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Special Session Week 1 April 20, 2020

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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

You probably heard that we convened remotely in the state’s first-ever virtual special session to keep Utah moving forward during the COVID-19 public health emergency. During the first two days of the special session, timely legislation was passed that will help strengthen Utah’s healthcare system, protect health care providers and ease burdens for families and businesses during these unprecedented times.

Read more about the bills we covered here:

Bill Highlights

S.B. 3001, Pandemic Response Appropriations Adjustments, passed the Senate and House.

The bill temporarily shifts money earmarked for several areas of state government to cover state needs. The shift is necessary due to delayed tax deadlines and state tax revenues. Excess non-lapsing balances for the fiscal year 2020 will be available for immediate use in the General Fund and will be replaced at the beginning of the fiscal year 2021 when new tax revenues are received.

S.B. 3001 also appropriates a portion of federal coronavirus funds the state will receive to cover costs of providing personal protective equipment, coronavirus testing and other costs related to the COVID-19 epidemic. It requires the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to report weekly expenditures to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst.

Adjustments to Education Fund appropriations to match the delay of income tax payments in H.B. 3003:

  • H.B. 3003 moves income tax deadlines from April 15 to July 15, pushing an estimated $840 million in Education Fund revenue from FY 2020 to FY 2021.

  • To avoid a budget deficit in FY 2020, section one of this bill moves non-lapsing program balances and fund balances and reduces General and Education Fund appropriations in FY 2020.

  • The bill reduces Education Fund appropriations in Higher Ed and replaces them with General Fund appropriations.

  • Those actions, combined with our normal “float” from one fiscal year to the next, will cover the timing issue.

  • Section two of H.B. 3001 will reverse the entries in Section 1 during Fiscal Year 2021 – restoring the General and Education Fund appropriations in the same fiscal year.

  • These actions have a net-zero impact on General and Education funds.

S.B. 3001 appropriates $108 million of the available $688 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money for immediate needs, including:

  • $65 million for personal protective equipment, traditional testing, mobile testing, emergency facilities and similar costs.

  • $11 million for the small business loan program already underway.

  • $2 million for vaccine research.

  • $10 million for rapid and antibody testing.

  • $20 million for targeted services to at-risk populations like seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

The bill also makes some minor technical corrections to balance budgets in FY 2020 and FY 2021. Moving forward, further adjustments may be needed to account for revenue losses and increased demands for government services.

S.B. 3002, Emergency Healthcare Access and Immunity Amendments, passed the Senate and House.

This bill provides legal protections for COVID-19-related issues in the following ways:

  1. Provides immunity for healthcare providers harm from acts or omissions in the provision of health care related to an emergency pandemic, including protections that it is not a breach of standard care for healthcare workers to act outside their normal training and scope of work.

  2. Expand Utah's “Right to Try Act” to allow narrow permission for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to be prescribed investigational drugs under medical supervision. These include medications such as remdesivir, which have passed FDA safety requirements and appear promising but have not yet passed efficacy trials for COVID-19 treatment.

  3. Provides legal protections for medical providers that prescribe promising medications, such as hydroxychloroquine, “off-label” for the treatment of COVID-19.

S.B. 3003, Unemployment Benefits Amendments, passed the Senate and House.

This bill allows the Department of Workforce Services to waive the one-week waiting period for an individual to qualify for unemployment benefits. It also authorizes the state to receive federal funding for the first week of an individual’s unemployment insurance.

S.B. 3004, COVID-19 Health and Economic Response Act, passed the Senate and House.

This bill creates mechanisms to help the state begin transitioning from the urgent phase to the stabilization phase of the Utah Leads Together plan. It creates a ten-member Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission to advise the governor regarding the state’s response to the COVID-19 emergency. Among other things, the commission is required to develop risk levels to help guide types of activities that will be allowed or prohibited based on current state assessments. Risk categories can be assigned separately for different geographies, groups of individuals and industries. The commission will create a plan to move the state into the risk level that is immediately below the highest risk level, including a plan to allow for elective surgeries and expanded restaurant activities. The bill requires the governor to adopt the plan before the end of the month.

S.B. 3005, Education Modifications, passed the Senate and House.

This bill waives several public education requirements and deadlines that were made difficult or impossible to comply with during school closures. Specifically, it:

  1. Grants a blanket waiver to local education agencies to administer an assessment with which the LEA had not fully completed at the time schools closed statewide.

  2. Waives a requirement this year for students to pass a state-wide civics test before receiving a high school diploma.

  3. Waives a requirement to administer end-of-year employee evaluations this year.

S.B. 3006, COVID-19 Financial Relief Funding, passed the Senate.

This bill institutes three programs providing targeted financial assistance to individuals and businesses financially harmed by COVID-19 public health measures. Each program is funded using only federal funds provided through the CARES Act:

  1. Agricultural Grants - The bill allocates $20 million of federal funding to the Conservation Commission for grants helping with farms, ranches or animal feed for organizations that have been financially harmed by public health measures related to COVID-19. Grants are capped at $40,000 each and are halved if a recipient has already received funding under the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The program will fund a minimum of 500 grants.

  2. Residential Housing Assistance - the bill provides $20 million of federal funding to the Housing and Community Development Division to help state residents harmed by COVID-19 to retain or obtain housing.

  3. Commercial Rental Assistance - provides $40 million of federal funding for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to use in a newly created “Commercial Rental Assistance Program” in order to grant qualifying small businesses with funding for up to one month’s rent. The program will fund a minimum of 4,000 grants.

    1. To qualify, businesses must have fewer than 100 employees and have lost at least 50 percent of gross revenues as a direct result of public COVID-19 measures. The program is available for most nonprofit organizations and tribal businesses.

