Some of the Top Issues of 2017

IMG_3252Alcohol Amendments

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.

 

Clean Air

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. 

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Justice Reform

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.

 

Education Funding

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Tax Reform

*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.  

 

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Balance That Budget

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Our total statewide budget this year (FY 2018) is almost $16.2 billion from all sources – $6.7 billion of that from General and Education funds.

·        You’ll recall that we started the legislature by repurposing around $80 million in cost savings and unused balances to higher priorities during base budget week.

·        On top of that, Public Education received 60% of all new revenue, about $230 million.  

·        That includes a 4% increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit and fully funded growth.

·        Higher Education got about 25% of our new money, including $62 million for operations and another $31 million in buildings this year.

·        Utah is also enjoying strong economic growth and low unemployment – so our costs for Medicaid are lower than expected.

·        We reinvested more than $40 million worth of Medicaid and CHIP savings into homelessness initiatives, justice reform, and a new affort at juvenile justice reform.

·        We gave our state and higher education employees a 2% raise, including corrections officers and public safety officials and employees at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, paid for an 8% increase in health insurance costs, and targeted compensation increases to positions with high turn-over and low salary compared to market.

·        Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we once again balanced our budget, as we do each year.

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Week Seven and All Through the House

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Final passage of HB 36, Affordable Housing Amendments.  The bill didn’t receive the funding we were hoping for, but much good will occur with the funding it did receive and will move us forward on providing more affordable housing across the state.  Many thanks go to the members of the Affordable Housing Task Force, convened by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and especially the folks at Housing and Community Development at the Department of Workforce Services.  Their expertise and commitment to this important issue were invaluable in achieving passage of this bill.

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Two nights before the session ended I was working late at my House desk and there were 5 different youth tour groups come through.  It was awesome to see their excitement and interest as they visited the “People’s House.”  Pictured here is Rep. Marc Roberts, Spanish Fork, with some youth from his church.

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These men called me out of the House chamber to discuss a bill that would make helmets a requirement for motorcycle riders up to age 21.  Their arguments against the bill focused on the privilege of individual liberty and were compelling, but in the end I was a yes vote on the bill.

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Another day, another rally. This time the rally was for womens voices specifically in the political process.  It was associated with International Women’s Day. I loved seeing my constituents join with so many other women and men to speak up on the issues of equality.

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I’ve been fortunate to have so many young people visit me at the Capitol.  Today’s visitor was Jeremiah Smart, a neighbor who is a Senior at Woods Cross HS.  Jeremiah spent some time with me and also with a lobbyist friend to see how many people must work together to get things accomplished. He is a fine young man and I’m excited to see what is ahead for him.

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More constituents with the International Women’s Day march and rally.  Thank you for the visit! I also love the sign in the corner, “I want the whole damn dollar!” No kidding.

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This session I sat between these two great colleagues, Rep. Lee Perry on the left from Brigham City, and Rep. Brad Daw on the right from Orem.  They were good seat mates and even better friends.

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A day that begins with a pancake eating contest that pits the fire fighters and police officers against each other and benefits Primary Children’s Medical Center is a great day. This year the judges for the contest were Sen. Todd Weiler and Woods Cross City Mayor Rick Earnshaw.  The firefighters took the contest this year!

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Enough said.

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An official picture of “Team Edwards.” From the left, Bountiful High School intern Lindsey Richards, UofU legislative interns Logan Waechtler and Lesley Garaycochea.  Couldn’t have made it through the session without this great team. They were bright, energetic, and creative.  All you could ask for.

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Our schedule for the last week.  Note how many days end in “as late as needed.” When the clock ticks down to midnight on Day 45 we were happy for every minute we spent during the session working because many, many bills died on the calendar not having had enough time to be heard.

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Rep. Joel Briscoe and I co-sponsored HJR 18, Economic and Environmental Stewardship. I am grateful to Rep. Briscoe and his intern Karson Eillers for their help with this resolution, in conjunction with all the students at Logan High School, USU, BYU, and Westminster College.

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Our Northern Utah group of legislators meet every Monday during the legislative session to discuss the issues important to our part of the state and how we can support each other’s work.

IMG_3985 2Our last Bagels and Briefings was held at my parents home because of the low blood counts my grandson has right now.  This is my almost two year old grandson who lives in rural Virginia, but is in treatment for Leukemia right now at Primary Children’s Medical Center.  I love having him here while he is in treatment and the care he is receiving is such a blessing.

