Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Last week was the beginning of Utah's legislative session, which will go for 45 days. For the next two months, my fellow senators and I will gather to create new laws and establish budgets for essential programs and services. During the first day of the 2022 General Session, we were honored to have Elder Gerrit W. Gong, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offer the opening invocation. Following the prayer, the Utah Highway Patrol Officer's Color Guard presented the colors, and Jennie Taylor — widow of the former Mayor of Ogden, Maj. Brent Taylor — led the pledge of allegiance. We also heard a powerful rendition of the national anthem by Kaylee Bucio, a 5th grader from Riverside Elementary School.
I am filled with gratitude for and pride in our great state and county. Utah has a strong reputation of excellence, and I am proud to represent a state with so much talent, leadership and success. I am also extremely grateful for each of you and look forward to representing you and our community throughout the remainder of this session.
Last week I met with members of the Vernal Youth City Council. It was a great event where members of the Vernal Youth City Council (and other Youth City Councils) got to meet with legislators and local leaders.
President Adam's Opening Remarks
During the first Senate floor session, President Adams spoke on Utah's resilience and progress in 2021. He recognized the struggles Utahns faced during the pandemic and thanked Utah Highway Patrol officers, healthcare workers and teachers for their continued sacrifice and service. Utah faced 2021 with durability and strength while maintaining a strong economy, a low unemployment rate and unbreakable community ties. President Adams also gifted a special coin to each senator with an engraving of Benjamin Franklin as a reminder of his influential leadership. I join President Adams in celebrating our great progress and potential as a state and thank each of you for your contribution to our success.
Savannah Olsen is my intern this session. She is from Rochester, MN and is currently in her junior year at BYU studying political science. Savannah plans to go to law school after she graduates. She is "super excited" about this internship and "loves working with Senator Winterton." Learning more about the legislative process is fascinating to Savannah and she is very grateful for this opportunity.
Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1991, Gov. Norm Bangerter established the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission. In 2019, the Utah Legislature codified the commission into state statute. Every year, the commission coordinates with governments, private organizations and schools to encourage ceremonies and activities which commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This week, people across the state celebrated Dr. King's legacy with rallies, vigils, lectures and gatherings. As we celebrate Dr. King's life, I plan to continue having conversations on diversity, equity and human rights throughout the year.
Although Utah’s unemployment rates are low, we are currently experiencing higher than average turnover rates among state employees. In the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, a presenter from the Division of Human Resources recommended appropriating $19 million to bring below-market salaries to a competitive level and provide better benefits and compensation for state workers. Listen to the presentation here.
Animal Shelter Revisions
The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee discussed S.B. 69 Animal Shelter Revisions, a bill that would make it illegal for animal shelters to use gas chambers to euthanize animals. Additionally, this bill implements a euthanasia training program for animal control officers. The intent of this bill is to make the euthanization process more humane without creating a financial burden for animal shelters or putting workers at risk. Listen to the discussion of the bill here.
Author and activist Bryan Stevenson spoke with Utah legislators about Utah’s death penalty laws this week. Though supporters of the death penalty cite the need for justice and closure for victims’ families, Stevenson said he believes that the death penalty actually prolongs the suffering through extensive appeals in the legal process. The Legislature will be reviewing Utah’s death penalty laws this session. H.B. 147 Death Penalty Modifications would prohibit the death penalty in Utah and add a possible sentence of 45 years to life for aggravated murder.
In Utah, alimony is currently awarded based on the length of the marriage. Due to COVID-19, divorce court cases have been delayed, increasing the length of marriage and alimony awarded.
S.B. 74 Alimony Modifications changes the definition of the “length of the marriage” to start on the day the parties were legally married and ends on the day the petition for divorce was filed with the court. S.B. 74 passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and will go to the Senate floor for consideration. Listen to the committee presentation here.
S.J.R. 3 – Government Mandates
The government's role is not to tell Utahns or businesses how to manage their lives. Almost one-third of our state was affected by Salt Lake and Summit counties' mask mandate, which placed individuals, schools and businesses in difficult situations to enforce mask adherence. Two years ago, we had very little information about the virus, we now know a lot more, and individuals have the data to make informed health decisions. Though I am a proponent of local government control, the mask mandates had an impact that went beyond the city and counties that issued them. Local control ultimately rests with individuals and families.
After hearing from numerous constituents and businesses affected by the government mandate, we took action by passing S.J.R. 3 Joint Resolution to Terminate Public Health Orders Pertaining to Face Coverings, giving the decision-making power back to individuals. The joint resolution ending the mask mandates passed the Senate and House and took effect immediately.
State of the State
Each year, the governor gives a State of the State address to update the Legislature, Judicial Branch, Executive Branch and Utahns on the state's successes and challenges. During his remarks, Gov. Cox encouraged Utahns not to give up on the idea of America and to come together and unite despite national polarization. Utah has been very successful and serves as an example of a strong economy to the nation. Listen to the State of the State address here.
State of the Judiciary
The mission of the Judiciary is to provide the people an open, fair, efficient and independent system for the advancement of justice under the law. During the annual State of the Judiciary address, Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant stated that this mission focuses on innovation in the courts during COVID-19 that will continue after the pandemic. Listen to the State of the Judiciary address here.
Until next time,
Senator Ronald Winterton