Legislative Update: October 2017
It has been 15 years since Salt Lake City hosted what has arguably been the most successful Olympic Winter Games ever. Our state has benefited from that experience, and since that time, we have hosted many world championship winter sporting events, both in the Salt Lake area and Park City. Our presence in the worldwide sports community continues to expand, as well, with over 40 percent of the Vancouver 2010 U.S. Olympic Team either living or spending significant time training in Utah.
The Olympic/Paralympic Exploratory Committee (OEC) announced on October 19 that it would consider the possibility of submitting a bid to host the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympic Games. Speaker of the House Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser are key members of this committee.
Utah’s world-class facilities, venues and infrastructure would only require minimal updates and our international airport, transportation system and lodging have expanded since the 2002 Games making Utah an ideal host for the Winter Olympics. However, before proceeding the exploratory committee will perform a thorough examination of budgets, marketing, potential revenue streams and overall impact on the state.
Earlier this year, several serious questions regarding separation of powers and the role of the executive branch arose after the Governor overstepped his constitutional duty and set the time, place and manner of a special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
The Legislature requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General regarding the process to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of a Utah member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The opinion was completed, signed and ready to be delivered, but the Governor’s Office urged the Attorney General not to release it claiming a conflict existed due to an attorney-client relationship. According to Section 67-5-1 (7) Utah Code: “The attorney general shall: (7) give his opinion in writing and without fee to the Legislature … when required, upon any question of law relating to their respective offices[.]”
On several occasions, the Legislature requested the legal opinion as did several media outlets under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). The Attorney General’s Office denied those requests.
The Salt Lake Tribune appealed their denial to the State Records Committee, which voted in favor of the Tribune being granted access. The Attorney General’s Office is now deciding whether to appeal that ruling.
On Wednesday, October 18, the Legislative Management Committee unanimously passed a motion to “authorize legislative legal counsel to initiate litigation, as necessary, to obtain the requested legal opinion from the attorney general and to address any other legal issues that could arise or have arisen from that request.”
The Legislative Management Committee is seeking clarity as to the role of the Attorney General, and whether court rules pertaining to attorney-client privilege exist, and if those rules defined in statute trump the statute directing the Attorney General to give the Legislature an opinion. Clear understanding of these issues will help to avoid similar situations in the future, should they arise. Obtaining the legal opinion will also be useful when drafting and considering legislation for the upcoming legislative session to establish a process for filling congressional vacancies, something not currently in statute.
Read additional information here.
In the words of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States is experiencing an opioid-induced “public health epidemic.”
In 2014, Utah ranked 4th in the nation for drug overdose deaths – an average of 6 per week. Last week, Speaker Greg Hughes made it clear that he would like the State of Utah to attack the opioid epidemic by litigating directly against those involved with these often harmful products. Within the last year, more than 25 states, counties and cities have filed civil suits against manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains. Utah needs to engage, but the Speaker believes that we can most effectively do this on our own, without joining a multi-state effort, allowing us to better address our own unique challenges.
Historically, this avenue has been more financially beneficial for our state and our citizens, as well. In 2013, the State of Utah settled a lawsuit with a large drug manufacturer for $8.5 million based on allegations that they had defrauded the state’s Medicaid program through false and misleading marketing. A multi-state collective settled the claims of 37 other states and the District of Columbia for a total of $90 million, resulting in an average settlement of only $2.37 million per state. Similarly, in 2009, we received a $24 million settlement in another case, nearly 13 times that of states participating in a multi-state claim, who each received an average of only $1.88 million.
Speaker Hughes and members of the Utah Legislature will continue working on solutions to address this tragic epidemic.
Operation Rio Grande Update
On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, Speaker Greg Hughes, Senator Wayne Niederhauser, Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, Commissioner Keith Squires, Chief Mike Brown and homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson held a news conference to provide a two-month update about Operation Rio Grande (ORG).
Prior to the operation, many individuals needing help found themselves in danger due to the lawlessness that existed in the Rio Grande district; crimes were occurring constantly and openly. As a result of ORG, the district has become safer, law and order are being restored and services continue. During the news conference, Atkinson spoke about services provided in the area from entities like The Road Home and Catholic Community Services of Utah have not decreased since ORG began. Rather, the greater feeling of safety and security has led to an increased willingness of those in need to seek help.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Brown mentioned that ORG offers an opportunity for those experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness and even criminals, to access available resources. Most business owners and workers in the area, volunteers at shelters and residents are thankful for the collaboration and resources being put forth to address the public safety concerns.