*In case you didn’t notice, this post runs backwards from the end of Week Seven to the beginning :)

 

 

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Day 44 — ‘Twas the Night Before Sine Die

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‘Twas the night before ending

And all through the House

All the bills were left waiting

For the click of a mouse,

So they could be opened

After much work and care

Knowing that the legislators

Soon would be there.

 

To evaluate them deeply

By using their head

And hoping to avoid

The category of dread.

Approps, what does that mean?

Funding, where it all goes,

Then comes the voting

From both friends and foes.

 

When the Reps work is over

Some bill are left standing

To be sent to the Senate

For their understanding.

Then to the Governor

For final approval

If they avoid the veto

Which means final removal.

 

Tomorrow will start early

Just you wait and see

What 45 days brings

To Utahns like you and me

We’ll balance the budget

And pass bills, 2 or 3,

 

Until around midnight

You know where we’ll be!

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Day 43 — On Voting and Nutella

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As your legislator I try and do the right thing.  Make the right vote, gather the right information, talk to the right people, analyze the right data.  Still, it’s inevitable that there are times when folks working on the same issue have to agree to disagree.  The reality is that as legislators we cannot make everybody happy all the time.  And that’s OK.  I have made a commitment to reach out to my constituents in as many ways as I can think, to bring the issues, the process, and the decisions to you.  I hope you feel connected to what’s happening in the state legislature.  For me the interactions with constituents are priceless, as the commercial says.  Your perspective is unique.  It’s based on your life experience, values, and vision for the future and it matters a lot to me.  

On Day 43, with well over 100 bills waiting for our consideration, your input is especially important.  More than anything this post tonight is a shout out to all those who have taken the time to get involved in the political process and reach out to me.  Thank you for the validation when we agree, and for calling me on the carpet when we don’t.  I know we are not going to agree all the time, but I am committed to truly represent you in the Utah House to the best of my ability.  Know that I study and analyze each bill we hear and am giving it my best effort to make the right vote.  As always, your perspective and input broadens my understanding of the issues before us and I am so appreciative for what you share and how it enhances my perspective. 

Tonight I’m also giving a shout out to the men serving as House Sergeant at Arms, aka Security, that we affectionately call the “Green Coats.”  They are the ones who greet folks visiting the House and are the first to create a welcoming, friendly and orderly environment for constituents (and legislators!) alike.  I really appreciate their courteous, respectful, and genuine kindness.  Good men all around!  Thank you Mike Mitchell, Gary Steele, Richard Buchi, Larry Burningham, Bruce Canadian, Scott Crump, Bob Grygla, Hal Hale, Wayne Lawrence, Floyd Leford, Keither Olson, Arman Peterson, Gary Service, Samuel Steel, and Bradley Van Wagoner!

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Day 42 — Picking up the Pace

 

IMG_4004We’ve picked up the pace today as we kicked to the finish of our House bills.  The House was on the chamber floor for almost 7 hours today and we debated the last of the House bills.

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If you’re into numbers you may find this interesting….so far during the first six weeks of the session the legislature has passed 257 bills.  The total number of bills passed has increased over the past six legislative sessions, growing from 435 in 2008 to 524 in 2013 and down to 474 in 2016.  To stay on that pace we would have to pass close to 200 bills in the next 3 days.  Thankfully, it is quality, not quantity that we’re shooting for.  More legislation does not necessarily equate to a successful session, and it appears this may be a year of smaller numerical output.  Our last three days will be spent with the House hearing Senate bills and vice versa.  I have six bills in the Senate working their way through the process, so I will have a lot to keep me busy these last few days.

IMG_3995 2Day 42 began at 7:00 am with our weekly northern Utah legislator breakfast meeting. Every Monday legislators from northern Utah (Davis, Weber, Box Elder, and Cache Counties) meet together.  This is an extension of the times we get together throughout the year to discuss issues of regional importance. I am fortunate to work with this group who truly have the best interests of the people of our state as their primary focus. 

At this point we have three days left and plenty of work to go around.  Today was our last day to meet in committees and our last day to hear House bills in the House and Senate bills in the Senate.  We met in committees from 8-4 today and then were on the floor from 4:30-11:30 pm.  

