Nearly every year, the legislature considers bills that would eliminate the “Zion Curtain”. This year HB 442, is comprehensive bill that would make several major alcohol reforms, including offering new alternatives to the Zion Curtain. Our current alcohol policies have produced great success in our efforts to prevent underage drinking and underage drinking and driving (we have some of the lowest rates in the nation), but there are still some inconsistencies under the law in part due to our nearly 400 grandfathered restaurants that were not required to implement the changes to our then new alcohol policies in 2009. You can learn about exactly what this bill does here on our Senate blog.
Criminal Penalties for the Parents of Truant Children
Senator Jake Anderegg’s bill SB 115 Compulsory Education Revisions was designed to eliminate criminal penalties for the parents of truant children. The bill was defeated on the 3rd Reading last week but a motion was made to reconsider and has been placed back on the 3rd Reading calendar.
In the News: Deseret News
Interference with an Officer
If a person sees a police officer arresting someone and stops to record or film that officer, does that constitute interference? SB239 Interfering with a Peace Officer sponsored by Senator Weiler, clarifies that language in Utah State statute. In discussing the bill, Senator Weiler pointed out that there have been instances when officers have threatened to arrest people for just filming an arrest. This bill clarifies that recording the actions of a law enforcement officer does not, by itself constitute: Interference with an officer, willful resistance, disorderly conduct, or obstruction of justice. The bill has passed in the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.
Shorter Lines Next Election?
This last November on election day, many County elections offices in Utah chose to offer vote-by-mail ballots. Utahns could still vote in person, but there were fewer vote-in-person locations available. Senator Daniel Thatcher, from West Valley City, had to wait in line for two hours and knew of others who waited up to four hours to vote. Senator Thatcher said that in West Valley City, with a population of 130,000 people, there were only two polling locations available. This prompted him to sponsor SB 116 Polling Location Amendments. This bill requires county clerks to submit plans to the Lt. Governor’s Office detailing how they will keep election lines under 30 minutes long. The bill passed in both the Senate and House and will be sent to the Governor’s office for his signature or veto.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune
Teaching People How to Fish
A pilot project is being proposed that will give very low-income adults from 18 to 50 years old who don’t have a high school diploma the opportunity to develop critical employability skills. Senator Christensen is Floor Sponsoring HB 240 Employability to Careers Program. This includes a high school diploma, technical skills, soft skills, and life skills that are needed to be successful in the workforce.
Representative Schultz, the House sponsor, said that he likes the bill because it gives people the chance to get their lives back on track by helping them get a meaningful job in a career pathway with medical benefits. It can also prevent recidivism in those on parole who need help finding their way back to employment. The solution is to break intergenerational poverty cycles by teaching people how to fish instead of just giving them a fish. The bill passed in the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
Food Truck Freedom Bill Advances out of the Senate
A food truck owner in this state has to pay anywhere from $45 to one city in a year, $250 in another, $1400 in another to hold licenses in these jurisdictions. In some locations, he has to pay-per-day fees. In other locations, he’s forced to pay licensing fees per vehicle. The idea behind Senator Henderson’s SB250 is to make this confusing patchwork of regulations a little more manageable for food truck owners. This bill requires food trucks to maintain business licenses, and health and fire safety inspection certificates, without compromising public safety and right-of-way requirements. It provides more standardization for business license fees and permit fees. It limits the fees beyond the cost of regulation and to require redundant safety inspections. It prohibits “Per-day” ,”Per-location” fees, and regulations specifying that food truck must maintain a certain distance from a restaurant.
The Blood Alcohol Content threshold for DUIs may soon be lower
Representative Thurston and Senator Adams are sponsoring a bill (HB155) that lowers the legal BAC (blood alcohol content) limit from 0.08 to 0.05. By lowering the limit, people more careful and less likely to get behind the wheel after drinking. This policy change is a statement that drinking and driving is dangerous and to be taken seriously. It tells everyone, especially youth, that alcohol does cause real levels of impairment. Although we would be the first state to lower the limit, we would be among 112 countries with BAC limits of 0.05 or lower. Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board stated that a BAC level of between 0.05 and 0.08 makes you seven times more likely to be in a fatal crash than if you had not been drinking. She also stated that lowering the limit would result in an 11% decrease in deaths caused by drunk driving. Lowering the limit does not appear to impact the levels of consuming alcohol—but it does change the level of drinking and driving.
Utah Moves Closer to Incentivizing Tier 3 Fuels
Today the Senate voted on a substitute for S.B. 197 Refinery Sales and Use Tax Exemption Amendments. The substitute implements a $1.8 million tax incentive for refineries that move toward the production of Tier-3 fuel – a cleaner more efficient fuel for vehicles.
So why is this a big deal? Well, currently vehicle emissions contribute about half of the emissions in Utah, which causes our air to be polluted and unhealthy. According to the Governor Herbert’s senior environmental advisor, Alan Matheson, “The impacts of Tier 3 are significant. The EPA asserts that no state would benefit more from Tier 3 than Utah. The Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) estimates that Tier 3 fuel will immediately reduce vehicle emissions in our existing fleet by roughly 7% to 11%. Once fully implemented… This would be equivalent to taking four of every five cars off the road.”
(See Alan Matheson full white paper on Tier 3 fuels here.)