Dear friends and neighbors,
Happy Fall! September was filled with plenty of events. Besides interim, the legislature held a special session and a long-term planning summit. The summit gave me an opportunity to step back from tackling today’s needs, look to the future and consider what choices we can make now that will make for a better tomorrow. There were presentations from experts as well as breakout sessions where we as legislators can engage and converse about possible ways to address big issues like housing affordability, transportation and water.
If you want to watch the meeting, click here.
Here’s a quick summary about what a special session is and how it works:
- Most of the legislature's work is accomplished during the 45-day general legislative session that runs from January to March each year. Occasionally, pressing issues that can’t wait for the general session arise. When this happens the governor can convene a special session for legislators to consider issues and address matters that require urgent attention.
- Governor Herbert issued a call for the Sixty-third Utah State Legislature to convene its first special session on Monday, September 16th in conjunction with September’s regularly scheduled interim week. The purpose of the special session was to address issues regarding the dispensing of medical cannabis, appropriate census funding and to make other technical adjustments.
- To get a brief explanation from legislative leadership of the bills that were considered during this special session, click here.
Highlights from special session are below:
In an effort to get medical cannabis to patients before the March 2020 deadline outlined in HB 3001, Utah Medical Cannabis Act, we needed to make some changes to keep things on track. When dealing with complicated legislative matters, it is typical to make adjustments as we develop a new program or comprehensive public policy. Medical cannabis is no exception. The changes recently made were not the first and likely not the last. During the special session, we passed SB 1002, Medical Cannabis Amendments, which altered the number of cannabis pharmacies, increased legal protections for patients and paved the way for cannabis businesses to move forward.
You can read about the full changes here.
Every ten years, the United States Department of Commerce performs the decennial census. The information collected in the census has a vast affect on Utahns. The information is used to make data-driven decisions – everything from land-use planning, to economic development, to city and county classifications, to allocation to congressional and legislative representation. As a state we have an interest in ensuring its accuracy.
We learned the federal government altered how the 2020 census canvassing will be conducted. It is shifting from a paper-based process to a primarily online approach and is now relying on states to provide outreach and public awareness. With the outreach responsibility shifting to the state, it became necessary for us to appropriate money to inform citizens about the census and create educational materials, especially for those in rural areas, and areas with limited internet access as well as areas with aging residents.
HB 1001, Supplemental Appropriations Amendments, allocated $1 million to support an accurate census count through public awareness outreach campaigns to encourage residents to complete the census, including grants for local governments and non-profit organizations to increase participation.
Census Day is April 1, 2020. Online responses will be available beginning on March 23, 2020.
During the 2019 General Session, we passed a law allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with 4.0 percent alcohol content, after learning major beer producers would be phasing out the production of beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content. The 4.0 beer is permitted to be sold in grocery and convenience stores on November 1, 2019 but the original law did not permit store owners to take possession of the product prior to this date. This created a logistical challenge for businesses. HB 1002, Beer Transition Period Amendments, simply addresses the logistic and inventory concern by permitting retailers to have the new product in storage a week in advance, so it is ready to be placed on the shelves November 1.
Election Date Changes
In 2019 we passed a bill that clarified and cleaned up our election code. After it passed, we realized an unforeseen calendaring consequence that occurs every seven years. 2020 is one of those unique calendar years with fewer options for political parties to hold their elections based on the deadlines in law. SB 1001, Election Code Date Changes, changes the primary election date in 2020 to June 30 as well as certification dates so that parties, county clerks and the Lieutenant Governor’s office can have time to do their jobs properly.
In Utah, a public officer acquitted of a crime for acts committed as an officer or employee of the state is entitled to recover attorney fees and court costs according to state statute. Financial settlements of more than $1 million require approval by the governor and the legislature. A jury acquitted John Swallow of criminal charges. As such he is entitled to recover his attorney fees as negotiated by the Utah Attorney General's Office. We passed HJR 101, Joint Resolution Approving Swallow Settlement and HB 1001, Supplemental Appropriations Amendments, so we could pay the bill that we are statutorily required to pay.
Tax Incentive Oversight Amendments
HB 1003, Tax Incentive Oversight Amendment, is a technical language change to a bill passed during the 2019 General Session. It modifies amendments to certain tax incentives regarding the review process required by an independent certified public accountant (CPA). The statute will be adjusted from “attest” to “review and report.” The change provides CPA’s with the ability to determine the right level of scrutiny when reviewing tax credit transactions to assure accountability and accuracy of tax incentive requests of recipients.
Facial Recognition Technology Use
In July, local and national news outlets reported federal agencies sometimes use facial recognition on driver's license information to help with a criminal investigation. Utah was one of three states to use facial recognition technology to help identify criminals. Following the reports, the Government and Operations Interim Committee was directed to study this topic.
During the September interim, the committee heard concerns about problems with facial recognition, including the possible inability for Utahns to opt-out or avoid face recognition. They also heard from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) who reported searches were only for specific individuals involved in criminal investigations. DPS is also drafting new rules regarding information sharing.
The committee opened a bill file to look into options to outline policies on the use of facial recognition to be considered during the upcoming legislative session
Access committee documents here.
2020 Utah State Senate Visual Arts Scholarship Competition
Every year, the Utah State Senate sponsors a visual arts scholarship competition for Utah high school students. The 2020 competition, sponsored by the Senate President, seeks to challenge Utah students to view the world artistically and express their creativity. This year’s competition requires no specific theme but encourages students to share a visual idea of an aspect of Utah that is meaningful and inspirational to them.
For additional information and how to submit an entry, click here.
“Where Does the Money Go?”
Possibly the most debated and discussed area of our state’s budget is education funding. The Utah State Auditor’s office launched the Utah Public Education Spending Dashboard entitled, “Where Does the Money Go?” This interactive dashboard provides in-depth information about spending within Utah’s public K-12 education system. The purpose of the dashboard is to make it easier for the public to understand and interpret education spending. The dashboard visually displays where education money is spent. Functions include users ability to see spending with or without capital expenses like building and bond costs that are not always incorporated in education spending reports.
Learn more here.
Opioid Town Hall
Members of the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee held a town hall in Carbon County on September 13. Concerned citizens were invited to come and discuss the current status of the opioid crisis in the county and learn about actions taken in response to nine specific suggestions received during the town hall held in September of 2018. The committee also reviewed data and comparisons on opioid overdose deaths in the United States, Utah and Carbon County. They also analyzed what makes Carbon County unique in comparison to other counties in the state and across the nation. The graphic below illustrates the seriousness of the issue regarding drug overdose deaths involving opioids in Carbon County.
Listen to the discussion here.
Utah has the 13th highest vaping use in the country, and an estimated 5.1 percent of Utah teens use e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of students using e-cigarettes is growing and long-term use is revealing more potential health threats associated with electronic cigarettes. Legislators are reviewing possible policy options to limit the supply to kids in our state. A group specifically assigned to e-cigarettes has been working during legislative interim to discuss what is currently working in state law and what needs to be changed.
The bright colors and flavors found in e-cigarette cartridges and accessories could be attractive to minors and introduce them to nicotine at an early age. Some students and parents may believe that e-cigarettes are harmless and many elementary school kids are starting to try them. The working group is collaborating with the four different legislative interim committees assigned to study this issue along with many different stakeholders, including local health departments and the CDC, to craft legislation and develop state-level strategies to change perceptions and reduce access to children in order to combat the growing concern with the product.
Listen to an update the e-cigarettes workgroup presented to the Education Interim Committee here.
In the News: Deseret News
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 26