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2017 Legislative Session

2017 Legislative Session – week 6

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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Week 6, the last full week of the 2017 Legislative Session, is complete. Next Thursday at midnight will mark the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. At this point in the session, we’re working to finalize the budget and complete the process of turning ideas into bills and turning those bills into law. Next week’s legislative schedule includes at least one more packed day of committee meetings, and three full days of debate on the Senate floor.

The Budget – Always the Budget

After reviewing and prioritizing the sub-appropriations committees work, this week the Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC) presented their budget proposal for funding with new money in committee this week. One of the proposed changes to the budget is to increase education funding by 4% (see the full list of proposed changes here).  The revised budget will be passed by Tuesday.

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Major  Bills

Student Assessment and School Accountability

Education legislation is a big topic every year. This year SB 220 seeks to reform our current system for student assessments and school accountability. Under this bill, our high schoolers would no longer take the SAGE test, but rather 9th, 10th, and 11th graders would take the ACT Aspire. Many students take the ACT in order to apply for higher education, and so switching to an ACT would help test students in a way they would find meaningful. This bill would also change our school accountability system to a criterion-based grading system and include a multiple indicator system to account for growth, proficiency, student barriers (such as language), and other meaningful indicators. After good discussion on the Senate floor, this bill passed out of the Senate this week.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune |


Interference with an Officer

If a bystander witnesses a police officer making an arrest and stops to film the officer, does that constitute interference?  With so much confusion about what might or might not constitute as interference, SB239  seeks to clarify that language in Utah State statute. There have been instances when officers have threatened to arrest people for just filming an arrest. This bill clarifies that recording the actions of a law enforcement officer does not, by itself constitute interference with an officer, willful resistance, disorderly conduct, or obstruction of justice. The bill has passed in the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.


Alcohol

Nearly every year, the legislature considers bills that would eliminate the “Zion Curtain”. This year HB 442, is comprehensive bill that would make several major alcohol reforms, including offering new alternatives to the Zion Curtain. Our current alcohol policies have produced great success in our efforts to prevent underage drinking and underage drinking and driving (we have some of the lowest rates in the nation), but there are still some inconsistencies under the law in part due to our nearly 400 grandfathered restaurants that were not required to implement the changes to our then new alcohol policies in 2009. You can learn about exactly what this bill does here on our Senate blog.
In the News: Deseret News | Salt Lake Tribune | Utah Policy


Blood Alcohol Content Limit

Did you know that the United States has a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) level than any other country in the world? Countries around the world typically have BAC levels of .05 or lower. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a BAC level between .05 and .08 makes you seven times more likely to be in a fatal crash than if you had not been drinking. The lower BAC limits do not seem to impact the amount of alcohol consumed, but it does impact drunk driving. Lowering the BAC limit from .08 to .05 would result in an 11% decrease in deaths caused by drunk driving. HB 155 seeks to lower the legal BAC limit in Utah from .08 to .05. This bill does not seek to limit drinking, but rather to help drinkers realize that alcohol truly impairs your ability to drive and that you should not drive if you have been drinking. This bill originated in the House and is now on the 2nd reading calendar in the Senate.

In the News: Deseret News | Daily Herald |


Utah Moves Closer to Incentivizing Tier 3 Fuels

Currently, vehicle emissions contribute about half of the emissions in Utah, which causes polluted, unhealthy air quality. Tier 3 fuels reduce vehicle emissions, and according to the EPA, no state stands more to gain from switching to Tier 3 fuels than Utah. S.B. 197 would focus on the switch to Tier 3 fuels and would implement a $1.8 million tax incentive for refineries that move toward the production of Tier 3 fuels. You can read more about Tier 3 fuels here.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune| Deseret News|

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My Bills

3SB 198 Utah Communications Authority Amendments

Prior to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Utah established UCAN which was the early version of the Utah Communications Authority (UCA). Over the years UCA has had problems with mismanagement and theft. Recently a couple of audits highlighted 18 points that need to change in this organization. This bill, along with internal policy and management changes, seeks to address the issues identified in the audit. One of the problems we face with UCA is outdated equipment, and so this bill creates a funding mechanism for 9-1-1 system upgrades as well as instructs UCA to work with existing providers and structures where it is practical so that the State is not spending unnecessarily.  This bill passed in the Senate and is now in the House.

