Week in Review – February 22-26, 2016

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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

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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 endeavors51 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. 52During 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

54Copper 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.