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The last steps in the House for several of my bills happened today and they move on to the Senate for the last steps.  With around 32 hours of floor time left only time will tell how many bills the Senate will be able to hear before we adjourn Thursday night.  I hope these are among them:

  • HB 348, Voter Records Amendments
  • HCR 21, Autism After 21
  • HB 246, System of Care Amendments
  • HB 378, Second hand Store Amendments
  • HB 345, Telehealth Pilot Project
  • HB 416, Targeted Business Tax Credit Amendments

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I also had the opportunity to present HJR 18, Economic and Environmental Stewardship, to the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee today.  I was joined by my House co-sponsor Rep. Joel Briscoe, and about a dozen students from Logan High School, USU, BYU, Westminster, and West High School.  These are passionate, informed, committed students who care about climate change and being responsible stewards of our natural resources in order to create a sustainable future for generations to come.  I was so pleased to have a lengthy discussion in committee with plenty of time for public comment.  The committee members were respectful and shared their insights and suggestions for the resolution and in the end the resolution received a 5-5 vote, which means it did not pass.  In committees a tie vote does not advance the vote.  About an hour after our committee ended I received a text with a link to a talk where Elder Dallin H. Oaks shared a warning about the challenges of global warming.  I am really pleased to see the conversation of climate change move forward in an open way and look forward to continuing discussions through the interim on this issue.  

One big issue we have been discussing the past two weeks is tax policy reform.  This description from my colleague Rep. Ed Redd does a good job explaining where we are and how we got here.  This SL Trib article is also helpful in understanding why the legislature will NOT be pursuing tax reform this session.  

From Rep. Redd:

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%. I along with a few others also made a proposal that staple foods (milk, eggs, bread, grains, beans, raw fruits and vegetables and raw meats) should be exempt from the the tax increase. 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 it would not make any significant difference or help solve our current problem with needing to broaden the tax base and reduce the challenging downturns in tax revenue that occur during economic downturns. 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. 

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Where in the World….are my Bills

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Here’s where all my bills stand in the process:

HB 34,  Employment Security Act Sunset Extension, passed through the House and Senate. Sent to the Governor for signing.

This bill extends the sunset on a pilot program where the Department of Workforce Services shares information with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor in order to determine if employers are correctly classifying their employees.

1st Sub, HB 36, Affordable Housing Amendments, passed from the House, and 2nd Reading in the Senate.  It will sit on the Senate 3rd Reading until the bill is funded in the last few days of the session.

The goal of this bill is to increase the availability of affordable housing units.  It accomplishes this in two ways:

  1.  Increasing state low income housing tax credits.
  2.  Establishing a Economic Revitalization and Investment Fund, that can provide funding to developers, builders and investors who want to get into the affordable housing market. The funds must be repaid to the state after 30 years, or when the property is sold or refinanced.

The fiscal note on this bill is $6M.  We are in the process of trying to secure the funding.  More on this legislation in this previous postDay 2 — House 2 Home.

HB 69, Capital Facilities Revisions, passed out of the House and Senate.  Sent to the Governor for his signature.

This bill removes from statute the requirement that the Department of Heritage and Arts execute capital facilities grants.

HB 129, Adult Protective Services Amendments, passed out of House and Senate.  Sent to the Governor for his signature.  

This bill authorizes Adult Protective Services authority to provide emergency protective services to a vulnerable adult in an emergency.

HB 182, Labeling Requirements for Types of Retail Goodspassed out of the House and Senate.  Sent to the Governor for his signature.  

This bill amends labeling regulations in stores selling second hand items by providing alternative methods for labeling goods and disclosing to consumers that goods sold in the store are used.

HB 211, State Work of Art, passed out of the House and Senate.  Sent to the Governor for his signature.   Committee.  It will be heard by the full Senate this week.

This bill designates the Spiral Jetty as the State Work of Art.

HB 246, System of Care Amendments, passed out of House, Senate Committee.  Will be heard on the Senate floor this week. 

This bill supports a whole-person, family-centered approach to services within the Department of Human Services, called Systems of Care, which is proven to achieve more sustainable, positive outcomes that break cycles of government involvement.

HCR 17, Autism After 21, passed out of the House and Senate Committee.  Will be heard on the Senate floor this week.  

This bill calls attention to the many adults on the autism spectrum for whom federally mandated services have ended, recognizes the limited opportunities for employment and education for many adults on the autism spectrum, and the need for residential services and an opportunity for individual self-determination.

HJR 8, Retention of Public Educators, passed House and Senate.  Sent to the Governor for his signature.  

