May 2021 Special Session
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
For the past few months, I have been visiting different areas in my senate district to understand our needs and issues better. Local leaders, councilors and commissioners have shared insights and concerns with me. I am staying busy, but I am grateful for this work and honored to represent you. Below is a special session report along with other significant highlights.
2021 Interim Session
Interim committees study key issues facing the state to help prepare for the 45-day general session. The committee chairs prioritize what should be studied over the interim period based on items that did not make it through the session and input gathered from committee members. The purpose of the committees is to focus on issues that are a top priority to help ensure a proper vetting occurs.
Interim meetings are held throughout the year, typically the third Wednesday of the month, and are open to the public which can be streamed live or listened to at a later date at le.utah.gov.
See the list of proposed 2021 interim study items here.
May 2021 Special Session Report
Adjustments to 2021 General Session Bills
Utah is famous for its 45-day legislative session. As part-time legislators, we pass legislation and balance a budget in a fraction of the time that other states require, and as a result of our efficient work, we have been voted one of the best run states in the country for many years. Occasionally, errors and omissions are found after we complete our work and during a special session is a good time to make adjustments. Read all the bills here.
Advice & Consent
The Utah Senate is responsible for reviewing and approving nominations for certain public positions from the executive branch. This includes judges, commission members and other nominations made by the governor and other non-gubernatorial appointments.
Though this duty may not be as well-known as the Senate’s role in the legislative process, it remains quite important. Many of the nominees made by the governor will be exercising crucial roles in state government, whether it be in education, the judicial branch or other expert fields.
Last week, the Senate held advice and consent and approved the following nominees:
Monica Diaz, nominated by Gov. Spencer Cox, was appointed as a judge for the 3rd District Juvenile Court.
Tanner Ainge, Kira M. Slawson, and Geri C. Gamber were appointed to the Board of Business and Economic Development.
Commissioner Jerry Taylor was appointed to the Permanent Impact Community Fund Board.
Sen. Mike McKell was appointed to the Utah Commission on Uniform State Laws.
Dr. Carey A. Wilson was appointed to the Utah Compassionate Use Board.
Masks in Schools
As our country continues to make great strides in the fight against COVID-19, many states across the nation are beginning to lift mask mandates following updated CDC guidelines. With more and more Utahns getting vaccinated, and with the decrease in cases and hospitalizations in our state, it is important to allow students and families to choose whether or not to wear masks during the 2021-22 school year. The Legislature passed H.B. 1007 Face Covering Amendments, removing the mask requirement in K-12 schools and higher education institutions. These changes came from S.B. 195 to ensure consistent policy regarding oversight for all Utah schools.
Critical Race Theory
American history should be taught in a way that accurately depicts our country’s highs and lows, triumphs and mistakes. Although our nation’s history is complex, we continue to strive to be better. During a Senate-called extraordinary session, the Senate passed S.R. 901 Senate Resolution on Critical Race Theory in Public Schools, encouraging the State Board of Education to review standards for curriculum and ensure no curriculum or instruction materials in our state include the following concepts:
That one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race
That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual's race
That an individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race.
Additionally, during our May interim meetings, the Education Interim Committee voted to study critical race theory throughout the year. Read the Senate Majority Caucus statement here.
Our most important duty as legislators is to preserve Utahns' freedoms, including the freedom to bear arms without government interference. The Senate passed S.R. 902 Senate Resolution Declaring Support for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Exploring Sanctuary State Status during a Senate-called extraordinary session. This resolution affirms the right to keep and bear arms as a fundamental right protected by the Bill of Rights and the Utah State Constitution and supports the idea of exploring the possibility of becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary state.
Accepting and Appropriating Federal Funds
This month, we convened in a special session for the primary purpose of accepting the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds Congress allocated to Utah. The ARPA funds total roughly $1.7 billion. To accomplish this, we passed S.J.R. 101 Joint Resolution Approving the Acceptance of Federal Funds and S.B. 1001 Appropriations Adjustments, as a companion bill to S.J.R. 101. Whereas S.J.R. 101 approves acceptance of the federal funds, S.B. 1001 appropriates some of the funds for specific purposes. This bill appropriates $571 million of the roughly $1.7 billion that the state is expected to receive in ARPA funds. Additionally, we made a few adjustments to the budget we passed earlier this year to replace some of the state funding with ARPA funding.
Here are a few of the items we funded with ARPA this month:
$103 million for business and economic development
$100 million for water conservation
$165 million for social services (includes a food bank in San Juan County, mental health services and vaccine distribution)
Our state will receive the funding in two phases – 50 percent this May and the remaining in May 2022. The U.S. Department of the Treasury released additional guidelines on May 10 pertaining to how these funds may be used. There are still questions and clarifications needed on certain guidelines, and there will likely be further updates from the U.S. Treasury.
We are committed to spending the federal stimulus responsibly with a focus on funding items that:
Create generational impact
Provide statewide benefits to citizens
Generate sizable benefits without future liability
Addresses long-term challenges in our state.
Over the interim and during the 2022 General session, we will continue to review how to best appropriate the funds within priorities that fit the guiding principles.
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 26