Greetings from the State Capitol! We have completed the fourth week of the session, which means we are more than half way done – at least in terms of calendar days. Ninety bills have passed the House and Senate. But there are over 1200 bill files that have been opened. Many of these bills have not yet been drafted.
Thank you to all of those who have contacted me. I hope you will continue to let me know your thoughts about state legislative issues. For those of you who are getting this update for the first time, links to my prior messages can be found in the right column.
Hot Topics on the Hill – Hate Crimes
SB 107 – Hate Crime Amendments, sponsored by Senator Urquhart, passed a committee last week and will next be debated by the full Senate. The bill defines a hate crime as an offense against a person or person’s property based on a belief or perception about their ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation. It provides for enhanced penalties when those beliefs motivate a crime.
According to the sponsor, hate crimes are not only an offense to an individual, but also negatively affect an entire community. During the committee hearing, many witnesses argued that the existing hate crime law is too difficult to enforce. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said there were over 1,200 hate crimes investigated by police in the past 20 years, but only a handful ever prosecuted. Gill testified that “we, as public prosecutors, want a tool available to us so we can effectively address a measure of justice to the community.” In 2014 the FBI reported 50 bias-motivated crimes in Utah. None were prosecuted under Utah’s current hate crime law.
Senator Urquhart stated that his bill does not restrict speech, and that under the First Amendment individuals are free to express hate. He also noted that the law draws a line between thought and action. When someone acts on his or her hate to harm another, Urquhart feels that there should be a harsher punishment.
Senator Todd Weiler, the only legislator to vote against the bill at the hearing, wondered if the hate crimes bill came too soon after last year when the Legislature adopted a landmark law forbidding housing and employment discrimination for the LGBT community. After the hearing, the LDS Church expressed concern that the proposed law could upset the balance of religious liberty and gay rights achieved in legislation passed last year.
Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman’s excellent Op-Ed on this legislation was in Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune. You can find it here.
Last week, two of my bills passed the House of Representatives unanimously: HB 267 – Charitable Solicitations Act Amendments and HB 158 – Campaign Funds Restrictions for County and School Board Offices. Following its passage in the House, I presented HB 267 in the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Friday, which passed unanimously as well. HB 158 will be debated in the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee on Monday.
HB 237 – Income Tax Contribution for Clean Air, which would give taxpayers the option to voluntarily donate to the new “Clean Air Fund” on their tax returns, unanimously passed the House Revenue and Tax Committee after a lively debate. I look forward to presenting it to the full House for their consideration.
Part of our work in the Legislature involves passing the state budget. During the first few weeks of the session each appropriations subcommittee reviewed “base budgets” and considered new requests for ongoing or one-time funding. The number, scope, and type of requests vary dramatically. For example, a few of the many requests presented to the Business Economic Development & Labor Appropriations Subcommittee on which I serve, included funding for: liquor store staff and equipment, tourism marketing, museums and other arts organizations, Columbus Hub of Opportunity, Outdoor Recreation Office, and many local community events.
The prioritization process is difficult because of the number of worthy requests and very limited new funds. It is important that we are wise stewards of taxpayer dollars. You can review all the lists of requests on our legislative website.
Each appropriations subcommittee has completed their review of base budgets and new funding requests and made their recommendations. As a member of House Leadership, I serve on the Executive Appropriations Committee and will be working with my colleagues to review the subcommittee recommendations and create a final budget.
The Compendium of Budget Information (COBI) provides much more detailed budget analysis and can be found here.
Officers Barney and Richey
Last week, the Utah Legislature honored the family of Officer Doug Barney and Officer Jon Richey. As many of you know, on January 17th Officer Barney was killed in the line of duty. Officer Richey was injured in the same incident. Both of these officers worked in Holladay, Utah. Our state owes a huge debt of gratitude to these officers and their families.
Officer Barney had a distinguished 18-year career in law enforcement. He served as a school resource officer before joining the Unified Police Department (UPD), where he was assigned to the Holladay Precinct. I was honored to know Officer Barney. I will never forget his wonderful sense of humor. He loved talking about music and cars. He was truly devoted to his family and our community.
Officer Richey grew up in Holladay. He is well known for his incredible work ethic. He started his law enforcement career in 1984, as the youngest police officer in the state. He has brought national and international renown to the K-9 units he trained. Our community was touched by the eloquent speech he gave about Doug Barney at the Vigil last month. We wish Officer Richey a full and speedy recovery.
Utah Division of Arts & Museums
Last week, I saw some of the collection of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums. One of the most interesting exhibits was about State Representative Alice Merrill Horne, a Democrat who was the second woman to serve in that body (elected in 1898). She pioneered legislation to create the first state-sponsored arts agency in the nation, as well as legislation setting aside the land grant for the University of Utah. She also fought for clean air and helped save the Eagle Gate from demolition. Below is a photo of Rep. Horne and one of the first pieces of art bought for our state art collection. It depicts Black Rock at the Great Salt Lake, which happens to be where my parents became engaged to be married in 1949.
Crash Course in the Utah State Legislature
For those of you who would like get involved in the legislative process or just learn more about how the Utah Legislature works, I wanted to include some helpful links to pages on our legislative website. This is just part of the wealth of information available for the public.