Most students recognize the importance of staying current with the local government happenings. But between school, work, social engagements and other extracurricular activities, students can often find themselves dealing with a certain amount of guilt for not having the time to investigate the details of a legislative session as it unfolds on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
Hoping to alleviate your feeling of shame, no matter how slight or overwhelming, here is a recap of the important events of the 2018 Utah Legislative Session.
Centering on the terminally ill, HB195 and HB197 were overwhelmingly passed in the Senate 22-4 and 22-3, respectively. The bills allow the option of medical marijuana for patients who have six months to live, and sets up a state-run system for getting the patients their medicine. Contrary to most legislators’ wishes, there will be a ballot initiative in November when wider medical marijuana use will be voted on.
Inland Port Land-Grab
SB234 creates a new organization, the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA), which will oversee and run an inland port. In a controversial move, the UIPA will develop almost 20,000 acres of Salt Lake City. According to the Deseret News, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the bill “eliminated the city’s land-use authority, compromised environmental protections and took all tax increment” of the port authority’s area with a board that has “complete lack of accountability.”
SB27, making the largest difference of a near-dozen domestic violence bills, narrows what counts as a family member and changes the definition of domestic violence, so that victims can obtain a protective order from someone they had been involved with despite having never lived together. Also, the bill requires police officers to provide victims with written information on possible resources.
Another major domestic violence bill, HB165, establishes clear guidelines for law enforcement and prosecutors for the pretrial process, as well as protections for domestic violence victims.
Legislators voted to cut the amount of days for legal fireworks nearly in half, and gave individual cities the ability to ban fireworks altogether, depending on the location and fire hazards present. HB38 allows for use of fireworks from July 2-5 as well as July 22-25 for a total of eight days a year.
After years of refusing to expand Medicaid, the Utah legislature passed coverage for impoverished citizens over the age of 18 who normally wouldn’t qualify. The victory may remain elusive, as the bill has yet to be approved federally, with many questioning its likelihood of approval. The bill may also contend with a ballot initiative in November.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, decided not to proceed with his idea of naming the Utah National Parks Highway the “Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway.” The proposal was to honor the current president and thank him for listening to requests to shrink two national monuments in the state.
Attempting to rename a highway that runs through Utah’s National Parks only added insult to injury for Utahns who were opposed to shrinking of the wilderness areas. Many of those opposed expressed their views directly to Noel’s voicemail, often hurling obscenities and threats.
In response to the bill, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, announced on Twitter that he would be ready to propose “an amendment that the frontage road be designated as the Stormy Daniels rampway” if the bill reached the Senate.
Campus Sexual Assault
In an effort to more actively prevent serial sexual assault perpetrators on college campuses, Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, put forth HB254. The bill would override a victim’s right to confidentiality and allow the college to report the offender to off-campus law enforcement.
The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and other advocacy groups adamantly opposed the bill, declaring that it defeats its own purpose; the perpetrators of sex assault crimes thrive in a world that keeps the victims from speaking out, and that’s what the bill would effectively do.
“We’re not going to be supporting the survivors,” Rep. Angelo Romero, D-Salt Lake City, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We’re going to be pushing survivors back into the shadows and they’re not going to report.”
Repeal .05% Drunk Driving
In an interview with KUER RadioWest, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, gave his reasoning for why the bill to repeal the lower blood-alcohol limit didn’t pass: “There was so much publicity around the change … from .08 to .05, even though the law hasn’t even taken effect yet; drunk driving arrests were down. Now I’ve seen statistics that [say] any time you change your DUI laws there is a dip, then it will normalize and come back up. … when some of my colleagues saw the data, … [it] did not lead them to believe they needed to change [the law].”
With support for the death penalty in Utah waning, lawmakers found a new angle for its abolishment. Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, sponsored HB379, a bill banning the state from seeking the death penalty for aggravated murder committed after May 7, 2018. The bill is mainly being supported by the argument that the death penalty does not make financial sense, an argument that even got Governor Gary Herbert to become a supporter.
So, was this legislative session a win for Utah?
In remarks following the conclusion of the legislative session, Herbert called the session “truly remarkable,” contributing the success to “a good tone and a strong work ethic.”
On the Democratic side, Dabakis told KUER, “I would say it is the best session in the six years that I’ve been there,” ascribing the success to the people involved being agreeable with one another on both sides of the aisle.