2SB 229 Sales Factor Weighted Tax Modifications

There is an ambiguity in our corporate income tax code that causes certain businesses confusion about how they should file. This bill creates a predictable approach for the taxpayers that would help them determine whether they fall under single sales factor or not. This would eliminate an opportunity to game the system by preventing businesses from going back and forth on how they file. This bill passed out of the Senate and is now under consideration by the House.
SB 277  Revenue and Bond and Capital Facilities Amendments

Utah is growing quickly. To accommodate the growth, we have dozens of highway construction projects lined up for years and years out. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that construction can be a slow, frustrating process. This bill would authorize the State to take out a $1 billion bond over 4 years in order to speed up several of our highway construction projects. The money from the bond would be used solely for projects that have scored high by UDOT’s.   Unlike other years, UDOT is prioritizing roads based on safety and congestion, and not the legislatures based on what helps just your district.  The main factors are improved traffic flow, reduced congestions, issue new debt to match existing transportation debt service retirement and improved  economic development throughout the state through jobs and tourism.  The Transportation Commission will prioritize the projects which will move up projects like increased capacity on I-15 in three counties, interchange improvements, and congestion relief.

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What do you think?

I am grateful to represent you in the processes that make Utah such a great place to live and raise our families.

I hope to hear your input on these issues this session. The best way to contact me is via email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Wayne Harper

Senate District 6

wharper@le.utah.gov

2017 Legislative Session – Week 3 update

By | 2017 Legislative Session | No Comments

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Each year during the Utah Legislative session, the federal delegation is invited to speak to the Utah Senate and give a report on their activities in Washington D.C. This week, we were honored to hear from Congressman Chris, Jason Chaffetz, and Rob Bishop. Congressman Stewart spoke about the need for greater civility and graciousness in our discourse. Congressman Chaffetz reported on his recent conversation with President Trump and his efforts on various reforms including the postal service and the tax code. Congressman Bishop focused on federalism and the “Article One Project.”

It was our pleasure to hear a special musical number from the Tony award winning singer and actor and Utah resident, Alfie Boe. We also honored Utah’s snow removal teams, who work tirelessly to keep the roads clear and keep Utahans safe.

We also had the wonderful opportunity to recognize our snow plow team in Utah for the wonderful work they do to keep our roads safe. Even with our many guests, we were still able to get work done.

Here are some of the issues we worked on this week in the Senate:

The Budget

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, the budget is the most important item we work on during the legislative session. Every year we are tasked with passing a balanced budget before the 45-day session expires. This week we approved all of our base budgets for our eight appropriation subcommittees.

Dividing appropriations into subcommittees like public education and social services helps us to give a deeper look at the many appropriations requests we receive each year. After the subcommittees consider the requests, they report back to the Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC) how they recommend spending their budget. After the subcommittees and the EAC have discussed the budget, the subcommittees are ready to present their base budget bills to the legislature as a whole for consideration. You can watch the Senate pass the subcommittee base budget bills here. You can also learn more about the budget process here.

In the News: Utah Policy | Deseret News | Salt Lake Tribune |


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My Bills

SB 27 Motor Vehicle Accident Cost Recovery

Currently, if there is an accident that damages public property (a sign or rail) the Department of Transportation (and only the DOT) will ask the guilty party’s insurance to cover the cost of property damage. This bill allows any state entity the ability to work with a third party to recover costs. This is a pretty common practice in other states and allows for a more efficient manner of recovery costs from accidents. This bill passed out of both chambers unanimously.

1SB 93 Property Assessment Notice Amendments

This bill came about because of an issue one of my constituents brought to my attention. This constituent found that they only received property assessment notices when they received their property tax statement. This does not allow for enough time for parties to contest the assessment, and can throw budgets out of whack. To resolve this issue, this bill requires a county treasurer to provide notice of the amount of unpaid costs and expenses, as well as contact information of the municipality to a property owner. This bill passed out of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee with a favorable recommendation and is now on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.