This bill recognizes the shortage of credentialed public educators in the state, and lays out a plan whereby a portion of new revenue generated from the management of public lands that have been transferred to the state of Utah be deposited into a new fund for the purpose of increasing public educator salaries.

HB 345, Telehealth Pilot Project, passed out of the House and Senate Committee.  Will be heard by the full Senate this week.  

This bill sets into place a pilot to provide telemedicine to remote areas of the state where access to certain medical specialties and crisis intervention services are not existent.

HB 278, Second-hand Store Amendments, passed the House and Senate Committee.  Will be heard by the full Senate this week.  

This bill removes regulations on small businesses who deal in second hand goods.

HB 348, Voter Records Amendments, this bill was passed out of House committee this week and is on the House Third reading calendar.  

This bill protects your voter registration information from groups wanting to purchase and sell your private information.

HB 416, Targeted Business Tax Credit Revisions, this bill passed out of House committee and is on the House Third reading calendar.   

This bill modifies the oversight, application, and reporting components of the targeted business tax credit program administered through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.  

I have a new bill that has been drafted and placed on a committee agenda for Monday.  It is HJR 18, 

 

Additionally, I am the House sponsor on a few Senate bills:

SB 29, Utah Marriage Commission AmendmentsSen. Christensen

This bill failed to pass the Senate floor.

SB 100, Early Childhood Services Coordination Amendments, Sen. Millner

Passed out of the Senate and House Committee. Will be heard by the full House this week. 

SB  149, Financial Education and Savings Plan to benefit At-Risk Children, Sen. Fillmore

Passed out of the Senate and House Committee. Will be heard by the full House this week. 

SB 210, Equal Pay Amendments, Sen. Anderegg

Was tabled in the Senate committee.

SB 170, Workers Compensation Workgroup, Sen. Mayne

Passed out of Senate and House.  Sent to the Governor for his signature.

SB 199, ABLE Act Revisions, Sen. Weiler

Passed out of the Senate and House Committee.   Will be heard by the full House this week.  

SB 226, Permanent Criminal Stalking Injunction AmendmentsSen. Weiler

Passed out of the Senate and House Committee.   Will be heard by the full House this week.  

These two bills are abandoned due to lack of time.  We will address them later.  

  • Tax Incentive Amendments 
  • School Testing Funds Amendments 

 

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‘Twas the End of Week Six and All Through the House

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Week Six kicked off with our annual Women legislators lunch.  I absolutely admire, respect, and love each of these women.  Their involvement in the House and Senate has made a huge impact on what I affectionately call the “happy factor” of this job.  And P.S., Cucina on 2nd Ave. is awesome for hosting this lunch every year!

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What do you call a Family Night at the Capitol that includes 17 children, age 7 and under?  I call it awesome! 

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These four families made the effort to bring their young families up to the Capitol and get them started right with an appreciation of the great privilege we have to live in Utah, America, and under this form of government.  

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Senator Knudson in action as he presented as the Senate sponsor on HB 211 which designates the Spiral Jetty as Utah’s State Work of Art. The bill passed! I appreciate the AP Art students from American Fork HS who brought this to my attention as they noticed that the Spiral Jetty was one of 250 works of art from prehistoric times to the present that was included in their AP Art History curriculum.  Other works included are the Parthenon, Macchu Picchu, the Sistine Chapel, Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, Bayeaux Tapestry, Westminster Palace, Stonehenge, Terra-cotta Warriors, Petra, Chartres Cathedral, Sophia Hagia Mosque, the Dome of the Rock,  the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, and numerous works by artists such as Degas, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Delacroix, Van Gogh and more. We should be proud to host this great work of art in our state and this designation gives us a reason to brag just a little bit.

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A visit from my sister, Camille Johnson, was just what I needed on this day! She is a 7th grade teacher at Millcreek Jr. High in Bountiful and teaches English and American Sign Language.  As luck would have it while she was on the floor with me we heard bills about teaching deaf children, grading schools, and teacher compensation.  I took advantage of her expertise on each of these issues!

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My legislative intern, Lesley Divan Garaycochea, worked with Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck on HB 278.  I was so happy for their team when this bill passed with unanimous support in the House.

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Huge props to Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, who gave an articulate, compelling presentation on her bill, HB 278, which would create a split billing model for separated parents who share expenses of minor children. 

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It was all about the budget these last few days of the week as the executive appropriations committee released their proposed funding items after they considered the recommendations of each of the appropriations subcommittees.  

