Week 7 - 2020 Legislative Session

Ron Speaks

The end of session has arrived. We passed as many bills as we could until the clock struck midnight. It was a late night but memorable. Click here to see what bills were passed.

As the budget goes, I am happy to report that we are appropriating $255 million for K-12 education enrollment growth and a 6% WPU funding increase. We take pride in preparedness by allocating $26 million in one-time funding $132 million in ongoing funds to our rainy- day funds. I will have more information about the budget and where taxpayer dollars were allocated in the coming weeks. Be on the look-out for a Top 50 Issues newsletter in the coming days.

Here is the recent update on the Coronavirus:

We allocated over $20 million to bolster state and local efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Funding includes targeted programs to protect Utah’s seniors, who are particularly susceptible to the virus. Additionally, Utah will have access to over $6 million from the federal government.

We also passed S.J.R. 16, which permits the Utah Legislature to conduct electronic meetings as needed under specific conditions. In the event of any emergency, state leaders will still be able to conduct business, address problems and serve the people of Utah. The resolution meets all requirements prescribed by the Open Public Meetings Act. Updates and additional prevention tips can be found online at coronavirus.utah.gov

Grateful for all the work being done by health care workers!

Here are some bills we passed this week:

Reporting Requirements for County Jails

S.B. 240, Reporting Requirements for County Jails, passed the Senate 27-0 vote. It requires county jails to report specific information if incarcerated individuals die name, gender, race, ethnicity, age & any known prior diagnosis. State prisons are already required to do this. Recently there was a three-fold rise in deaths among Utah’s county jails. Without data, it’s more difficult to evaluate and address problems.

Education Funding Proposal

We passed legislation that will protect, stabilize and expand K-12 public education funding in our state. The two bills comprising the proposal, S.J.R. 9 and H.B. 357, support services for children and individuals with disabilities. Implementation of the proposal is subject to voter approval in the November 2020 general election.

S.J.R. 9, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution - Use of Tax Revenue, passed the Legislature, which would extend the use of income tax revenue to fund critical programs for children and for individuals with disabilities.

H.B. 357, Public Education Funding Stabilization, will protect, stabilize and grow Utah’s education funding. This bill moves the Minimum School Program funding (which includes WPU—the weighted pupil unit) to a constitutionally protected account for K-12 education. It will also automatically adjust education funding for enrollment growth and inflation. In addition, this establishes a reserve to meet educational funding commitments during economic downturns.

If approved by voters in the November 2020 election, the proposal would amend the Utah Constitution to allow the use of some income tax revenue to support services for children and for individuals with disabilities, including social services that supplement educational needs and support students physical and mental health.

Also, $75 million will be placed in the education stabilization account, and approximately $3.6 billion of K-12 education funding will be moved to the Uniform School Fund, which is constitutionally dedicated to K-12 education.

Additionally, in the current year budget, the Legislature is increasing the WPU by 6 percent and putting $200,000 in ongoing funding to the T.H. Bell Teaching Scholarship to retain teachers. The enactment of H.B. 357 is based on a constitutional amendment, which is subject to voter approval in the 2020 general election. S.J.R. 9 will be on the ballot this November.

Start Smart Utah Breakfast Program

We want to see every student succeed. Though, we know that some Utah students face significant barriers, including not getting enough to eat daily. To help address this need, we passed H.B. 222, Start Smart Utah Breakfast Program. It creates a program to expand school breakfast access in public schools. While this bill initially failed in committee, it was reconsidered a week later with a new substitute and then passed out of the Senate committee unanimously with a favorable recommendation. This bill passed in both chambers and will be sent to the governor for his consideration.

Gambling Machines and Sweepstakes

Under the Utah Constitution, gambling is prohibited under “any pretense.” S.B. 214, Gambling Machine and Sweepstakes Amendments, addresses loopholes in the law leading to unregulated gambling in some Utah communities. This bill modifies definitions to clarify which types of machines are legal and prohibits the operation of fringe gaming devices. In addition, it enhances criminal penalties for individuals who own or operate fringe gambling devices, not consumers who play them. Oftentimes, fringe gambling allows individuals to insert cash into a slot machine-like device where they push a button in hopes of winning cash prizes. Fringe gambling devices have cropped up in convenience stores, gas stations, beauty salons, vape shops and even laundromats.

Statistically, gambling is highly correlated with increases in theft, alcoholism, financial distress, family instability and violence. Locations with fringe gambling devices often become hotspots for other illegal activities, such as prostitution and drug dealing. Often fringe gambling devices are placed to specifically target the financially disadvantaged—those who can least afford to lose.

S.B. 214 passed in both the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his consideration.

You can watch the floor presentation here.

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