Since the launch of the operation, 61 new treatment beds, and 15 detox beds have become available, more than 900 coordinated services cards have been distributed, making it easier for those seeking help to connect with appropriate resources.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, nine search warrants directly connected to intelligence gathered through ORG have been served, leading to 40 arrests.
Additional information about the Dignity of Work phase of the operation is scheduled to be announced in November. It will include supportive services for individuals not ready for permanent employment to participate in pre-employment activities such as volunteerism, internships, training, workshops, skill development, and mentorships, as well as a work program to help those who have completed the “work-ready evaluation” and are ready for employment.
Operation Rio Grande is an ongoing effort. There will be ups and downs. We all must remain diligent to work through the many challenges that certainly lie ahead and commit to seeing this through to rid the area of criminal activity.
Watch the entire news conference here.
Utah’s economy is healthy and thriving, according to a recent revenue update presented to the Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee in October.
Individual income tax was up about 7.1 percent in fiscal year 2017, ending June 30, compared to 2016, reaching its all-time high for the fifth straight year at $1.86 billion. The State of Utah’s General and Education Fund collected $47 million more than projected. After statutorily required reserve account deposits, aka the rainy-day fund, the General Fund balance stands at $8 million, with an available Education Fund balance of $18 million, a 4.1 percent increase over last year.
The Legislative Fiscal Analysts are projecting continued growth for the state throughout this next year.
Legislative Update: September 2017
The Utah State Legislature convened its first special session of the year, in conjunction with September interim day, on Wednesday, September 20th. The purpose of the special session was to deal with the following issues:
H.B. 1001 Operation Rio Grande Funding Amendments addresses some of the cost of Operation Rio Grande (ORG) by creating a narrow, temporary exception in the Budgetary Procedures Act. It allows the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) to transfer or divert money to another department, agency, institution or division to support ORG until July 1, 2020.
Unused prior year funds, $4.9 million, will be transferred from the Department of Corrections to the General Fund, and then DWS to support the operation. From there, they will be disbursed to law enforcement, adjudication, corrections and to provide and address services for those experiencing homelessness in conjunction with ORG. The legislation also requires DWS to report these expenditures to the Legislative Executive Appropriations Committee and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
H.B. 1001 passed the House and Senate unanimously.
H.B. 1002 Road Closure Amendments amends provisions related to city authority to allow the temporary closure of roads owned by municipalities in mitigating unsafe conditions. It is a necessary part of the process of creating a Safe Homeless Services Courtyard in the Rio Grande area, to ensure those who need support to overcome homelessness are able to access available services, and to provide protection for those being preyed upon.
H.B. 1002 passed the House 71-1 and the Senate 26-1.
S.B. 1001 Port of Entry and Axle Weight Amendments changes the language in the statute governing vehicle weight from “shall” to “may,” to provide the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) the flexibility to determine whether to impose a penalty for overweight vehicles at ports of entry. The previous statute required UDOT to impose a fine whether a vehicle was one pound or 5000 pounds overweight. Something as simple and unintentional as snow on the tires or on the vehicle itself could adversely affect the weight and trigger a fine. This change allows UDOT to take a more reasoned approach and apply discretion with regard to the imposition of such fines. It passed the House and Senate unanimously.
S.J.R. 101 Joint Resolution Approving the Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture proposed Settlement Agreement approves the proposed settlement agreement reached between the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and a construction company, Flatiron/Harper Joint Venture, for deficient work. The work was performed on a portion of SR-92 and resulted in UDOT having to sue several contractors. Both parties agreed to a settlement that would require UDOT to pay $102 million of the original $113 million contract, a savings of $11 million. It passed the House and Senate unanimously.
A Safe Homeless Services Courtyard will allow providers to better understand those seeking services, enabling them to direct those individuals to the most suitable organizations and care. Existing facilities will be utilized, services will be coordinated and those seeking help in a period of crisis will be better assisted and protected. Criminal activity will be reduced and public safety will increase.
Additional law enforcement officers, random drug sniffing canines and security cameras in and around the courtyard will be added to help individuals feel protected and safe.
