Neatly summarizing the just-concluded 2016 session of the Utah Legislature is nearly as challenging as the 45-day crucible itself. Collectively, thousands of hours have been spent hearing, sifting, debating and refining hundreds of bills to create new law and determine how best to spend taxpayer monies. As with all legislative endeavors, funding requests easily swamped available dollars and the greatest challenge was finding a balance that will serve well the residents of our state.
Perhaps leading the win column is the resolution of a number of issues surrounding justice reinvestment, homelessness and Medicaid expansion. After months of discussion and negotiation, both the House and Senate have agreed upon a new, uniquely Utah solution to address all of these difficult issues in a more streamlined manner that better utilizes resources, and allows the state to budget according to funds. Many business, community and advocacy groups are supportive of this legislation.
Funding for Utah’s school children and college students once more dominates the $14.5 billion budget for 2016. The total increase for both higher and public education is over $445 million – over $20 million more than originally sought by the governor.
The legislature is appropriating $94 million to accommodate growth for a projected 9,700 new public school students this fall, as well as a nearly $74 million expenditure representing a 3% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, (WPU). Monies headed to public education also include $20.4 million in ongoing funding for Charter School equalization and $15 million, $10 million of that ongoing, targeted to improve technology in our schools.
Construction on Utah’s college and university campuses is another big-ticket budgetary item, including more than $113 million approved for new buildings at Utah State and Utah Valley Universities and the West Point campus of Salt Lake Community College.
Medicaid / Homelessness / JRI
Homelessness, justice reform and Medicaid were all addressed this year in a comprehensive fashion that will allow the state to do more for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, while also reforming our justice system. The Medicaid expansion by House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, HB437, will provide a program of coverage through an expansion of traditional Medicaid that will preserve services and benefits to the core group of 300,000 current Medicaid recipients, including children and disabled adults.
Newly-covered populations will include the chronically homeless, individuals involved in the justice system and those in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment. A new data system will also be implemented to allow the state to align programs and track and share data to more efficiently use resources.
The 2016 budget also fully funds consensus Medicaid growth estimates of over $40 million.
Drug Fraud Prevention / Treatment Center Reform
As the need for substance abuse and mental health treatment escalates, it is incumbent upon the state to ensure that limited dollars are being used appropriately and those seeking help are actually receiving it.
The work of Rep. Eric Hutchings, House sponsor of SB123 and HB259, will go a long way in helping to detect and weed out fraud and abuse surrounding these types of facilities. Those seeking services, as well as those paying for services, will have greater assurance that suitable treatments are being administered, and in an appropriate manner.
State Employee Compensation
Continuing to recognize the importance of the state’s highly trained work force, lawmakers approved a 2 percent raise for state employees with an additional 1 percent designated to cover health insurance increases.
Water / Infrastructure
The Legislature took action this year to look ahead and plan for future needs by passing House sponsor Rep. Lee Perry’s SB80. It provides appropriations from the Transportation Fund to be deposited into the Transportation Investment Fund and the Water Infrastructure Restricted Account to pay for future water needs. According to UDOT no currently programmed projects will be impacted, and current funding for the Transportation Fund will be maintained.
Rep. Timothy Hawkes was the House sponsor of SB251, which funds the establishment of criteria for better water data and reporting to allow for the creation of new water conservation targets. As our desert state continues to expand, along with our water needs, we must prepare for the future as we look for solutions that allow us to sustain our present trajectory of growth and prosperity.
Legislative Update: Week #7
2016 Education Highlights
As always, education was one of the top legislative priorities this year and dominated much of the discussion, as well as the funding. A number of bills to improve our public education system were considered and are well on their way to being signed by the governor.
They include HB 277, sponsored by Rep. John Knotwell, establishes a framework for the implementation of technology in our public school instruction. Within this framework, any Local Education Agency, or LEA, would be eligible to apply for a grant to fund technology-based programs in their schools. These grants are available for those who want them, but no districts will be required to implement new technology solutions and no programs are prescribed. This approach is wholly LEA-driven and includes benchmarks for measuring success and ensuring accountability.
HB 42, sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, provides grants for early childhood programs for at-risk children. It will support certain kindergarten student academic improvement programs and allow for the use of early interactive reading software for some young students. Early childhood education has been shown to play an important role in preparing students for school and for achieving long-term success.
