Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy to report back to you on the hard work of the Legislature this past session. This is the third of four 2021 General Session recaps where I cover our state budget, business and economic development, education, energy & air quality, health, higher education, taxes, transportation and water.
Please continue to reach out to me as you see issues of interest. Your perspective is very important to me. Enjoy!
Energy & Air Quality
Three years ago, the Legislature passed a pilot program for counties along the Wasatch Front to conduct emissions inspections of diesel vehicles. Through this program, Utah was able to eliminate 1,250 tons of pollutants from the air. S.B. 146 Emissions Testing Amendments, made this a permanent program due to its tremendous success.
Workforce Solutions for Air Quality Amendments
In the first few months of the pandemic, we experienced less traffic and improved air quality as a result of an increase in people working remotely. S.B. 15 Workforce Solutions for Air Quality Amendments, allows more state employees to work remotely during bad air quality days to decrease the number of cars on the roadways. The bill also requires the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to notify state agencies of mandatory air quality action days and special circumstance days so those agencies can encourage teleworking for their eligible employees.
We strive to make data-driven decisions in the Legislature. To help better understand the state's energy efficiency, we passed H.B. 131 State Facility Energy Efficiency Amendments. This bill requires state facilities to submit utility efficiency information to be used by the State Building Energy Efficiency Program, enabling us to make the best decisions regarding conserving energy in Utah.
The well-being of Utahns continues to be a priority for the Utah Legislature as we work to expand Medicaid resources and affordable healthcare.
Utah is currently experiencing a shortage of doctors. Care providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants (PA) are used to meet healthcare needs throughout the state, particularly in rural communities. This session, the Utah Legislature considered various bills to expand physician assistants' scope of practice, including S.B. 27 Physician Assistant Act Amendments, which expands a PA’s range of practice to allow a pathway for PAs to operate without a supervising physician once they receive sufficient training. Another bill, S.B. 28 Physician Assistant Mental Health Practice, focuses specifically on our psychiatric healthcare shortage in Utah by allowing a PA who specializes in psychiatric mental health to engage in the practice of mental health therapy if they meet specific training requirements.
We also expanded the scope of practice for Nurse Practitioners through H.B. 287 Nurse Practice Act Amendments, allowing nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances without a letter of authorization from a practitioner in some instances.
Expanding mental health services to all Utahns and decreasing suicide rates continues to be a priority for us. Below are just a few of the bills passed that create additional services and further enhance these efforts.
Last year, Congress established 988 as the national mental health crisis hotline number. S.B. 155 988 Mental Health Crisis Assistance, helps Utah get ready for the launch of the new hotline number by applying for Medicaid waivers to help pay for treatment, creating an account for crisis response funds to pay for the call center, developing mobile teams and follow up treatment and increasing additional members to existing commissions to assist in the rollout of 988.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 24. In an effort to target services to our youth, we passed H.B. 81 Mental Health Days for Students, adding mental health as a valid excuse for a school absence. Other states that implemented this attendance policy have seen a decrease in youth suicide rates. Additionally, we passed H.B. 93 Youth Suicide Prevention Programs Amendments, which expands the education of suicide prevention to elementary and secondary grades and requires the language of the programs to reflect the specific age group.
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 26