Updated: Feb 8
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It’s been a packed week already with committees, constituents, stakeholders and passing our base budget. We have passed a total of 19 bills so far and have many more to pass in the coming weeks. This week we passed our base budget bills. These bills traditionally use the previous year’s ongoing appropriations as a starting point. This was the first year we included $95 million in new money for education growth and inflation in the base budgets. In addition, we also included an increase in per-pupil spending to restore last year’s 6 percent WPU increase. The base budgets we passed this week also include over half a billion dollars in new state spending for high priority items such as education, Medicaid and COVID-19 response.
As part of our base budget, we passed the following bills:
Mental Health Treatment
The nationwide push for a mental health crisis hotline began here in Utah. It has become increasingly clear that mental health services need to be improved, and first responders are often not trained to help people experiencing a mental health crisis.
This session, more is being done to put trained professionals in positions to help people in crisis. S.B. 53 Behavioral Emergency Services Amendments, make additional mental health crisis training available for emergency services professionals. S.B. 47 Mental Health Crisis, Intervention Council creates a council of stakeholders from various agencies to design the statewide training offered to these emergency services professionals.
Additionally, S.B. 41 Mental Health Access Amendments, require health benefit plans to cover telehealth services for mental health treatment if the plan also covers in-person treatment of the same mental health conditions. All three bills passed in the Senate and are now in the House for consideration.
The Utah Sentencing Commission is responsible for advising the Legislature, governor and judicial council regarding sentencing and releasing policies for those who have committed crimes. Last year, the Commission reviewed S.B. 50 Juvenile Offender Penalty Amendments, and recommended its passage in the Legislature. The bill came from an issue where a young adult was charged as an adult for a crime committed as a 14-year-old. As a result, they served 10 years in state prison and were put on the sex offender registry. The bill would help ensure that if individuals commit a crime, they face the appropriate level of punishment based on their age when the crime was committed. Currently, if a crime report is delayed until after the perpetrator is an adult, they are tried as an adult.
In Utah criminal law, gang enhancement provisions were applied to help alleviate issues with street gangs or organized criminal enterprises. Since the provisions were originally created, the requirements for applying the enhancements have been considerably loosened. The enhancement was recently used against protesters who committed acts of vandalism. The broad nature of the provisions allowed vandalism to be raised to the level of a first-degree felony, punishable by a maximum life sentence. S.B. 51 Group Gang Enhancement Amendments, raises the bar so that the enhancements are only used in violent offenses and increases the requirement for the number of assailants involved.
S.B. 64 Domestic Violence Amendments, proposes to change Utah law to make domestic violence a third-degree felony in certain situations. If it is a third-time offense in a 10-year window, it will be charged as a third-degree felony. All these bills passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
Since 2005, the Price Controls During Emergencies Act was not used or modified until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. S.B. 86 Amendments to the Price Controls During Emergencies Act, makes necessary changes to the act to ensure consumers are not price gouged and protects Utahns from false claims during an emergency. S.B. 86 targets four changes to the act, including checkpoints before an investigation, transparency in changes to the cost of items, privacy protection for those accused until after adjudication and higher evidentiary standards. This bill passed in Senate Business and Labor committee.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune
Many of my constituents have reached out to me for the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 and vaccines. The best resources are found at coronavirus.utah.gov
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 26