By Rep. John R. Westwood (R-Cedar City)
Increasing Safety in Schools
For the past several months, the Utah Safe Schools Commission reviewed policies and programs directed at increasing safety in Utah schools. Dialog among elected officials, stakeholders, parents, teachers, community members and students helped develop solutions that will increase safety and protect children across the state.
Reps. Ray Ward, Steve Handy and members of the Commission released a report containing recommendations on improving school safety during a press conference on June 20. It ranked suggestions in three tiers.
Tier 1 contained recommendations that had a strong consensus among members of the Commission, as well as a sentiment that there would be community support. The Commission would like these suggestions implemented as quickly as possible, possibly through a special session. Tier 2 suggestions had majority support from the Commission, though not a consensus, believing these items worth consideration with additional research. Tier 3 items had the lowest level of support and were unable to garner a majority.
The Education Interim Committee was briefed on the commission recommendations during June interim.
Firework season is fast approaching, bringing with it many celebrations and concerns. During the 2018 session, bipartisan legislation to address these issues passed the Utah Legislature and was signed into law. HB 38, Fireworks Restrictions, is the result of extensive discussion with law enforcement, firefighters, fireworks retailers and manufacturers, citizens and local elected officials.
Here are some highlights of the new law:
- Fireworks will now be permitted July 2-5 and 22-25, rather than July 1-7 and 23-27.
- Fireworks may be purchased June 24-July 25, down from June 23-July 27.
- Stronger penalties will be enforced for using fireworks outside of permitted dates, times and locations, including up to a $1,000 fine.
- Clarity and increased flexibility are provided to local governments and the state forester to prohibit the discharge of fireworks due to hazardous environmental conditions.
- Local governments and the state forester are required to create and provide maps showing where fireworks are prohibited so it is easier for the public to understand restrictions and penalties.
- Retailers are required to display maps showing these restricted areas, and signs that indicate legal dates and times, as well as penalties for violations.
- Civil liability is increased for negligently, recklessly or intentionally causing a fire with fireworks, potentially including any damages caused by the fire and any costs of suppressing it.
Utah Honor Flight
Veterans are some of our nation’s greatest heroes, serving selflessly during times of war. We owe an immeasurable debt to those who have served in harm’s way to defend the freedoms we enjoy every day.
Recently, members of the Utah House of Representatives raised over $13,000 for the Utah Honor Flight program, which sends veterans to our nation’s capital to tour war memorials built in memory of those wars and the individuals who fought. The trip for some veterans may be the only opportunity they have to visit the memorials dedicated to their service, as well as pay their respects to friends lost in combat. Veterans who participate in the Honor Flight program do so at no cost.
Utah Honor Flight Chairman Mike Turner and U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Ron Thorn visited the Republican caucus to share information about the program during the 2018 session. We express our deepest gratitude to all veterans who have honorably served our country and in doing so, safeguarded our liberty. We thank them for their service, sacrifice and dedication.
White House Visit
All members of the Utah Legislature were invited to the White House on Friday, June 22. The purpose of the bipartisan meeting was to improve collaboration among local, state and federal agencies.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke to Utah officials about how the current administration is working to empower states to solve problems closest to the people.
Legislators provided input regarding issues western states are facing and were connected with staff at the White House and federal agencies who can assist in navigating the federal government with issues important to Utah.
It was an excellent opportunity for our public officials to be able to discuss and share ideas with others, at all levels of government, to support the success of Utahns.
What is a ballot initiative?
Most laws go through the legislative process, which includes drafting a bill, holding a committee hearing, having a vote in the House or Senate chamber, repeating the process in the other chamber and then being signed by the governor. A ballot initiative is another way to create laws, where private citizens propose an initiative that they would like to see become law.
The initiative is reviewed by the lieutenant governor to make sure it is constitutional, as well as to determine if there are any costs to the state. For instance, does it spend or collect public funds? The initiative’s sponsor must hold seven public meetings throughout the state to collect public input, then the official language is presented to voters. Once this point is reached, no further changes may be made to the text.
The sponsors of the initiative must collect at least 113,143 signatures from registered voters, meeting specific thresholds for 26 of the 29 state senate districts throughout the state.
Citizen involvement is an important part of our system; however, negative consequences can occur when there is not a proper, deliberative vetting process, especially when dealing with such complex issues as controlled substances and the state budget. Getting it wrong could have severely negative ramifications for all Utahns.
This November, Utah voters will be deciding whether or not to support three ballot initiatives that raise significant concerns – Utah Medical Cannabis Act, Utah Independent Redistricting Commission and Standards Act, and Utah Decides Healthcare Act.
Under Utah statue, licensed establishments such as restaurants and bars can be held liable for serving alcohol to individuals who cause death or injury as a result of their intoxication. Currently, juries award damages based on the perceived contribution of each party involved. The Business and Labor Interim Committee was briefed this month on possible legislation that would put more blame on the actions of the drinker rather than the bar or restaurant, as long as the alcohol is served within the law. This proposal would also look into whether an establishment that follows the law and acts responsibly should even be held liable at all. Listen to the committee discussion here.