Two bills, HB 182 and HB 379, both sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson, simplify various aspects of public education/higher education. HB 182 creates a single, statewide application for concurrent enrollment, allows for higher education supervision of teachers in the program and implements concurrent enrollment for some dual immersion courses. HB 379 streamlines the process for Utah schools of offering online, distance education programs throughout the United States.
Rep. Val Peterson is also sponsoring HB 45, which works to ensure that the STEM Action Center aligns schools with the needs of business and industry in the state and makes changes to the board that will better provide that guidance. It also allows for consideration of STEM education endorsements when determining teacher salaries.
Education will likely see a total new funding package of more than $440 million – $18 million more than originally recommended by the governor. Estimates include:
- $94 million appropriated to public education for growth to fund an estimated 9,700 new students this fall;
- 3% increase, nearly $74 million, in Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU)
- $20.4 million in ongoing funding for equalization
- $15 million to improve technology in the schools
Higher education is also front and center in the 2016 budget, receiving $23.8 million for compensation increases for instructors. This money is meant to help offset potential tuition increases based on recommendations from the various public universities and colleges across the state.
Campus building construction is another big-ticket item, featuring:
- $41.5 million for a Technology Education Center at Salt Lake Community College’s West Point campus
- $39 million commitment for a new biological sciences building at Utah State University
- $33 million commitment for a new performing arts center at Utah Valley University
House Honors Colonel Walter Travis Stewart
March 3, the Utah House of Representatives honored the family of Colonel Walter Travis Stewart for his service to our country. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force during WWII, served 32 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Stewart was born in Benjamin, Utah on November 8, 1917 and passed away peacefully on January 9 surrounded by his family. All those in attendance were touched to learn of his life, courage, sacrifice and honor.
Girl Scouts of America
This week we received a visit from some of our local Utah Girl Scouts and were able to recognize them on the floor of the House on the afternoon of March 3.
The mission of the Girl Scouts of America is to help every girl discover her strengths, passions and talents as she works to build her confidence and character. The organization serves 1.9 million girls and relies on the services of 800,000 adult volunteers. We enjoyed their visit to the Hill — especially the cookies — and hope they had a great experience.
Legislative Update: Week #6
H.B. 437 Health Care Revisions
After months of discussions and negotiations, Rep. Jim Dunnigan has released his new, uniquely Utah solution to help those at the bottom of the healthcare coverage gap. Many business, community and advocacy groups are supportive of this proposed legislation.
H.B. 437 will provide a program of coverage through an expansion of traditional Medicaid for those most in need of assistance who don’t qualify at this time. It will allow the state to budget according to available funds in order to preserve services and benefits to the core group of 300,000 current Medicaid recipients, including children and disabled adults. Hospitals, as the main beneficiaries of Medicaid reimbursements, have agreed to pay 45 percent of the state’s costs, up to $13.6 million.
Those who begin work while receiving coverage will continue to receive benefits for a guaranteed 12-month transition period, at which time a determination will be made regarding further eligibility. The program will be administered through the Accountable Care Organizations already in place to administer Medicaid.
The newly-covered populations will include the chronically homeless, individuals involved in the justice system and those in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Homelessness is growing throughout Utah, and a number of proposed bills this year would assist cities and counties in better dealing with it in a more comprehensive way. A part of this would include helping people receive medical care to treat problems that are impeding their ability to take care of themselves, including mental health and substance abuse issues.
Last year, Rep. Eric Hutchings sponsored H.B. 348 to begin to implement justice system reforms (JRI) and make treatment options more available outside of incarceration. In some cases, substance abuse problems and unattended mental health needs are the driving factor in involvement in the criminal justice system and for those individuals, money and resources are better spent on dealing with the underlying challenges, rather than the manifestation of them. This bill would make that easier to do, and improve lives in the process.
This expansion under the current Medicaid program allows the state to avoid many of the pitfalls that have been a part of most previous proposals. With H.B. 437, the state is in control of costs and can budget each year to the funds available; the expansion groups will not be prioritized over children and the disabled in the traditional Medicaid population. This proposed legislation works with other ongoing initiatives in addressing existing problems and utilizes resources in a more efficient manner, which should lead to better outcomes for individuals and cost savings for the state.
House tribute to families of fallen soldier
On Feb 28, 2016 the Utah House paid tribute to families of fallen Utah soldiers. “We are committed to remembering that the preservation of our liberty comes at a price, and that price is often paid by young men and women who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives of innocent people in lands far from home,” a clerk read from the official citation in part.
