Legislative Report Week 6
By Sen. Evan Vickers
This year’s session is quickly coming to a close. The budget should be finalized this week, then the task of dealing with a few hundred bills is left before us. It has been a great session and I have very much enjoyed being an integral part of the budget process. I sincerely appreciate the input from many of you as you have reached out to me on various issues. There are still some very important items that will need to be discussed throughout the year, including school safety, and I will update you as those discussions take place.
Earned Income Tax Credit
Intergenerational poverty is growing concern for the state. Children from low income families have lower life expectancy, greater health problems, and lower educational attainment. This happens in large part because of the environment in which children are raised. If a child does not have access to proper nutrition and sufficient parental care, the effects can be devastating, and in some cases, irreversible. This bill, HB51, creates a tax credit for low income individuals and families. The eligibility for the tax credit is tied to the Federal Tax Credit. If a person is eligible for a Federal Earned Income Tax Credit, they can be eligible for state tax credit. A family with an annual income of $25,000 can receive an average tax credit of $240. Though it might not seem like much, lower income families can make a few hundred dollars go a long way. Larger families, who have been disadvantaged by recent federal tax changes, will not be penalized under this new system because of the size of their family. This bill has passed the House and passed its first reading in the Senate. If a state tax reform package is put together this session, then HB51 could possibly be part of that package. Rep. John Westwood is the House sponsor and I am the Senate sponsor on this bill.
Resolution Honoring Senator Orrin Hatch
Senator Orrin Hatch has served the state of Utah for over 40 years as a U.S. Senator. Now that he is retiring from the U.S. Senate, our State Senate passed a resolution, SCR 13, to honor Senator Hatch for the good work he has done on behalf of our state. As part of the resolution, February 21, 2018 was designated as Orrin Hatch Day. This resolution gave many legislators a chance to share the many personal and political stories and memories they’ve had working with Senator Hatch.
Throughout the session, Senator Howard Stephenson’s bill, SB154 Prohibition of Law Enforcement Quotas, has received quite a bit of attention. Many citizens, having been on the wrong end of a citation, have strong feelings about the concept of police quotas. But a couple of questions prompted some changes to the bill. Will the bill change the way law enforcement agencies collect data, and will the agencies still be able to incentivize stops or engagement with the public? Senator Stephenson realized that law enforcement’s most important role is in engagement with the populous. After changes, the bill passed on the Senate floor on a vote of 23-2-4 and will now move to the House for consideration.
Resolution in Support of a New National Park in Escalante
The Senate considered a resolution (SCR8) declaring Utah’s support for Congressman Stewart’s effort to create the Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve, and the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyons National Monuments. This bill passed the Senate and will be heard in the House next.
Education Open Enrollment
Senator Daniel Hemmert is sponsoring a bill (SB138) to allow school districts to decline to enroll students who do not live within the district’s boundaries, if the enrollment of the student would jeopardize the efficient use of resources, or disrupt the school’s comprehensive program. School districts already possessed the ability to do this for elementary schools. This bill extends this discretion to the high school level. SB138 has passed the Senate and will be heard in the House next.
For the last four years, we have considered legislation that would allow for the use of marijuana products for medical purposes. With the exception of CBD oil use for epileptic children, no marijuana bills have passed successfully through the Legislature. This year, the use of medical marijuana is divided into two main bills. HB 197 would permit the growth of marijuana in the state and charge the Department of Agriculture with overseeing the growing. HB 195 established “right to try” legislation that would permit patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes if it is recommended by a doctor. These bills originated in the House and narrowly passed. They were recently debated and passed coming out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. These bills will be considered on the Senate floor for second and third reading for passage.
Possibly the most controversial bill passed during the 2017 legislative session was Representative Norman Thurston’s HB155 Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions, which changes Utah’s blood-alcohol limit for DUIs to .05. Though the law has yet to take effect, advocacy groups have continued to push for changes or repeal. Senator Jim Dabakis presented his bill, SB210 Intoxicated Driving Limit Changes on Thursday in the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee. Senator Dabakis said that the bill is very simple and leaves the new blood-alcohol law in place but for one small change, that being it will not become effective until three other states accept the .05 blood-alcohol limit.
In presenting the bill, Senator Dabakis mentioned that he had two mimosas with breakfast and took a breathalyzer test which showed his blood alcohol content was at .05. He said that he felt perfectly fine. Dabakis said that the idea behind the bill is that there is no proof that the new law is going to save lives and Utah should not lead the way until there is evidence that shows it will saves lives. Members of the public spoke for and against the bill and the committee ended up tabling the bill on a 3-2 vote which means it will not pass this session.
Food Truck Regulation Amendments
Last year, Senator Deidre Henderson led an effort to help food truck owners navigate the confusing and sometimes discriminatory patchwork of local city food truck ordinances. This bill, (SB167), is a continuation of this effort. It prevents a city from limiting a food truck to a certain amount of days in their city. It also prohibits a city from requiring food trucks to furnish a site plan to the city. For food trucks that are operated with permission on private property, SB167 prohibits a city from limiting the amount of days a food truck can sell food on that property and prohibits a city from requiring a food truck owner to submit to the city written permission from the property owner. This bill has passed the Senate and will be heard in the House.
Early Literacy Program
Did you know that a child that is not at grade reading level by third grade is four times more likely to not graduate from high school? The data is clear, attaining grade level reading is essential for the future of our students. Currently, there is a solid number of our students that are not meeting this benchmark. SB 194, Early Literacy Program, would raise our current standards for reading, ask school boards to develop literacy goals, acquire reports from schools on their literacy progress, and provide for technical assistance for schools that are struggling to meet the standards. This bill passed unanimously in the Senate and will now go to the House for consideration.
Thank you for your continued support, please reach out to me anytime with comments, questions, or feedback. firstname.lastname@example.org, or 435-817-5565.