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Friday was an absolutely beautiful Spring day (where did February go?!?!?!) and a perfect day for a Food truck Friday!  Sen. Deidre Henderson and Rep. Kim Coleman are sponsoring a “food truck freedom” bill that streamlines the licensing and regulations of food trucks.  In honor of that bill we’ve had food trucks the past two Fridays.  Bonus!

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Friday was also Dr. Seuss Day at the Capitol.  Hundreds of school children were at the Capitol donning their best Cat in the Hat wear.  

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I spy with my little eye several dozen cat in the hat children enjoying the front yard of the People’s House!

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Best visitor of the week!  Welcoming Jayne to the House.  She worked on my first campaign when she was just a 14 year old and has helped every two years since, igniting a passion for the political process and all things American history.  Jayne was an intern in the congressional office of Rep. Mia Love last summer and loved her experience there.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to have our roles reversed in the future with me visiting her as she sits in one of the soft chairs on the floor of the House or Senate!

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Welcoming some first timers, along with some good old regulars to “Bagels with Becky” this morning! We talked tax policy, education, education, education, criminal justice reform, government accountability, and more education! The involvement of my constituents helps me do my job better.  Truly, I have the best constituents in the state!

 

 

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Day 39 — Are Utah’s Liquor Laws as Mixed Up as Some Drinks?

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*title of today’s post borrowed from a NYTimes 2011 article on Utah’s liquor laws.

The House passed HB 442 on Friday in an attempt to streamline and bring consistency to Utah’s liquor laws.  The bill will now be heard in the Senate in the final days of the session.  The SL Trib’s story on alcohol policy reform provides an account of the process and intent of the bill.  

A detailed account comes from the Senate site and is included below.  

H.B. 442, Alcohol Amendments is a comprehensive alcohol reform bill sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson and Sen. Jerry Stevenson.  While we still anticipate some minor changes, the bill represents the collaborative efforts of many of Utah’s stakeholders affected by our alcohol policy. Because H.B. 442 is a pretty long and complicated bill, I wanted to outline a summary of the changes under the current bill.  In essence the bill would streamline and standardize Utah’s liquor laws by improving prevention measures, updating restaurant and retailer operations, clarifying licensing regulations, and simplifying the makeup DABC advisory board.

1. Prevention Measures

H.B. 442 includes improved prevention measures which are focused on youth education as well as on-premise and off-premise trainingprograms. Two new underage drinking prevention programs will be implemented in the 8th and 10th grades. These programs will focus on the tools to address the dangers of underage drinking and the risks of drinking and driving. This bill would also mark up the price of alcohol by 2%, with these earnings going back into the school lunch program and these underage drinking prevention efforts.

There will also be improved training requirements for new licensees and every three years to renew an existing liquor license.  This training will concentrate on statute awareness, operating requirements, prevention of over-consumption, prevention of selling to minors, and the implementation of age verification tools.

2. Retailer, Restaurant, and Bar Operations

On-Premise
One of the major areas for this new policy implementation is “On-Premise” or restaurants and bars that prepare and serve alcohol directly to customers. Under H.B. 442 these establishments must have a Responsible Alcohol Service Plan (RASP).  This plan will consist of a written set of policies and procedures that outline measures to prevent employees from over-serving alcoholic beverages to customers and serving alcoholic beverages to minors. This regulation will apply to all new licensees and upon the regular renewal of existing licenses.

Under the current bill there are two options for a dispensing area: The first is a physically separate area that prevents patrons seated in the dining area or waiting area from viewing the dispensing of alcohol (the current “Zion Curtain”). Or a restaurant has the option of an area that is essentially a 10-foot radius around the dispensing structure (no physical separation requirement). Or a 42” high permanent physical structure at least 72” away from the dispensing structure (Pony Wall). Restaurants can comply by meeting either of those requirements, and minors are not allowed in either type of dispensing area. The bill would also require electronic age verification for the dispensing area and signage at the entrance stating “Restaurant not a bar.”

Off-Premise
Another major area for alcohol policy reform is “Off-Premise.” These are convenience stores, grocery stores, or any business that engages in the retail sale of alcohol for consumption off the retailer’s premises. H.B. 442 requires retailers to move all beer and like products to two locations and separate the beer from other beverages. The bill requires department approval of a product’s labeling and packaging if the product looks like a nonalcoholic product or could confuse mislead a consumer to believe that the product does not contain alcohol. This requirement for approval falls on the manufacturer. The bill will also give the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control authority in the issuance of licenses to ‘off-premise’ retailers. However, local law enforcement will retain authority for the Eliminate Alcohol Sales to Youth (EASY) program.

