August Interim Highlights


From Sen. Evan Vickers, R-District 28

 

Dear friends and neighbors,

 

It seems summer flies by faster and faster each year. It really has been a wonderful summer, filled with lots of family time, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip I got to take with my wife Chris to Scotland. It was truly a highlight of my life, the people of Scotland are as friendly and kind as you’ll meet anywhere, and of course the beauty of that country is breathtaking. One notable happening for me was getting to be there in person for the British Open. I hope you, too, have had a wonderful, memorable summer filled with great memories.

 

School is back in session for our youth, and SUU starts school officially next week, but there’s rarely a break in meetings for legislators, as we have what are called monthly interim meetings. (Interim meetings are work meetings that help prepare us for the Legislative session. The Legislative session is held January-March every year.) For August, the Utah Legislature had our appropriations subcommittee meetings, in addition to our normal interim meetings. The appropriations meetings are intended to help us better understand how our budget is being used so we can make informed decisions during the session when we pass the new budget.

 

Here are some highlights from our meetings this month:

 

School Accountability 

During the 2017 General Legislative Session, we passed SB 220, Student Assessment and School Accountability Amendments. The bill will change the way we approach ranking a Utah school with an overall “grade,” and allows for the opportunity to look into an alternative to SAGE testing in high school. Due to the changing of the school’s overall “grade,” which will be a benchmark approach rather than a comparative approach, no overall school grade will be issued this year for schools. Reports on school progress will still be released, but no official letter grade will be assigned to each school. Additionally, this bill created a dashboard view for parents to offer easier access to data about student growth and achievement. 

 

Medical Marijuana Implementation

This year Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative, is asking voters to weigh in on an expansive medical marijuana initiative that seeks to allow for more widespread use of medical marijuana than currently permitted in the state. If this initiative passes, it will mean massive changes in our state just to begin to implement, and, as such, the Legislature is currently studying out the ramifications of implementation if it happens to pass. The reality is there are a number of items in this initiative that, if passed, would create significant challenges to the state agencies, especially to law enforcement and agriculture. Other problems: because marijuana is still a federally-illegal Schedule 1 Drug due to its hallucinogenic and addictive properties, pharmacies can’t distribute it, even for medical purposes, and banks cannot be involved in the transactions, making it a largely cash-based industry. The initiative allows for certain patients to grow their own marijuana plants, with no federal, state, county, or city oversight. It’s critical that these and the many other attendant issues related to this initiative be heavily considered before November.  To help us consider these and other possible issues, seven different agencies presented to the Health and Human Services Commission this month. 

 

Identification Request Amendments

Under our current system, when a law enforcement officer approaches a suspicious person they may ask for their name and address to help them look up information and background on the individual. Law enforcement feels that the address is not always particularly useful, as people often move and forget to update their information with the state, and so would like to see legislation in the coming year that would allow them to additionally ask for their date of birth, so they have more accurate information about criminal history. 

 

Annual Report on Sexual Assault Kits

In response to a severe backlog of sexual assault kits, the Legislature passed HB 200, Sexual Assault Kit Testing Amendments during the 2017 General Legislative session. The bill requires that an annual report be given on the processing of sexual assault kits. The bill also requires that a timeline to process these kits be created and implemented. The Utah Bureau of Forensic Services has classified sexual assault kits in three categories: first priority, which has a timeline of 30 days to be processed; second priority, which has a timeline of 60 days; and third priority, which has a processing timeline of 180 days. From July 2017 through June 30, 2018, they have tested and completed 373 sexual assault kits, while recruiting, training, and receiving new analysts. However, as of July 31, 2018, the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services has a backlog of 1,880 sexual assault cases. HB 200 requested that 17 new forensic scientist positions be created and provided funding for them. Currently nine out of the requested 17 have been filled and funding for the remaining eight positions is still needed. 

 

Earned Income Tax Credit

During the 2018 session, the Legislature considered HB 57, Utah Intergenerational Poverty Work and Self-Sufficiency Tax Credit, which passed in both the House and Senate but was not funded. Funding has been the main obstacle for this initiative in past years. Because of the large price tag, work is being done to reduce the cost to around $6 million, in comparison to the $25 million from last session. The benefit of the Earned Income Tax Credit is that it specifically incentivizes work. The Federal Earned Income Tax Credit is a federal anti-poverty tax credit designed to supplement the earnings of low-income workers and work on the state credit is being initiated through Utah’s Intergenerational Poverty Initiative. 

 

What do you think? I welcome your comments, questions, and concerns. Please reach out to me anytime at the contact information below. It’s an honor to serve you in this position, and I thank you for your trust in me. Please reach out to me anytime at evickers@le.utah.gov, or 435-817-5565.

Photo: Sen. Vickers and his granddaughter Brooklyn.

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