Dear Friends and Neighbors,
September marked the 20th anniversary of the day we saw the greatest evil come to our shores. Many lost friends, neighbors and colleagues and even though it was a trying time for our country, we came together and found strength as we helped one another. Words will never be able to express my gratitude for the first responders and civilians who stepped up that day. Their courage and devotion to their fellow Americans will never be forgotten.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Utah Senate released a video honoring all those involved.
Vaccinations and Hospitalizations
Data shows vaccines are the best method of defense against the COVID-19 virus. A majority of COVID-19 hospitalization and deaths in Utah are those who are unvaccinated. Below is a graphic of COVID-19 patients at Intermountain Healthcare.
Vaccines are available for all Utahns 12 and older. Find locations here.
Color-coded School Thresholds Added to COVID-19 Dashboard
The Utah Department of Health added new color-coded data to the COVID-19 dashboard under the school tab to make it easier to see which schools are approaching a Test to Stay event. During Test to Stay events, schools are required to test all students for COVID-19. Utah law requires schools to hold a Test to Stay event when:
Schools with 1,500 or more students have 2 percent of their students test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days.
Schools with fewer than 1,500 students have 30 students test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days.
Learn more about the new color-coded information here.
Every ten years, the Utah Legislature is constitutionally required to redraw congressional, state Senate, state House of Representatives and State Board of Education districts to reflect changes in population. To accomplish this, the Legislature formed the bipartisan Legislative Redistricting Committee to gather public input and recommend new district boundaries to the full Legislature.
The committee is currently touring the state to listen to feedback, discuss data and review maps submitted by the public. Find a public hearing near you here. Draw a map to submit to the Legislative Redistricting Committee here.
An important responsibility of the Senate is to confirm judicial appointments made by the governor. Last month, we had the unique opportunity to confirm someone familiar to most of us in the Legislature, former Utah State Representative Craig Hall, who was appointed to fill the Second District Court vacancy left by the retirement of Judge Robert J. Dale. While every judicial appointment is highly qualified, most of us have personal experience working with Hall and can attest to his integrity, intelligence and professionalism. Watch his confirmation here.
The Political Subdivisions Interim Committee heard a presentation from the Utah Housing Coalition, a group made up of nonprofit and for-profit organizations dedicated to promoting equitable, sustainable communities and affordable housing.
When defining affordability, a broad understanding is housing is unaffordable if it costs more than 30 percent of the resident’s income. There is a shortage of affordable rental homes throughout the state to low-income households or families whose incomes are at or below 30 percent of their area median income. The affordable housing shortage is estimated to be over 45,000 rental homes. Currently, there are several incentives for owners and investors to create low-income housing, including the Housing Tax Credit. Listen to the committee hearing presentation here.
During the Executive Appropriations Committee meeting, the State Homeless Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser spoke with the committee regarding a proposed purchase of a detoxification center in Salt Lake for homeless overflow housing. Read more about the plan here and listen to the committee presentation here.
Brian Steed, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, met with the Natural Resources Interim Committee to speak about drought conditions. Currently, 100 percent of the state remains in drought with 88 percent of the state in extreme drought. While this is an improvement from where we started the summer, the conditions are still worse than in previous years.
The current drought is a result of poor rainfall and moisture accumulation during fall of 2020, resulting in dry soil which then absorbed all snowpack runoff during the winter and spring. Our state relies heavily on snowpack runoff and the lack of water has resulted in depleted stream flows and reservoir levels. However, as we have received high volumes of moisture during the end of summer, which has improved soil and moisture conditions
Furthermore, Utahns have done well to save water. Director Steed reported several water-use regions where water consumption has noticeably declined during the drought. Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District saw their water usage down nearly 30 percent this August compared to last August. Washington County reported saving 600 million gallons of water this summer despite a population increase. Salt Lake has saved 1.8 billion gallons since July 1.
Even with these positive gains, it remains important for Utahns to conserve. Find more information about Utah’s drought conditions here.
Catalytic converters are a necessary component of the vehicles we all drive. Most of the metals used to make a catalytic converter are inexpensive except for small amounts of three precious metals inside the converter. The value of those metals is currently extremely high.