3. Licensing

H.B. 442 will implement a new flat license fee of $1650. It will update the licensing specifications on how far a bar or restaurant may be from a community location such as a school, church, library, playground or park. Under this bill, a restaurant cannot be located within 450 feet walking distance from a community location, or within 200 feet of a measured straight line. One other notable change to the proximity requirements is that the commission can no longer grant a variance to the requirements. Existing licensees operating under a previously granted variance can continue to operate under it.

The bill will standardize all licensees and create a clear distinction between bars and restaurants. To do this the bill removes all club licenses and requires all ‘grandfathered’ restaurants to comply with the same standards as other restaurants. “Dining Clubs” will migrate to either a bar or restaurant. Additionally, a “club license” would become a “bar establishment license”, “equity club license” would be “equity license”, and “fraternal club license” would be “fraternal license.” The bill would also simplify the dual/multiple licensing issues with a one license per room policy. The exception would be an establishment with a restaurant license and a banquet or reception center license. In that case, the different licenses cannot operate at the same time.

All licensees – including ‘grandfathered’ restaurants must comply with new requirements or surrender their license by July 1, 2018. This allows for a sizeable window for establishments to decide how they would like to fulfill the new requirements.

4. DABC Advisory Board

Currently, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) Advisory Board is comprised of 12 members, 11 voting members and one non-voting member. Of the voting members, 10 come from the retail industry, and the chair of the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council is the final voting member. This bill will reduce the Board to 9 total members with 8 voting members and one non-voting member.

Not only is the number of board members changing, but the make-up of the board will also change. Under the new structure, three appointed members will represent the alcohol industry; two appointed members will represent an alcohol or drug abuse prevention, enforcement, or education group; the director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and the chair of the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council is the final voting member.

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Day 38 — Money, Money, Money

I’m writing this just after midnight on Day 38.  In seven short/long days the 2017 legislative session will end at exactly midnight.  As we work to complete our work in committees and ramp up additional hours on the House and Senate floors we are also finalizing the budget, discussing transportation bonding, and broader tax reform.  

At noon today the final recommendations from each appropriations subcommittee were released.  On Friday the Executive Appropriations Committee will meet and finalize the recommendations.  That list will form the basis for the final base budget bills we will pass the last few days of the session.  You can check to see the recommendations from each subcommittee. 

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We will also be prioritizing the remaining fiscal note bills that were not funded in the appropriations process.  There are probably 50-60 bills with requests 7:1 for every available dollar, which in this case is $2M for ongoing funding and $2M in one-time funding.  Those prioritizations will be submitted by all House members by tomorrow at noon, compiled, and published.  I have a request that I’m working on, the $350K appropriation for HB 345, Telehealth Pilot Project.  

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Transportation funding is a hot topic as well this last week of the session.  As the fastest growing state in the nation, with a hot job market and flourishing economy, Utah is finding that in many areas commercial development has outpaced projections and created increased road congestion. While the Utah Transportation Commission has looked ahead to prioritize and schedule necessary road construction projects, this new growth is forcing us to move up that timeline.  Watch this video for a good explanation of the bonding proposal.  An outline of the proposal follows.

  • The Utah Transportation Commission has vetted, approved and scheduled a number of projects that, due to this explosive new growth, need to be dealt with on an accelerated timeline.
  • The bill would bond for these necessary UDOT-prioritized road projects at an average $250 million/year over four years. Completion of these projects in areas serving Utah’s burgeoning employment base will allow for more fluid traffic flow and greater accessibility for employers and employees.
  • Utah is one of only nine AAA bond rated states, one of the most fiscally responsible in the nation.
  • When Utah borrows money for buildings and roads, we pay it off quickly – buildings in six years and roads in 15 years, both well before life expectancy of the projects.
  • This new bonding won’t change our current debt level; at this time the state is making principal reduction payments of approximately $300 million per year and those reductions will closely mirror new debt.
  • Based on current economic conditions, we will remain at approximately 45% of our debt limit or below, but the bill includes a trigger at 50% – if that point is reached, all new bonding stops.
  • This is an ideal time to begin the process, with interest rates currently about 2% and construction costs rising at approximately 5% per year. The sooner we start the process, the lower the construction costs and interest rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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