SB 174 Public Transit and Transportation Governance Amendments

 

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has been an agency of controversy for the last couple of years. There has been public concern over the executive salaries, travel expenses, perceived deals with developers who are connected to the board, and public meetings. Over the years UTA has taken various steps to fix many of these problems, but their biggest problem still remains — a lack of good constituent services. As I mentioned last week, I am seeking to institute several changes with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in hopes of solving some of our reoccurring problems. This bill SB 174, would change the UTA board to an eight-member board with each member representing a different district of equal population. Each board member would need to be confirmed by the Senate. This bill also creates a citizen board advisory board in order to create a more constituent-oriented UTA with better communications from local users. This bill passed out of the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee with a favorable recommendation and is now on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune |

 

Big Issues of the Week

School Funding: Equity Pupil Unit

SB 80 School Funding Amendments would give more funding to poorer school districts. This bill would take future growth in the state’s Education Fund and use it to grow education funds faster at the lower funded school districts in exchange for slightly slower growth at school districts with traditionally much higher funding. It is not the intention of this bill to take money from some districts to give to others. Every school district will keep every penny of property tax that is levied in that district. Instead the bill creates a formula allocation change in the future so that education funding will grow a little bit faster for school districts that have a harder time generating revenue on their own. This bill passed out of the Senate and is now up for consideration in the House.

In The News: Deseret News | Salt Lake Tribune

Status: House Education Standing Committee

Pornography

 

Last year, the Legislature passed a resolution (SCR 9) declaring pornography a public health crisis. This year we are discussing additional efforts to keep our children safe from any potential harmful effects of pornography. SB 185 Cause of Action for Minors Injured by Pornography, would provide families who feel that their child has been injured by pornography the option of suing pornographers in court if they are able to prove emotional or psychological damage. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee with a favorable recommendation.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune | KSL |

Status: Senate 2nd Reading Calendar

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

HCR 12 is a companion resolution to the Bear Ears resolution, calls on Congress to begin a discussion over the proper boundaries of the Escalante National Monument.  Almost twenty years after the designation there are numerous questions. Is a national monument the best land use policy for that area? How is this monument restricting economic opportunities? How is the monument impacting the revenue streams for local counties? Some areas need to be protected inside the Monument, but some areas can also reasonably be opened up. This bill was less controversial during floor debate than the Bears Ears Resolution, because it has a slightly different intent. This resolution does not ask that the entire Grand Staircase-Escalante monument be eliminated, rather it asks for a discussion and opens the door for compromise. This bill passed out of both chambers and will be sent to the Governor for his signature.  Listen to the floor debate here.

 

Motorcycle Helmet Requirements

 

SB 159 Helmet Requirement Amendments, would raise the mandatory age for wearing a helmet on a motorcycle from 18 to 21. Very few motorcyclists in serious accidents even make it to the hospital, and those that do often run up bills over $1 million, which goes beyond the average insurance coverage. The state usually ends up covering at least some of that cost. This bill passed out of the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee with a favorable recommendation.

In the News: Deseret News | Salt Lake Tribune

Status: Senate 2nd Reading Calendar

 

What do you think?

I am grateful to represent you in the processes that make Utah such a great place to live and raise our families.

I hope to hear your input on these issues this session. The best way to contact me is via email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Wayne Harper

Senate District 6

wharper@le.utah.gov

2017 Legislative Session – Week 2 update

By | 2017 Legislative Session | No Comments

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

 

Week 2 of the 2017 Legislative Session is in the books! A total of 11 bills have passed through the entire legislature but committee agendas and reading calendars are filling up with bills in a hurry.

We had some exciting events happen on the floor this week. We witnessed the proposal of Senator Henderson’s intern (she said yes). Senator Anderegg read an emotional citation honoring the Search and Rescue Dog Handlers that participated in the effort to find his missing niece – Annie Schmidt and bring closure to his family.