The services provided by The Road Home and Catholic Community Services will continue to be available. These consist of shelter, case management, employment support, computer lab, temporary assistance, housing support, restrooms, showers, food services and laundry.
New proposed services to the courtyard include additional restrooms, handwashing stations, bike lockers; a shaded space to protect individuals from the elements; outreach workers for service engagement and referrals to housing programs; mental health, medical and detox treatment; and employment.
A new Coordinated Services card will allow access to the courtyard, provide an ID for those seeking assistance and allow service providers the ability to coordinate in a meaningful way. This card will not be an official state-issued ID and those without it will not be denied access to food or shelter.
Creating an area that is safe and provides a refuge for those individuals who have all too often, in the past, avoided shelters because of the criminal and drug activity, is the least we can do for the most vulnerable among us as they seek our help in overcoming their current challenges.
Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee
Soon after the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee meeting on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, concerns were raised with regard to whether or not a particular motion had passed. This motion had requested that the courts wait to make a major policy change until after the Legislature would have an opportunity to review it.
The motion had passed the House by a majority vote and tied in the Senate. Initially, the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (LRGC) ruled that the motion had failed, but upon review of the House Interim Rules, determined that the motion calling upon Utah’s Courts to delay implementation of the Public Safety Assessment tools, did actually pass.
In January, the Utah Judicial Council approved use of a bail-alternative process which establishes a public-safety assessment (PSA) score based on an algorithm. Nine risk factors, including criminal history, age, current charges and past charges are input into a system, which produces a score for consideration by a judge. Under the new rule, judges are permitted to use the PSA score instead of probable cause statements filed by the arresting officer, when deciding if a suspect should be released.
Article VIII, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution states, “The Legislature may amend the Rules of Procedure and Evidence adopted by the Supreme Court upon a vote of two-thirds of all members of both houses of the Legislature.”
This change is scheduled to take effect Nov. 13, although the Utah Legislature will not have had a chance to review the policy change prior to the next general session in January 2018.
The algorithm has generated controversy in the wake of its implementation, most recently in San Francisco, where opponents are blaming it for the murder of a professional film and TV scout during a petty robbery. The PSA tool had recommended that one of the man’s two assailants was a candidate for pretrial release, despite his being a convicted felon and a two-time parole violator who had also been arrested for gun possession only five days prior to the killing.
Service and Remembrance
Utah House members and various organizations chose to honor the memories of lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks by participating in Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance. More than 50 volunteers came together to serve 360 meals, prepare 1200 sack lunches, install 80 shelves, organize donations of art supplies and scrape rust off a fence at Catholic Community Services. This was just one of many service projects that took place to commemorate 9/11 Day in Utah and around the country.
New House Member
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes administered the Oath of Office to the newest member of the Utah House of Representatives, Rep. Cheryl Acton, on September 19, 2017.
“We’re excited to welcome Representative Acton to the House,” said Speaker Hughes. “She wasted no time getting started, in doing the work of the people. Rep. Acton attended committee meetings immediately after being sworn in.”
Rep. Acton was selected by the Salt Lake County Republican delegates to replace former Rep. Adam Gardiner who was elected Salt Lake County Recorder. Rep. Acton will represent House District 43.
“I am humbled and honored to represent the constituents of District 43,” said Rep. Acton. “I look forward to this opportunity.”
Oath of Allegiance
Excitement filled the Capitol Rotunda as 123 applicants from more than 20 countries pledged their loyalty to the United States of America through the Oath of Allegiance and became U.S. citizens on September 25, 2017.
“I very happy to finally be a citizen, I feel very blessed,” said new citizen Mayra Alejaudra.
“It is an honor to be here, and I really appreciate the opportunity the United States of America has given me,” said Mutabaruka Medard.
See pictures of the ceremony here.
In an unprecedented manner, state, local and federal leaders; law enforcement agencies; and public, private and non-profit organizations came together to address the lawlessness occurring in the Rio Grande district in Salt Lake City.
The 3-phase Operation Rio Grande plan is a result multi-jurisdictional collaboration to improve public safety and restore order in anticipation of the Road Home closing and new resource centers beginning operations in July of 2019. The purpose of this operation is to address the lawlessness in the Rio Grande area, bring criminal activity to a halt, get individuals treatment they might need and connect them with employment and housing opportunities.
