HB 442, which makes changes to the state’s alcohol policy, streamlines and standardizes Utah’s liquor laws by improving prevention measures, updating restaurant and retailer operations, clarifying licensing regulations and modifying the makeup of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) Advisory Board.
It will improve training requirements for licensees, focusing on prevention of over-consumption and selling to minors, in addition to implementing new underage drinking prevention programs for 8th and 10th graders.
It also brings greater consistency to application of liquor law in restaurants by allowing three options for a buffer or barrier between the alcohol dispensing area and dining area. Restaurants can choose to either leave the currently prescribed barrier in place, install a 42” barrier between dining and dispensing or create a 10’ buffer for minors. There is nothing unique about these requirements, and many states have restrictions of some sort regarding children near bar areas, including Washington, Michigan, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Arizona, New Hampshire, Indiana, Idaho, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Oregon, Minnesota, Arkansas and Alaska.
The Legislature just passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation for clean air in years. With SB 197, refineries in the state are incentivized to switch over to the production of Tier 3 fuels which have a lower sulfur content and provide for much cleaner burning.
If everyone in the state were to use Tier 3 fuels and cars, it would be the equivalent of removing four of every five vehicles on the road. The investment of producers to change from Tier 2 to Tier 3 fuels will be significant, in the tens of millions of dollars, and this bill provides a sales tax exemption on certain products that are needed for that transition.
Some of the other clean air bills passed this session include:
- HCR 5, a concurrent resolution to support the dedication of a portion of the state funds from the Volkswagen settlement to replace a portion of our dirty diesel school buses with clean fuel buses.
- HB 96, creating a requirement for operators of gasoline cargo trucks to prevent the release of petroleum vapors into the air.
- HB 104, which allows counties to use revenue from emissions fees to maintain a national ambient air quality standard.
- SB 24, extending the heavy duty vehicle tax credit to include heavy duty vehicles with hydrogen-electric and electric drivetrains.
The Legislature also appropriated an additional $1.65 million for air quality research and air monitoring.
Two years ago, the Utah Legislature passed HB 348, which began the process of reforming our state justice system. The point of that reform is to carefully screen those arrested for crimes in order to determine the main driver of their criminality: substance abuse, mental health issues or criminality itself. This will allow for diversion and treatment where appropriate, and improve our current high levels of recidivism.
We also began the process of reforming the juvenile justice system this year with HB 239, based on recommendations from the Juvenile Justice Working Group. These recommendations include preventing deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system for lower-level offenses, protecting public safety by focusing resources on those who pose the highest risk and improving outcomes through reinvestment and increased system accountability.
We appropriated funds for an electronic records system that will provide better communication among agencies and tracking of those in the adult system. It will enable judges to have access to screenings prior to sentencing and ensure proper placement of those more in need of help than incarceration.
If this process is followed, we will see more people in mental health and drug treatment programs. Last year the Legislature passed HB 437 which, in combination with federal funds, would have given the state $100 million to help the very most impoverished Utahns, including the chronically homeless and those involved in the justice system. A year later we are still waiting for full approval from the federal government to begin implementation. At this point we’re able to move forward with a small portion of the plan, giving us access to $22 million.
We also appropriated $17.4 million in new money for mental health/behavioral health treatment and $3 million for jail-based substance abuse programs. This should allow us to draw down another $32 million in federal funds.
This year the state has set aside nearly $3 million more for county jails to adequately deal with those who need to be taken off the street and incarcerated. This will alleviate jail overcrowding pressures that exist in certain counties and help law enforcement in doing their job, especially in cleaning up problem areas downtown.
*the following analysis on tax reform is borrowed from a legislative colleague, thanks!
Over the last 2 weeks, the Utah Legislature has been considering several changes in taxes to address unsustainable trends in state revenue that are not keeping pace with population growth in the state of Utah. Stated goals of tax changes were to broaden the tax base (have more people paying taxes) but lower the tax rate such that current overall tax revenue to the state would remain unchanged. The purposes of the proposed changes include the need to reduce the intensity of drops in tax revenue during economic downturns when demand for the services funded by those taxes actually increases. After several broad proposals involving reductions in sales tax and income tax rates, House leadership narrowed the approach and proposed a reduction in state sales tax rate from 4.75% to 4.41% and an increase in food sales tax from 1.75% to 4.41%. The plan included other provisions to hold low income people harmless by giving then an earned-income tax credit (EITC) and giving unemployed low-income individuals a dedicated food credit to counteract the negative effect on them of increasing sales tax on food. Further analysis and modeling the outcomes of the proposed changes in sales tax revealed that the difference it would make was not significant enough to completely solve our current problem and reduce the challenges we will face in another economic downturn. Due to this analysis, the legislature has abandoned the idea of re-instating sales tax on food. We will be having additional discussion on taxes over the interim with the goal of developing sustainable stable fiscal policy. We will also being doing some “deep dives” into our budgets to find areas where we might be able to save money without jeopardizing necessary services. I would pay attention to what we will be doing over the next 12 months and give us legislators feed back if you feel inclined.