Rep. Fawson, who served in the military and was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, said “I wish to comfort those who still mourn, to give light to those whose pathways may be dark, to offer hope to all who look forward to a brighter day, to echo the voice of those who are no longer with us, and to express love.”
“As your lawmakers and your representatives, you need to know that we are here and that we are your voice,” said Speaker Hughes.
China’s delegation visit
China’s Liaoning Province delegation visited the Capitol Thursday, February 25. During their visit the Utah Legislature adopted concurrent resolution SCR17, which was sponsored by House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, that celebrates and renews the state’s unique 10-year state-to-province relationship with its Chinese counterpart.
The resolution was signed by Speaker Hughes, President Niederhauser and Governor Herbert during a ceremony in the Gold Room. The purpose of the Liaoning delegation’s visit was to initiate new business, trade, educational and cultural opportunities and partnerships with Utah.
“In recent years, China has emerged as an economic powerhouse and has strongly signaled that it has no intentions of relinquishing this new role,” said House Speaker Hughes. “Many Utahns will benefit from the deepening partnership between Utah and Liaoning Province in tourism, trade, science and education that was fostered by this visit.”
Utah Aerospace Day
The Utah chapter of the Aerospace States Association (ASA) was announced February 26 at the State Capitol. The Director of Government Operations for Boeing, Steven Hendrickson, read a declaration from Governor Herbert that established Feb. 26 as Utah Aerospace Day. Industry partners had exhibits in the Capitol that included live demonstrations of manned and unmanned aerial systems in various locations across Utah, as well as exhibits that showcased Utah’s aerospace assets.
Legislative Update: Week #5
Revised Revenue Numbers
The House of Representatives, Senate and the Governor’s Office announced the final consensus revenue forecast numbers for the 2016 General Session on February 22.
After making adjustments related to increased income tax, lower severance tax and other revenue adjustments, the new consensus estimates provide $400 million for additional ongoing appropriations, $20 million higher than the December estimates. In addition, $150 million is available for one-time appropriations, $30 million lower than December estimates.
“The Utah Legislature has some of the best fiscal analysts of any state in the country,” said Speaker Greg Hughes. “We do estimates in December and February to closely monitor the changes in the economy and our analysts respond accordingly. These combined revenue estimates have remained largely unchanged and give us the framework for completing our budget process.”
Utah’s combined General Fund and Education Fund revenue estimates remain largely unchanged from December, the combined effect of healthy increases in individual income taxes, reductions in oil and gas-related taxes, and an abundance of caution concerning the direction of markets. State economists tend to take a cautious approach to revenue estimating, an approach that has served the state well in the past. Even given this approach, economists expect revenue will increase 4.5% year-over-year in the coming year.
State economists project economic growth will be stronger than expected in the fiscal year that begins July 1 (FY 2017), increasing ongoing revenue estimates by $20 million. This increased estimate is driven primarily by healthy increases in household incomes. The State is estimated to $400 million in new ongoing revenue to allocate this General Session
The House, Senate and Governor’s Office joint press release can be found here.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment
Rep. Eric Hutchings is the House sponsor a couple of bills that would address substance abuse and mental health treatment and licensing issues in S.B. 123 and H.B. 259. For a number of reasons, including the expansion of health insurance coverage, the need for these types of treatment has been escalating throughout the United States, including Utah, over the past number of years.
As the demand for programs grows and the number of dollars available for treatment fails to keep pace with that growth, it is incumbent upon the state to ensure that funds are being utilized in the proper way to effectively treat those they’re meant to treat. This is a concern for both public and private payers.
S.B. 123 permits a local government to request that the Office of Licensing for the Department of Human Services notify that local government of any new human services program license applications within their local jurisdiction. In doing this, a local governmental entity will be more aware of the programs administered within their community and thus, better able to monitor where necessary.
H.B. 259 requires that rules be made to define what constitutes an outpatient treatment program and to develop minimum standards for licensed providers of substance abuse and mental health services. In order to address existing problems, the bill also requires the establishment of a procedure for insurer access to licensee records regarding services or supplies billed to the insurer, and to set in place procedures for the investigation and processing of complaints against licensees.