Click here for updated information
Reps. Ken Ivory, Kim Coleman and Kay Christofferson joined delegates from across the nation in Phoenix, Arizona at the Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention on September 12-15, 2017. This assemblage is the first national convention of the states convened since 1861 when states met to discuss an amendment they hoped would avert civil war. The purpose of the convention is to recommend a set of rules to govern a convention convened under Article V of the U. S. Constitution to propose a balanced budget amendment.
The Article V process offers a state-driven way to propose constitutional amendments. Since actions of this kind have seldom been warranted, conducting a well-ordered convention under rules established by historical precedent in Phoenix will produce a model of what a potential Article V balanced budget convention may look like.
“It is an honor to join the Utah delegation this week in Arizona to prepare rules and plans for a possible convention of states authorized under Article V of the U.S. Constitution for States to rein in the out of control federal spending and overreach,” said Rep. Ivory, who was elected to serve as vice president of the convention.
With the national debt approaching the $20 trillion mark, representing a dangerous 105 percent of GDP, many Americans are calling for accountability in Washington through a Balanced Budget Amendment.
“Our Founders always intended the strength of our nation and most of the power to lie with the states,” said Rep. Coleman. “The U.S. Congress has proven over and over that it will not control the debt and deficit it creates. One tool the Founders gave states to counter this tendency was the ability to come together and make amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
The attempt to head off a sovereign debt crisis is not a new one. Ronald Reagan championed the cause of a balanced budget amendment in the 1980s. In his 1982 Address Before a Joint Session of the Indiana State Legislature, he stated, “The Federal Government has taken too much tax money from the people, too much authority from the States, and too much liberty with the Constitution.”
“A balanced-budget amendment will help bring an end to our country being driven further into debt at an astronomical pace,” said Christofferson. “Constitutional or statutory mandates require a majority of states around the country to balance their budgets each fiscal year; the Federal Government should be expected to do the same.”
Currently, 27 of the required 34 states have passed applications for an Article V balanced budget convention. Reps. Ivory, Coleman and Christofferson will help prepare the nation for an exercise of the states’ constitutional liberty, which will begin to restore the balance of power between state and federal governments and limit federal spending that is quickly becoming an overwhelming burden on the U.S. economy.
Legislative Update: July 2017
Addressing Lawlessness in Rio Grande
The crime and drug problems in the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City have only been growing, despite a greater state focus and massive new resources. The recent attacks and deaths in the area are evidence of increased lawlessness and chaos. Criminals are aggressively taking advantage of the vulnerable population, and sophisticated drug traffickers have moved in to exploit those who are already suffering. Every hour of every day is full of open drug dealing, assaults and crime with few repercussions.
Speaker Greg Hughes, in his remarks at the opening of the 2017 General Session, stated, “there are predators among those in Utah who are the most vulnerable and the most needy. There are people, wolves I would call them, who look to expand dependency, who look to multiply the ranks of those in life’s worst situations, and they profit from it.
“This drug dealing, this human trafficking, the crimes that are going on right now in this state and in our community, go on in broad daylight. They go on with very little consequence and I don’t think we know or appreciate that to the degree that it’s happening.”
These conditions of depravity and lawlessness don’t represent our community and cannot continue to exist. Speaker Hughes, along with Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and many other state and local leaders, have come together to ensure that new actions are taken, once and for all, to begin to turn the tide. A plan will soon be implemented that will allow us to not only identify who it is we’re dealing with, but to begin to seek appropriate help for those who are truly in need. Anonymity has only served to increase and protect the criminal population at the expense of those simply seeking shelter and assistance from the services that can be found in the area.
With the recent upsurge in criminal activity, there is a newfound sense of urgency and a willingness among public officials at all levels to work together to ensure that those who would victimize the most vulnerable are dealt with appropriately and those who need to be protected, are. As Speaker Hughes recently explained, the time to hold meetings and lament the growing problem is over. The time for action is now.
Groundbreaking Self-Driving Vehicles
The Transportation Interim Committee recently visited Utah State University to see the groundbreaking technology being developed for cars and trucks, and to hear from leading experts on autonomous control vehicles.
Autonomous features are already being integrated into vehicles to help drivers avoid or mitigate crashes. Such features include lane and brake assist, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a safe following distance.
