ST. GEORGE —The Utah Legislature passed 510 bills this year and topped off the session with legislation revamping the state’s polygamy law and a compromise on education funding.
The 45-day meeting ended late Thursday in the shadow of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, which caused widespread cancellations but didn’t cause major disruptions in legislative business. Lawmakers dedicated an extra $24 million to help senior residents weather the virus.
With tax overhaul legislation imploding at the start of the session, lawmakers were hesitant to do much related to state tax reform.
An effort was made by Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, to offer a tax credit on Social Security. While Brooks’ bill passed the House, it did not make it’s way to the Senate before the session ended.
Another compromise on education funding is making its way quickly through the Legislature. It would change a provision of the Utah Constitution that requires income tax revenue be used for education. Lawmakers say the change is needed to bolster a faltering sales tax base, and the deal would also create more stability for education funding.
Still, critics worry that allowing income taxes to be used for children’s health care and the disabled could ultimately undermine education spending in a state where it’s a chronic concern.
Since there’s a constitutional change involved, the proposal will have to go before the voters in November before it goes fully into effect.
A resolution was also passed encouraging high schools to start later in the day.
A bill by Rep. Lawanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden, that would make kindergarten attendance mandatory failed in the House.
Elections and gerrymandering and straight ticket voting
A voter-approved measure aimed at curbing gerrymandering, the process of manipulating voting districts unfairly to gain an advantage, will get some changes.
The revisions would drop requirements that the GOP-dominated Legislature take an up-or-down vote on redistricting maps developed by an independent commission and provide a formal explanation if it chooses not to adopt them. While some worry those changes create less transparency, supporters of the original law have said the compromise keeps important steps intact.
Rep. Patrice Arent’s bill removing the straight ticket voting option from the ballot passed the legislature after years of previously unsuccessful attempts.
The polygamy revisions now in front of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert would mean that consenting adults in multiple marriages would not face the threat of jail time. The practice, which has persisted for more than a century, is now a felony.
The legislature also approved new requirements for abortion clinics and other medical providers to bury or cremate fetal remains, sending the measure to the governor. Herbert has not said whether he plans to sign the requirements into law.
A bill that would have required a woman to get an ultrasound before having an abortion failed.
A bill banning elective abortions – with the exception of rape, incest and the life and health of the mother – passed the Legislature but would only take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pornography warning labels
HB 243, Warning Labels Amendments, passed the Legislature and mandates a one-sentence warning label about potential harm to minors for online or print material deemed legally obscene. Producers who don’t include the warning could face a $2,500 penalty per violation.
While multiple gun control laws were proposed from universal background checks to regulating firearms storage, none passed the Legislature this year.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George introduced legislation late in the session that makes carrying a concealed firearm without a state-issued permit legal. He plans to reintroduce the bill next year.
A bill by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, tweaked packaging requirements and raised the cap of patients able to get into the state’s medical marijuana program passed the legislature just as medical marijuana sales began in the state March 2.
“This bill makes needed adjustments and clarifications to Utah’s medical cannabis law,” Herbert said. “These changes will help us ensure that Utah patients have the best possible access to cannabis products as our new program rolls out.”
Law and crime
A bail and pretrial release bill that limits the use of cash bail for criminal suspects was pushed through by Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City. The bill will join Utah to a wave of states and local jurisdictions that have undertaken some form of bail reform over the past few years.
Pitcher said the state’s current bail system “disproportionately harms the poor” and allows those with the means to post bail to be released “regardless of whether they are a danger.”
A bill by Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, to reduce the prosecution and incarceration of children under 12, also passed.
Snow also pushed through a bill establishing a statewide veteran’s court system administered at the local level by the existing courts. The concept is to provide veterans who have been arrested with a different option than incarceration.
A bill introduced by Rep. Walt Brooks raising penalties for mail theft and “porch piracy” also passed the Legislature.
The penalty for passing a stopped school bus when its stop sign arm is extended was also enhanced due to a bill from Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City.
Utah towns and cities will be able regulate when and where golf carts can be driven on their streets should they choose to allow it, thanks to a bill from Rep. Marc K. Roberts, R-Santaquin. Current law prohibits allowing golf carts on city streets.
A bill by Rep. Carol Spackman-M oss, D-Holladayaimed at banning distracted driving by making it illegal to hold or operate a mobile phone died on the final night of the session.
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, introduced a bill that would allow darker tinting on vehicle windows. The bill was not heard by the Legislature.
A bill requiring clergy in a confessional situation to report suspected instances of child abuse and neglect, from Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was not heard in the Legislature. The bill was opposed by the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
Another bill from Romero that did pass creates a task force that will work to identify systemic causes of the disproportionate violence experienced by indigenous woman, girls and LGBTQ+ populations through data assessment and analysis of patterns, with consideration to all underlying historical, social, economic, institutional and cultural factors that may contribute to the violence.
Limiting the practice of cities and counties of charging people with misdemeanors for code violations that aren’t inherently harmful to others passed the Legislature. Authored by Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, said misdemeanors would be applied under the bill for low-level code violations unless they rose to the level of a nuisance.
Resolutions and citations
In February, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, introduced a resolution censoring Sen. Mitt Romney for his voting to impeach President Donald Trump. The resolution faced push back from legislative leadership and was not heard by the Legislature.
Instead of censoring Romney, the GOP-dominated Legislature sent a citation to Trump which thanks him for repealing various regulations and reducing the size of the Grand Staircase-Esclante and Bears Ears national monuments. Minority Democrats condemned the language, arguing the message was divisive and highlighted actions by the Trump administration that many people disagree with.
A resolution creating the Iron Town State Monument in Iron County, as well as the Danger Cave State Monument near the Nevada border, passed the Legislature.
Cedar City Rep. Rex Shipp’s resolution discouraging the removal of Native American names, images and symbols unless there is a consensus among affected Native Americans didn’t go anywhere.
One of the perennial issues that has appeared in several previous legislative sessions, a proposal to set Utah on Daylight Saving Time permanently, passed the Legislature. Authored by Sen Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, the time change would not take effect unless approved by Congress and four other states follow suit.
A resolution from Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, reiterated Utah’s right and intent to develop its allocation of the Colorado River, passed the Legislature.
A bill outlining Utah’s water policy was pushed through by Rep. Kevin Stratton, R-Salt Lake City. The bill touches on the conservation and development of water resources and infrastructure. It also gives a nod of support to continuing development of the Bear River and Lake Powell pipeline projects.
These are only a handful of the 510 bills passed by the Utah Legislature this year. A complete list of the bills that passed can be found here.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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