This is the last day of the 2016 General Legislative session. The session will adjourn at midnight. On Friday morning you can find the final status of all the proposed legislation and appropriations requests on the legislative website. As the session winds down, I would like to update you on a few important matters.
Please excuse any mistakes in this message. I’ve had a grand total of 15 hours of sleep in the past three nights and we will be voting on bills until midnight.
Hot Issues Still to be Determined
There are so many important bills still being debated, that it’s impossible to mention them all. They include medical marijuana, budget issues, election law, juvenile sentencing, and alcohol beverage control proposals. Two of these issues that have generated hundreds of email messages are below.
The bill to outlaw the death penalty in Utah divisively passed by close votes – the full Senate by 15-12 and a House committee by 6-5. We anticipate a debate by the full House before midnight.
Utah is one of 31 states that still administers the death penalty and would be the 6th state in the last 5 years to abolish it. During the debates, both sides discussed the problems with the extensive appeals process and the decades-long route for an execution to actually take place for those on death row. They also discussed issues related to moral concerns and discovering exculpatory evidence too late. Arguments in favor of this legislation repeatedly cited the toll that this takes on families of victims, who must revisit the loss of their loved one every time an appeal takes place.
There is also an incredible expense to the taxpayer. A 2012 Utah legislative study found that the increased trial costs of a death penalty sentence were $1.6 million more expensive than serving life without parole.
Those arguing for retaining the death penalty cited cases of incredible murders with very clear evidence. They also talked about issues dealing with plea bargaining.
This very complicated public utilities bill takes some of the authority away from our Public Service Commission (PSC) to regulate our major electric utility. While there are some positive aspects to this bill, they are outweighed by the elimination of an important utility risk-sharing mechanism. This mechanism provides incentives to Rocky Mountain Power to appropriately and responsibly manage fuel price risk in a way that aligns the utility’s financial interests with the best interest of its customers.
Instead of passing this bill, I believe we should give the PSC and their expert staff adequate time to carefully evaluate what implementing SB115 would mean, how it might work, the intended and unintended consequences, as well as the impact on rates and subsidies. The PSC can then report back to the Legislature on its findings.
There have been a number of versions of this bill. 4th Substitute SB 115 was released and debated by the House Public Utilities & Technology Committee on Tuesday. It is an improvement over the past version but there are still many concerns. As a member of the Public Utilities committee, I voted against the bill, but it passed on a 6-5 vote. It will come to the full House for a debate today. I will continue to strongly oppose this legislation, unless it is dramatically amended.
Some of the Legislation That I Sponsored or Cosponsored
HB 52 – Office of Outdoor Recreation Amendments unanimously passed the Legislature. This bill will help the state improve its outdoor infrastructure in both rural and urban settings by providing matching funds for projects such as trails, boat ramps, beaches, restrooms and playgrounds.
HB 130 – Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Amendments passed Legislature. This bill facilitates better air quality through financing for electric vehicle charging stations.
HB 158 – Campaign Funds Restrictions for County and Local School Board Officesunanimously passed the Legislature. This bill restricts the personal use of campaign funds for county and local school board candidates and officials.
HB 237 – Income Tax Contribution for Clean Air passed the Legislature. This bill provides a voluntary option for taxpayers to donate to the Clean Air Fund on their tax returns.
HB 267 - Charitable Solicitation Act Amendments unanimously passed the Legislature. This bill reduces over-regulation of certain organizations, such as the PTA, that already have adequate state oversight. It also clarifies other aspects of the state consumer protection law.
HJR 6 – Joints Rules Resolution on Ethics Commission proposed a number of modifications to the current legislative ethics law. One of the most important changes would allow those who are not Utah voters to file complaints against legislators. Utah is the only state with this limitation. Current law would prohibit, for example, a visiting professor from filing a complaint if that professor was registered to vote in another state. This legislation was defeated in a House committee.
HB 275 – Submission of Nonbinding Opinion Questions to Voters was held in Rules and never allowed a committee hearing. This bill established procedures for submitting nonbinding opinion questions to the voters of Utah.
HB 135 – State Parks Fee Exemption Amendments passed the Legislature. This bill will provide free admission to Utah State Parks for honorably discharged Utah veterans with a disability.
HB 201 – Student Testing Amendments passed the House and is waiting to be heard by the full Senate. This bill would help Utah teachers by prohibiting the use of end-of-level assessment scores in educator evaluations. This is important because of many factors which impact test results and are often outside a teacher’s control.
HB 241 – Computer Abuse and Data Recovery Act unanimously passed the Legislature. This bill imposes civil penalties on a person who obtains information from a protected computer without the owner’s permission. It protects employers from computer hacking, information theft, and other increasingly common forms of computer abuse by providing grounds for a civil suit in which the owner has the chance to recover lost information or other damages.
Selected Clean Air Legislation
HB 87 – Clean Fuel Conversion Amendments passed the Legislature. This bill authorizes grants for persons who install conversion equipment for alternative fuel on eligible vehicles and extends tax credits for energy efficient vehicles.
HB 250 – Air Quality Amendments passed the Legislature. Under HB 250, polluting water heaters will be phased out and replaced with the ultra-low NOx heaters. No one will be forced to replace their water heater. Updating a current water heater to an ultra-low NOx water heater reduces pollution emissions by 70-75% at very little additional cost.
SB 49 – Statute of Limitations on Environmental Code Violations passed the Legislature. This bill extends the statute of limitations for prosecuting violators of the Environmental Quality Code.
SB 102 – High Cost Infrastructure Credit Amendments passed the Legislature. This bill provides a tax incentive for refineries to expedite their conversion to the cleaner Tier 3 fuels.
SB 186 – Air Quality Incentives passed the Legislature. This bill assists companies, located in nonattainment areas, to install the best available air pollution control technology.
Clean Air Appropriations Requests – There are also a number of requested clean air appropriations. Those will be finalized by midnight. Some of the funding tentatively approved includes appropriations for some of the air quality monitors needed, air quality research, and a modern Technical Support Center to improve the efficiency and reliability of our air monitoring program.
Thank you for all of your valuable input this session. The Legislature will begin Interim and task force meetings in a few weeks, so please continue to let me know your suggestions on how we can continue to improve our state government.
Finally, thanks to my wonderful intern Kathryn Macdonald, who has helped write these messages and done so much work for all my bills and committee work this session. I have truly been lucky to work with such an outstanding human being.
It is truly an honor to represent House District 36.