Utah State University (USU) has a trailblazing Electric Vehicle and Roadway facility. It is the only one like it in the country. Similar research facilities are in development or operation in Sweden, France and South Korea. During the site visit, committee members observed the ‘Aggie Bus, USU’s fully electric 20-passenger bus, drive around the 1⁄4-mile test track at about 30 MPH.
The Aggie Bus is equipped with an autonomous control kit from Autonomous Solutions Inc., a spin-off of USU, and in-motion inductive wireless battery charging, developed at USU. This technology allows wireless power transfer from multiple concrete embedded primary pads/coils in the roadway to vehicle-mounted coils and battery systems to charge the vehicle while driving.
Researchers are aiming for fully electric vehicles, enabled with autonomous control and charged through electric roads. With these technologies, vehicles can charge while in-motion and drive without human control. Drivers also have the ability to take over at any time and operate on standard roads. Autonomous control is a key enabler, and is required to identify inductive power transfer coils embedded in the roadway and to align automatically under various road and weather conditions.
Additional technological development at USU is aiming to advance energy storage in electric vehicles by increasing battery lifetime 30 to 45 percent. The improvements can reduce the cost and weight of vehicle battery systems and improve residual value for second life applications.
Recommendation for New OLRGC Director
The Research and General Counsel Subcommittee recently announced the unanimous recommendation by the hiring subcommittee of the Legislature that John Q. Cannon assume leadership of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (OLRGC).
John Cannon served the Utah State Legislature for over two decades, first as an analyst and then as Managing Policy Analyst for OLRGC. As director, Cannon will succeed Michael Christensen, who has led the award-winning agency since 2000.
The six-member Legislative Research Subcommittee is equally balanced between both political parties and legislative chambers. Their recommendation will now go to the Legislative Management Committee for approval, then ratification by the full Utah State Legislature.
Until recently, public schools did not allow students to possess or use sunscreen while at school, though children were often outside during recess and other activities. In 2017, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 288, School Sunscreen Provision, that made it legal for kids to bring and use sunscreen at school.
On July 19, 125 people from 38 countries, such as the People’s Republic of China, Mexico and the Philippines, filled the Capitol Rotunda. Though these newly-minted Americans’ paths toward citizenship vary, they were all united as they, together, took an oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
“The American dream isn’t a guarantee of success, but a guarantee of opportunity,” said Attorney General Reyes during the ceremony.
“I can now proudly say ‘hello my fellow Americans,’” said Daniel Souza, a new citizen from Brazil. “We may have taken different paths, but we all get here, we all come with the same purpose – looking for a better life and for being so graciously welcomed by this great country. I’m grateful for the privilege that you and I now have now. May we all, current and new citizens, become one indivisible nation under God.”
Following the ceremony, on-site voter registration was available to encourage these new Americans to become actively engaged in local, state and national matters.
Read more here.
National Heatstroke Awareness Day is July 31, which is a good reminder that we need to be diligent about never leaving a child alone in a vehicle.
In 2011, to help increase awareness concerning the seriousness of this issue, the Utah Legislature made it illegal to leave a child under the age of 9 unattended in a motor vehicle.
Recent events in Utah involving two toddlers left in vehicles and the death of a K9 dog that died after being left in a sweltering patrol car for hours, serve as solemn reminders of just how dangerous summer temperatures can be.
One of the greatest challenges is that most people think this could never happen to them. However, sadly, this kind of tragedy occurs far too often. This year alone, 27 children in the U.S. have already died due to vehicular heatstroke, according to NoHeatStroke.org.
The Utah Health Department provides safety tips to help prevent these tragedies:
- Never leave your child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.
- Call 911 immediately if you see a child alone in a vehicle – no matter the outside temperature.
- Leave a purse, left shoe or cellphone in the back seat as a reminder, so you have to open the back door when leaving the vehicle.
- Plan to have a childcare provider contact you if your child does not show up for school by a certain time.
Did you know it was prohibited to bring sunscreen to school? Public schools didn’t allow students to possess and use sunscreen while at school though kids were outside during recess and certain field trips. During the 2017 General Session, Rep. Craig Hall sponsored legislation to correct this surprising wrong.
The Utah Legislature passed H.B. 288 School Sunscreen Provision that made it legal for kids to bring and use sunscreen at school. Read the bill here.