Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In this season of gratitude, I am reminded of how grateful I am to live in Utah, with its beautiful scenery and all the wonderful people that live here. Recently, on Capitol Hill, the legislature came together for a Special Session. There, we passed several bills, which are available to view here. We also held an Interim day, where many committees came together to discuss the issues Utah is currently facing. Below are brief summaries of topics from those committee meetings.
Fiscal Health Update
The Executive Appropriations Committee heard presentations on Utah's fiscal year 2021 budget during the monthly fiscal health update. This year, Utah’s 2021 fiscal year is ending stronger than anticipated. State leaders will have an additional $614 million to appropriate during the 2022 General Session. These additional funds are likely due to federal stimulus money and economic volatility. As we look at our budget during the general session, we will consider how to use these funds for a possible tax cut and ways to generate generational prosperity. The funds will be spent with careful emphasis on fiscal responsibility, including the use of one-time money on one-time costs such as investments in infrastructure and capital improvements. Listen to the update here.
Mandates are not the right approach to managing COVID-19. In Utah, we work to find the right balance between protecting business rights and individual rights. For years, Utah’s K-12 immunization and vaccination numbers have remained high with medical, religious and personal exemptions. More recently, we have seen success with vaccine exemptions in our state universities.
During the special session, we passed a law, S.B. 2004 Workplace COVID-19 Amendments, to provide employees with COVID-19 vaccine exemptions that give relief to employees for religious, medical or personal reasons. The law also prevents employers from taking adverse action if an employee has a vaccine exemption, including demoting, reducing wages, firing or refusing to hire.
Further, if an employer requires COVID-19 workplace testing, S.B. 2004 requires the employer to pay for it and prohibits an employer from maintaining a record of an employee's proof of vaccination, except under certain conditions. While S.B. 2004 does not include federal contracts, it is a step in the right direction to protect individuals' freedoms to make medical decisions.
Additionally, Utah is working to prevent the Biden administration's questionably unconstitutional vaccine mandate that forces businesses with over a hundred employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine from being implemented.
Currently, Biden's OSHA vaccine mandate was put on hold by a federal court as it goes through the judicial process. In the ruling, the court said, “the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.” We will continue to work to protect individuals’ right to make medical decisions.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is also working with 11 other state attorneys general on a lawsuit to try and stop the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. Learn more about the lawsuit here.
Bridal Veil Falls
During the 2021 General Session, H.C.R. 13 Concurrent Resolution Regarding the Bridal Veil Falls Area called for the Division of Parks and Recreation to study the feasibility of designating the Bridal Veil Falls area as a state park or state monument. The Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee heard a report from Utah State Parks on that study. The study found that local governmental and public advocacy groups expressed a high level of enthusiasm and support for the concept. In the public engagement part of the study, surveyors contacted close to 5,000 individuals about the plan. It was found that most individuals would like to see improvements to trails, safety measures and restroom facilities. The highest level of public support was for state management as a recreation or scenic area. Learn more here.
988 Crisis Response System
During the Government Operations Interim Committee meeting last week, the committee heard a presentation about the state’s plan for the new 988 Crisis Response System going into effect nationwide in July 2022. The Utah Behavioral Health Crisis Response Commission reported on their studies of 12 areas of state compliance with national crisis response standards, including research on the interoperability between 911 and 988.
Utah Behavioral Health Crisis Response Commission found Utah’s current behavioral health Crisis Line has increased in demand by 51% from the beginning of the pandemic through October 2021. Over 92,000 total crisis calls were received in the 2021 fiscal year, including 1,353 life-saving interventions for callers at imminent risk of suicide. Along with increased demand, the length of time to resolve crisis calls increased by 64% from March 2020 to October 2021. In 86% of calls, concerns were resolved over the phone, 4% of calls were referred to an emergency department or hospital and in 2% of calls, law enforcement was involved. Listen to the presentation here.
Water Safety in Schools and Childcare Facilities
According to a 2017 sample study presented to the Legislative Water Development Commission, 92% of schools and childcare centers tested around Utah have detectable amounts of lead in the water. Lead can be dangerous and harmful, especially for the young students who use those water systems. Lawmakers are drafting legislation to establish baseline testing in all schools and childcare centers by the close of 2023. The purpose is to create a safer and healthier environment for children by resolving any identified problems and notifying the public. Listen to the presentation here.
The Transportation Interim Committee considered legislation that would, among other things, limit the number of standard license plate designs to four. By limiting the number of standard license plates, law enforcement officers on roads across the country can more easily identify legitimate Utah plates. The bill would also allow counties to require an emission inspection of a vintage vehicle if the vintage vehicle is driven more than 1,500 miles a year. Right now, cars with vintage license plates are exempt from emissions tests. The committee provided feedback on the drafted legislation and will consider it again at a later date. Watch the presentation here.
Education and Mental Health Coordinating Council
Over the years, the Legislature has recognized our state's need for expansive mental health resources and has responded by establishing and supporting commissions, councils and working groups to address this need. This month, the Education and Mental Health Coordinating Council heard presentations on a few of these groups' accomplishments and successes. Each group has made remarkable improvements over the years by growing in both numbers and influence. Listen to the presentations here.
Until next time,
Senator Ronald Winterton