St. George Chamber of Commerce advocating for water, employment bills impacting local community

Don Willie, the new president and CEO of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce is tracking a host of bills making their way through the 2020 legislative session. St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2020 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The St. George Area Chamber of Commerce is keeping its eye on a suite of bills that are making their way through the 2020 legislative session.

Valentine’s Day marked the third week of the session. More than 530 bills have been introduced that could have profound effects on the city of St. George, Washington County and Utah as a whole.

According to Don Willie, president and CEO of the chamber, the Utah Legislative bills, if passed into law, could impact the business community and quality of life throughout the state. The chamber is tracking potential laws involving business licensing, attainable housing, workforce services and tax credits for employer-provided child care.

The chamber, he added, will continue to advocate for its businesses and the policies that help them thrive.

“The chamber is interested and concerned about any bills that are going to impact local businesses,” Willie said. “Everything we are going to be tracking will focus on policies that make this a great place to live, work and play.”

In collaboration with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, which provides realtime progress of bills moving through the legislature, the St. George counterpart has a wealth of information at its fingertips.

The Sick Leave Amendments bill, designated HB 69 and introduced by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, would require employers to provide sick leave for employees who need to care for an immediate family member.

Although this bill failed in committee, chamber members were optimistic it might return in future legislative sessions.

“Something like this we look at, and as the largest business association in Southern Utah … this could have a direct impact,” Willie said.

Although not weighing in for or against HB 69, Willie said first and foremost businesses should be the decision makers over how they operate.

“We recognize that government can play a positive role in supporting economic development and private industry,” Willie added. “To that end, our role (as a chamber) is to represent the interests of (the business community) and to inform elected officials of our positions.”

Another bill, HB 166, Watershed Councils, introduced by Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, (still in committee) would establish the creation and governance of watershed councils.

HJR 3, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution — Water Resources of Municipalities, introduced by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Salt Lake City, is moving forward with committee recommendations. The resolution would amend the Utah Constitution and municipal water rights. Highlights of the HJR will specify the circumstances under which a municipality could supply water outside of its boundary or commit to supply water outside its service area.

The final bill the chamber is tracking is SB 26, Water Banking Amendments, which was introduced by Jani Iwamoto D-Salt Lake City. The bill is currently being reviewed by the Legislative Research and General Counsel. If passed, SB 26 would authorize the Utah Board of Water Resources, the state engineer and the Division of Water Resources to implement water banking.

A water bank is a mechanism used for a legal transfer and market value exchange of surface, groundwater and water storage entitlements. Typically, a water bank allows water rights to move from one user or another.

Ranchers, cities and developers in the West generally take water rights very seriously.

“Obviously we are very aware the water needs in Southern Utah,” Willie said. “We can’t have community and economic growth without long-term, consistent water solutions and sources.”

Each bill, Willie added, address water issues from various angles.

“We want to look at these bills more in-depth and work with stakeholders such as the Water Conservancy District and our chamber members to see where they stand,” Willie said. “Based on the feedback, we will provide input to our local legislators throughout the session.”

Water experts acknowledge that the one major limiting factor to growth, physically and economically, is a sustainable and available source of water. Towns like Lake Havasu, Arizona, with a permanent population of about 55,000, can only grow to 96,000 before it runs out of its water allotments.

“You have to start planning a long way ahead,” Willie said. “You can’t plan when you are at 80,000 of that 96,000. This is something even here we have to start managing decades ahead of time.”

Chamber officials are “grateful” for the vision and forethought city and county leaders, including the Water Conservancy District, have had in water infrastructure projects such as the Quail Creek Dam and Reservoir.

“Projects like this have allowed growth to get to this point and have given us a good footing for the future,” Willie said. “But even this will not be enough to meet the needs of our projected growth.

Willie believes Utah lawmakers are receptive to the special needs of Southern Utah as the largest metropolitan area outside of the Wasatch Front.

“We’ve had great conversations so far during the session,” he said. “For us, it is important to make sure that we are meeting the draw to Southern Utah.”

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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