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.