Week in Review: March 6-10, 2017

Week in Review: March 6-10, 2017

Legislative Update: Week #7

HB 442, Alcohol 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.

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.

Increasing Education Funding

The Legislature has determined to significantly increase education funding this year. A total of 57.5 percent of new revenue will go toward public education, the largest share in recent memory, and Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) will see a 4 percent increase. Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind will also receive a much-needed new campus in Utah County.

The Security Behind the Scenes

There are many incredible men and women frantically working to keep the Utah House of Representatives running smoothly throughout the short, seven-week session. One such group is known as the Green Coats. They are led by the Sergeant-at-Arms, Mike Mitchell. This group of 15 men are responsible for security in our lobbies, galleries and committee rooms. KUTV on Channel 2 spotlighted the Green Coats in a recent news story . Watch it here.

A Tribute to Utah’s Fallen Soldiers

The House of Representatives had the privilege of honoring Utah’s fallen soldiers and their families on the House floor. Rep. Justin Fawson, who served in the National Guard for almost 10 years, paid tribute to these soldiers and their families in a moving speech. Rep. Fawson then asked for a moment of silence to remember these brave men and women.