The passage of these two bills will lead to greater assurance for those seeking services, as well as those paying, that suitable treatments are being administered in an appropriate manner and that limited healthcare dollars are being protected.
Rep. Love Addresses House
Congresswoman Mia Love made her annual address to the Utah Legislature on Monday, February 22. During her visit, she described how the Utah Constitution is helping guide her policymaking endeavors in the U.S. House of Representatives. During her speech to the Utah House, she thanked legislators for a good, common-sense approach to legislation by limiting bills to one subject at a time as Utah lawmakers do. She acknowledged how difficult it is to implement that approach in Congress. Rep. Love went on to say, “it takes a lot of courage to do what you do. It takes a lot of courage to be able to stand on your own and make something happen. I admire you…you have been an example to me.” The Utah House of Representatives appreciates Congresswoman Love’s time and kind words. Click here to watch her remarks (begins at 12 mins).
Rep. Jason Chaffetz Joins Medical Marijuana Debate
On Friday February 19, Congressman Jason Chaffetz made his annual report to the Utah Legislature. During his visit he addressed the medical marijuana debate, saying he would like to remove federal prohibitions on the medical use of cannabidiol, an extract believed to fight against seizures that is low in the hallucinogenic chemical, THC. Rep. Chaffetz voiced his concerns related to recreational use and said he hopes to be able to provide more clarity from the federal perspective and allow for a legally transparent way that those who have a medical need for treatment can get it. Click here to watch his remarks (begins at 19 mins).
Copper Hills HS Students Perform Cabinet Battle
Copper Hills High School students, Ethan Bastian and Noah Coleman, performed Cabinet Battle for Speaker Hughes and the House Education Committee Monday, February 22. Rep. Ivory has a resolution, H.C.R. 12, that honors composer Lin-Manuel Miranda for his contributions to art and civics education through his composition of the critically-acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, which captivated a worldwide audience. Click here to watch the performance.
Legislative Update: Week #4
Two bills this year look to make modifications to the the state’s beekeeping provisions.
H.B. 115, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, amends the Utah Bee Inspection Act by making registration with the state optional, and thus making inspections of hives optional. According to Roberts, the law requiring registration is not currently enforced and changing the language of the statute would simply put it in line with common practice. It would also prohibit a municipality from banning beekeeping.
H.B. 315, by Rep. Kay McIff, makes a number of changes to the same Bee Inspection Act to answer some of these concerns. It states that all beekeepers and apiaries—any place where one or more colonies of bees are located—must be registered with the state, along with verification of location, and that they be monitored to prevent disease, avoid excessive concentration and foster healthy hives. New commercial apiaries may not be situated within a two-mile radius of an already-registered commercial location and must consist of at least 10 colonies of bees. It also spells out requirements for moving an apiary and the process for receiving authorization to do so.
Many beekeepers, particularly those who function commercially, are very concerned about the potential for the spread of disease and inability of hives to effectively produce honey if areas become overpopulated with bees.
Both bills are still in committee.
School Funding Amendments
The 2015 Legislature took a major step toward equity in public education by bringing up districts with a lower property tax base in line with others around the state having a much higher property tax base, with the passage of S.B. 97. This legislation sought to make the school funding formula more fair and provide greater opportunity for all children, wherever they might live throughout the State of Utah. Charter schools, though, were left out of that equalization.
Last year the Legislature established the Charter School Funding Task Force to look at this issue and investigate possible solutions. The task force was given the responsibility of studying charter school funding provisions and the method for determining their enrollment for funding purposes.
The culmination of the research and review of the task force has come in the form of S.B. 38, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Steve Eliason. It includes a number of the task force recommendations to ensure that charter schools students are funded on par with traditional public school students.
The State of Utah is constitutionally mandated to provide a free education for all of its children, and it has chosen to do so through both traditional and charter schools. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to ensure that all of these students are given an equal opportunity for success.
Honoring Officers Barney and Richey
On Tuesday, February 16 the Utah House of Representatives paid tribute to Officer Douglas S. Barney who was tragically killed in the line of duty. We also honored Unified Police Officer Jon Richey, injured in the same incident, for his many years of service.
Officer Douglas S. Barney was killed on January 17, 2016. He began his 18-year law enforcement career as a Corrections Officer with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office before being hired a year later as a Deputy Sheriff. In 2005, Officer Barney went to work for the Taylorsville Police Department where he served as a school resource officer at Eisenhower Junior High. In 2012 he joined the Unified Police Department and was assigned to the Holladay Precinct, working patrol in Holladay City.