    2. The value of benefits a business may obtain depends upon losses the business has sustained. Businesses incurring 50–71 percent losses may obtain an amount equal to 50 percent of the business’s monthly rent. Businesses incurring greater losses may receive an amount equal to 100 percent of their monthly rent. If a business has already received funding under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, the value of the grant is halved. Grant amounts are capped at $10,000.

S.J.R. 301, Joint Resolution Approving Acceptance of Federal Funding in Response to COVID-19, passed the Senate and House.

Under state law, the Legislature must approve the receipt of federal funds in excess of $10 million. This resolution approves the Legislature's receipt of federal funds under three congressional bills addressing COVID-19.

The Federal Government has passed three stimulus bills related to COVID-19. Combined, they will provide more than $1.5 billion to Utah. This resolution approves the acceptance of these federal grants. The grants must be appropriated to specific agencies before money can be spent, which will be addressed in future special sessions.

H.B. 3001, Bond Amendments, passed the Senate and House.

This bill frees up ongoing funding that would otherwise be used for state highway projects. It allows the State Bonding Commission to issue certain highway bonds in excess of 50 percent of the constitutional debt limit. It is estimated that issuing these bonds will bring the state’s outstanding debt to about 52 percent of the constitutional debt limit.

H.B. 3002, Appropriations Revisions, passed the Senate and House.

This bill allows the division of finance to delay the deadline for state agencies to submit annual budgets for up to 45 days. In order to handle the infusion of federal Medicaid funding, H.B. 3002 also requires that Medicaid funding for this fiscal year not lapse to the general fund.

H.B. 3003, Income Tax Revisions, passed the Senate and House.

Generally consistent with 2020 General Session S.B. 191, this bill delays certain tax deadlines to July 15 to be consistent with federal legislation. H.B. 3003 also makes several other changes to be consistent with federal tax remittance policies.

H.B. 3004, Municipal Annexation Amendments, introduced in the House.

Laws allowing a municipality to annex certain areas without an annexation petition were changed by in 2017 (S.B. 140) and further modified in 2020 (H.B. 393). Disputes regarding the applicability of certain provisions have arisen for individuals who initiated the annexation process between those changes. This bill addresses those disputes by providing that 2020 General Session changes do not apply to a municipality that initiated the annexation process before the changes took effect. H.B. 3004 also prohibits a person from filing an annexation petition for an area that is the subject of a pending annexation election.

H.B. 3005, Pandemic Response and Consultation Act, passed the House and was circled in the Senate.

This bill modifies the relationship between the governor and the Legislature in an emergency in two keyways:

  1. It requires the governor to consult in good faith with and provide 48-hours notice to the speaker, president and minority leaders before issuing orders or directives related to a pandemic emergency.

  2. It gives the Legislature authority to terminate an executive order, directive, or other action issued by the governor during an emergency.

H.B. 3006, Election Amendments, passed the Senate and House.

This bill requires the 2020 Primary Election to be conducted entirely by mail. It suspends requirements that a county provide in-person election services such as early voting, election day voting centers, in-person voter registration, provisional balloting, the provision of election information at a county clerk’s office, and provisions related to poll watchers and election judges. The bill allows a county to become a "mobile voting" county and provide options for drive-up voting.

The bill directs the lieutenant governor to create safety protocols to protect election workers who may be exposed to the coronavirus through voters and from handling ballots. The Lieutenant governor is also required to create a public education campaign on how the election will be conducted. Consistent with other statutory changes, the bill also amends the voter information pamphlet to reflect changes in the bill. It also moves the ballot postmark deadline from the day before to the day of the election and prohibits a county clerk from publishing any election results until after 10:00 p.m. on election day. Finally, the bill clarifies that local emergency orders do not impact the conduct of the primary election.

H.B. 3007, COVID-19 Workers' Compensation for First Responders, passed the Senate and House.

The bill establishes a rebuttable presumption that a first responder or health care provider that is diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job and therefore qualifies for workers compensation benefits. It also provides that part-time and volunteer first responders and health care providers are "employees" of the organization they are assisting, through which they can claim prorated workers compensation benefits under the bill. The bill also requires those organizations to pay increased workers compensation premiums for their part-time and volunteer workers.

H.B. 3008, Railroad Fuel Sales Tax Amendments, is currently in the House and has not been considered on the Senate or House floor.

This bill is based on 2020 H.B. 356, Railroad Amendments, which was vetoed by the governor. The bill repeals a sales tax exemption on fuel used in locomotives. The new sales tax revenues are used primarily to improve railroad crossings for county and municipal (B&C) roads, and also for environmental impact studies and safety issues related to railroad crossings.

H.J.R. 301, Joint Resolution Urging Fiscal Responsibility, passed the Senate and House.

The resolution provides guidance to help state, local and education agencies not commit to unnecessary expenditures for the next fiscal year. It advises agencies to budget as though they had received no additional funding in the last legislative session, in accordance with the base budget bills the Legislature passed, which already account for enrollment growth for public education.

H.J.R. 302, Joint Resolution Extending the State of Emergency Due to 5.7 Magnitude Earthquake, passed the Senate and House.

The resolution extends the state of emergency related to the March 18, 5.7 magnitude Magna earthquake until May 18, 2020.

H.C.R. 301, Concurrent Resolution Honoring Healthcare Workers and Others, passed the Senate and House.

This resolution recognizes and expresses appreciation to health care workers, first responders, grocery employees, long-term care facilities and others for the critical assistance they are providing the public during the coronavirus pandemic.

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