By Sen. Evan Bickers
Each legislative session takes on a life of its own, and this one is no different. There is still ongoing discussion about tax reform, but no concrete plan yet. One topic that just surfaced this week is a bill in the house by Representative Gage Froerer to take away the death penalty. This bill was run two years ago and passed the Senate but was not heard in the House. I have always been in favor of keeping the death penalty in Utah.
With my new assignment as Senate Vice Chair of Executive Appropriations, my days have been very full. Along with Senator Jerry Stevenson as Senate Chair, Representative Brad Last as House Chair, and Representative Mike Schultz as House Vice Chair, we have been extremely busy putting together a balanced budget. The good news is that we received updated revenue numbers this week, and we have nearly $600 million in new money to put into the budget. A great deal of that money will go into public education.
Here are a few topics currently being discussed in which you might be interested:
The Executive Appropriation Committee announced this week that updated revenue estimates show a surplus of $581 million this year, which is almost twice as much as was previously expected. Some of this comes from tax revenues, and some comes from budget management.
Resolution in Support of a New National Park in Escalante SCR8
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.
This week the Utah Senate thanked Senator Orrin Hatch for his service to the state of Utah. Nearly every Senator present offered gratitude for something specific over his 40-year career as our United States Senator. I remember when Senator Hatch intervened to help one of the local mayors, Connie Robinson from Paragonah, with a prairie dog issue. It meant a lot to all of us in rural southern Utah that Senator Hatch was never afraid to go to bat for us in a big way when we needed his help.
In the state of Utah, the charge of aggravated murder is applied to a murder that has especially heinous circumstances, and the charge typically has heavier penalties, which can include the death penalty. Senator Mayne’s bill, SB30, makes it aggravated murder to kill a first responder, police officer, or search and rescue personnel. This bill passed unanimously in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
Cannabidiol Bill (SB130)
Cannabidiol (CBD) has shown promise as a treatment for epileptic conditions. Two years ago, HB58 by Representative Froerer allowed patients suffering from epilepsy to use medical CBD for treatment. The law was silent, however, about where people could get the CDB, though most patients in Utah obtained it from Colorado. Since then, CBD products have become more widely available here in the state but are almost completely unregulated. Some CBD products are laced with potentially harmful substances like THC and fentanyl, which has led to medical complications and even hospital visits–the causes of which are due to the additives, not the CBD. This bill creates a regulatory infrastructure for CBD sales in Utah. SB130, of which I am the sponsor, has two major components. The first component authorizes the Department of Agriculture to regulate CBD products that are currently being sold. The company selling the CBD must register their product with the state and pay a fee. The fee would be used to test the integrity of the products, determining if the product is indeed CBD and nothing less and nothing more. The second component submits Utah’s application for a waiver with the DEA to allow the state to develop a medical grade CBD product that doctors can prescribe, which would then be dispensed in pharmacies. This bill has passed the Senate and will be heard in the House.
Family Planning Medicaid Waiver
Utah is only one of seven states that have not applied for a waiver to the Medicaid program that gives family planning services to individuals under the poverty level. Senator Brian Zehnder, who replaced Senator Brian Shiozawa when he resigned, is a family physician and the Floor Sponsor of HB12 Family Planning Services Amendments, which directs the Utah Department of Health to apply for this waiver. The people that would benefit from this waiver are those who fall in the gap where they cannot afford health insurance but do not qualify for Medicaid. During Senator Zehnder’s presentation of the bill, Senator Dan Hemmert spoke in favor of the legislation, pointing out the positive return on Utah’s investment in helping to prevent unplanned pregnancies. The bill passed on the second reading and is tabled for the third reading because of its large fiscal note. (A fiscal note is prepared when changes to state law are proposed. It estimates costs, savings, and revenue gains or losses resulting from proposed changes.)
It is fairly common for law enforcement agencies to impose quotas on police officers for arrests, citations and stops. SB154, Prohibition of Law Enforcement Quotas, would prohibit law enforcement agencies and political subdivisions from imposing these types of quotas. The bill passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation and will now go to the Senate floor for further debate.
Cannon defeats Farnsworth
Surprisingly, one of the most contentiously-debated bills of this legislative session has nothing to do with Utah law. Senator Todd Weiler’s resolution, SCR1 Concurrent Resolution Recommending Replacement of Statue of Philo Farnsworth in United States Capitol, has been anxiously watched and rooted for by many Utahns. With the upcoming 100th anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, many see this as an opportunity to celebrate Utah’s contribution to universal suffrage. On February 14th, the House passed SCR1, which recommends that Martha Hughes Cannon replace Philo Farnsworth in the U.S. Capitol. I grew up in Beaver as did Philo so I voted to keep Philo in Washington.
Honoring Thomas S. Monson
Thomas S. Monson has been a prominent figure in Utah for the last 50 years. As such, it seemed fitting to honor his memory on the Senate floor this week. HCR 5, Concurrent Resolution Honoring Thomas S. Monson, recognizes his many years of service in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as well as his other accomplishments in life like serving in the U.S. Navy and graduating from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. His family was present on the Senate floor during the debate. The resolution passed both chambers unanimously.
Voter Registration Revisions
The right to vote is a Constitutional Right but the voter registration process can be burdensome and bureaucratic. In the state of Utah, voter registration forms must be postmarked at least 30 days before an election in order to be eligible to vote in the upcoming election. In addition, a voter must register to vote at least one full week before the election. The voter registration process can be simpler, more convenient, and less bureaucratic. SB112, sponsored by Senator Deidre Henderson, registers everyone to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license, unless they select the opt-out option on the driver’s license form. So far, nine states throughout the country have implemented laws like this including Alaska, Alabama, West Virginia, and Oregon, and thirty-two are considering them this year. Oregon saw their number of registered voters increase by 400,000 since they moved to a simpler, more efficient voter registration system.
Thank you for your support, please always contact me with any questions, concerns or feedback and I will respond as soon as I am able, 435-817-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.