Officer Barney was a devoted husband and father who loved spending time with his family, teaching his three children about gun safety and helping them develop an appreciation for cars. Utah lost one of its finest citizens, and we owe a debt of gratitude to him for his service.
Officer Richey began his 32-year law enforcement career with the West Jordan Police Department where worked as a patrol officer before spending several years in the K-9 unit. He was then recruited by Salt Lake City Police Department and remained there for the next 19 years. After retiring in 2007, Officer Richey joined the Unified Police Department and earlier this year he returned to patrol in the Holladay Precinct, where he is currently employed.
On January 17, 2016, Officer Richey sustained gunshot wounds during an exchange of gunfire with a suspect while responding to a call for assistance. That incident subsequently led to the shooting of fellow Officer Barney. We wish Officer Richey a speedy and full recovery and sincerely thank him for his devoted and professional service to our communities.
Multicultural Youth Leadership Day at the Capitol
The annual Multicultural Youth Leadership Day at the Capitol was held on Wednesday, February 16, 2016. The Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs (MCA) invited 8th and 9th grade students to visit during the legislative session in order to give them an opportunity to engage in the process, as well as emphasize the importance of becoming educated and informed citizens. It was a great experience for the students and educators involved and we were happy to have them visit.
Legislative Update: Week #3
Non-Compete Agreements, H.B. 251
Rep. Mike Schultz is running a bill this year, H.B. 251, that would prohibit employers from the use of non-compete agreements but wouldn’t affect their ability to protect proprietary information. If a company is concerned about protecting intellectual property and trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements, trademarks and other safeguards are widely available and can be tailored to the specifics of the employment.
Non-compete agreements have been shown to impede the formation of startups, hamper business expansion and stifle worker productivity. This cycle is especially damaging in fields that require innovation and collaboration to drive new growth and tend to ultimately hurt the employee, the company and the economy. Venture capital is negatively impacted by these laws, as in those states with strong enforcement, investments generate fewer patents, fewer new firms and less job growth.
Constraining the development of new products and new ideas leads to a less dynamic economy, especially in the fast-changing technology sector. The most innovative inventors tend to migrate to states without strong enforcement of non-compete contracts, where the technology sector is generally more robust, and a growing body of evidence demonstrates that innovation, productivity, and economic growth are all greater in regions where local laws don’t allow non-compete agreements.
The chilling effect of these agreements can reach deep into our labor markets and is impacting even low-skilled workers with no access to proprietary information. A few years ago it was widely reported that Jimmy John’s required employees — even cashiers and sandwich makers — to sign non-competes prohibiting them from investing in or working for businesses selling sandwiches within three miles of any Jimmy John’s.
Stories abound of drivers, hairstylists, warehouse workers and even the occasional janitor signing non-compete agreements that make it virtually impossible for them to make a living in their field if they quit or were fired.
The bottom line is that the evidence is quite clear that non-competes hamper the ability of workers to seek new employment opportunities and in the long run, limit new development and growth. The consequences include lower salaries and lost or unused skills, oftentimes high-tech skills, that could otherwise strengthen the workforce, the vitality of the market and the economy.
Property Tax Assessment Amount Amendments, S.B. 112
S.B. 112, sponsored by Rep. Daniel McCay and Sen. Howard Stephenson makes some changes to appeals of property tax valuations by placing the burden of proof on the taxing authority if a property owner appeals and consequently, the assessor increases the assessed value of the property.
When an individual seeks to appeal a property tax valuation, currently the assessor can turn around and come back with an even higher assessment. This bill would require that if the assessor “asserts that the fair market value of the assessed property is greater than the value originally assessed” for that calendar year, the burden of proof is on the assessor, rather than the property owner.
This will allow property owners to appeal what they may feel are unfair assessments without fear of unjustified, inflated valuations in retaliation.
Arts Day on the Hill
The fifth annual Arts Day on the Hill, presented by the Utah Arts Council Board of Directors, the Utah Cultural Alliance and Friends of Art Works for Kids, was held on February 9, 2016. Arts Day is a great opportunity for individuals and organizations in the arts community to meet and talk with their state senators and representatives about the work they do throughout our state, and we were thrilled to welcome them to the Capitol this week.