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.