In 2018, 110 catalytic converters were reported stolen in Utah. By 2020, 654 were stolen and 494 have already been stolen this year. This week, a Supervisory Special Agent with the Utah Attorney General’s office gave a presentation on law enforcement efforts to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.
Utah code categorizes catalytic converters as “suspect metal” since not all are sold to legitimate scrap metal dealers. A significant black market exists where stolen catalytic converters are sold. Officers posing as both buyers and sellers made several transactions on the black market in the course of their investigation and made three custodial arrests on 13 compliance checks and recovered 124 stolen converters.
In an attempt to halt the increase in stolen converters, there was a proposal for legislation that would create a presumption that catalytic converters are stolen if specific information is not collected at the time of purchase. Listen to the presentation here.
Sexual Assault Kit Processing
During the last fiscal year, the state crime laboratory eliminated its significant backlog of sexual assault kits waiting to be processed. The laboratory’s goal for 2021 was to process 90 percent of DNA submissions in 30 days or less. The crime laboratory accomplished that goal and in June of 2021 the median turnaround was 28 days. Listen to the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services annual report on Sexual Assault Kit Processing here.
In August 2019, the Legislative Audit Subcommittee asked the office of the Legislative Auditor General to conduct audits of Utah's public education system. During September interim, the Education Interim Committee studied an audit of the Utah State Board of Education's internal governance that the office released this spring. Click here to learn more about this audit. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming audits on teacher retention, student performance, teacher and administrator compensation and administrative overhead in traditional and charter schools.
Last month, the Education Interim Committee heard from experts on the impact COVID-19 has had on students’ mental health. Data shows that in Utah's schools, anxiety, stress and depression have been top risk factors throughout the pandemic. We will continue to monitor this situation and prioritize mental health in our schools. Recently, Utah has made great strides to improve mental health among students by investing in mental health screening, school counselors, mental wellness programs and much more.
The Executive Appropriation Committee regularly asks for updates on Utah's economy. During the most recent update, we found that
Utah has recovered more than the number of jobs that we lost over the course of the pandemic
Our inflation growth is slowing
We have falling unemployment rates and the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation.
Utah has a strong economy that has not only endured this pandemic, but is continually improving! You can learn more about Utah's economy here.
Internet Access Programs
In an increasingly virtual world, both public and private entities see the importance of helping people get access to the internet. Across the state, Comcast Utah is now offering internet services for only $9.95 a month to all students who are Pell Grant recipients. People can also apply to the Federal Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which can provide up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households.
Teacher of the Year
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson named Mark Berrett Daniels, a theatre teacher at Weber High School in Pleasant View, as 2022 Utah Teacher of the Year. Read more here.
Bryce Bird, the Air Quality Director with the Division of Air Quality spoke to the Public Utilities, Energy and Technology interim committee about ozone levels in the state and how it impacts Utahns.
Vehicles are the largest producer of emissions contributing to ozone. Ozone is created from oxides and nitrogen in the air that come from the combustion process. Ozone can have harmful impacts on the human body, with the lungs being particularly vulnerable. The lower amount of ozone you are exposed to on a daily basis, the better.
Typically, we have seen high ozone values on days above 90 degrees with bright sunlight and little wind in Utah. This summer, we have seen a confluence of these conditions which in combination with increased wildfire particulate matter, has contributed to high ozone levels in the state. As a result, this year, ozone levels have largely exceeded federal health standards. This is particularly true along urbanized areas of the Wasatch front, but even rural areas have been affected.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated three non-attainment areas in Utah for the 2015 Ozone Standard of 70 parts per billion (ppb). The attainment deadline to reach 70ppb was August of 2021 (based on data from 2018, 2019 and 2020). Currently, the Northern Wasatch Front sits at 77ppb and the Uintah Basin sits at 76ppb, meaning it will be bumped from a marginal designation to a moderate designation. This requires:
15 percent reduction of both NOx and VOCs (Ozone precursors)
Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program (population threshold)
Reasonably Available Control Technology installed on point sources
Demonstration of attainment by August 2024.
I Look Forward to Hearing From You!
I’m truly grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation – and thanks for paying attention.
Until next time,
Senator Ronald Winterton