Senator Henderson sponsored a resolution honoring a true American hero and Utahan, Gail Halvorsen. The resolution read in part:

“during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949, Halvorsen, moved by the gratitude and resilience of the children living in that devastated city, dropped tiny handkerchief-sized parachutes filled with candy from his C-54 for the children of Berlin to chase down and collect — an act for which he was affectionately nicknamed the “candy bomber,” and, though he was nearly court-martialed for doing so, Halvorsen continued to make his candy drops for several months;”

“… almost 70 years later, Halvorsen’s service to the children of Berlin stands as one of the foremost examples of kindness and human compassion, bringing relief to a war-torn country and joy to children in need of a little bit of hope”

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Overall, we have had a productive and busy week. While the media has focused on issues like the Bears Ears and Escalante Grand Staircase Resolutions, there have been many other issues and bills discussed by the legislature. Thank you for your interest in our legislative process.

Here is a review of a few of the issues we dealt with this week:

 

The Budget

 

Public Education Funding

 

The public education system is the largest recipient of state funds in Utah. Most of the funding comes directly from the Education Fund, though there are several other sources for funding public education such as local property tax revenue, revenue from the state liquor tax, and the Uniform School Fund to name just a few. Within the public education system, the Minimum School Program receives the lion’s share of the funding at 90% of the budget. This money goes directly to school districts and charter schools. The remainder of the budget is allocated for the School Building Fund as well as administrative functions.

Here is a graph that shows the funding sources that create our $15.18 billion public education appropriation budget this year. You can learn more about our budget here.

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My Bills

 

SB 36  Department of Transportation Amendments

 

This bill requires Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to perform audits and allows them to employ auditing experts from outside of the department. Audits are important in helping our State agencies perform at a high level. This bill has already passed through both chambers.

 

Current Status: Senate for Senate President signature and enrolling

 

1SB 111 Unmanned Aircraft Amendments

 

Unmanned Aircrafts, or drones, are a newer technology that create regulation issues and confusion around the country. This bill seeks to clarify a unifying drone code for the State of Utah. This bill enumerates safe practices for flying drones, addresses privacy and voyeurism, declares it unlawful to attach a weapon to a drone, and clarifies the different rules for commercial versus private use. This bill initially came before the legislature last session, but I chose to hold the bill in favor of more discussion and work over the interim. Over the course of the last year, this bill has undergone many changes due to stakeholder input. This bill passed out of the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Standing Committee with a favorable recommendation.
Current Status: Senate 2nd Reading Calendar

 

 

SB 174 Public Transit and Transportation Governance Amendments

As I am sure you’ve read in the news, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has been an agency of controversy for the last couple of years. There has been public concern over the executive salaries, travel expenses, perceived deals with developers who are connected to the board, and public meetings. Over the years UTA has taken various steps to fix several of these problems, but their biggest problem still remains-a lack of good constituent services. This bill would change the UTA board to an eight-member board with each member representing a different district of equal population. This would create a more constituent-oriented UTA with better communications from local users. This bill was introduced in the Senate today.

 

Current Status: Senate Rules Committee

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune |

 

Big Issues of the Week

Civil Asset Forfeiture

SB87 is designed to give the public more opportunities to have property seized by law enforcement returned. While up for consideration in the Senate this week, this bill underwent two new amendments. Amendment 4 would allow an innocent owner the opportunity to petition the seizing agency within 30 days if the claimant can provide evidence that establishes proof of ownership. Amendment 5, would require the seizing agency to respond in writing to the claimant within 45 days of the claim or relinquish the property. This bill, with the stated amendments, has passed out of the Senate.

Current Status: House Rules Committee

1SB 110 Sales Tax Collection Amendments

Senator Bramble is sponsor with me as Co-Sponsor

Sales tax applies to all Utahans’ no matter where they make their purchases, online or in store, but currently only brick-and-mortar stores facilitate the collection of the sales tax. States across the US are running into issues with collecting sales tax from online purchases, because only companies with a physical presence in a state can be constrained to collect and remit the owed sales tax. This creates an unfair advantage to online retailers.

This bill establishes under what circumstances retailers not physically based in Utah would be required to collect and remit sales tax by establishing an economic nexus. Previous legislation has tried to tie economic nexus to number of transactions from a state; this bill chooses to shy away from transactions and instead focusing on earnings from the sales. In the event that a retailer earns over $100,000 of sales in Utah, they are required to begin collecting sales tax because their economic imprint is substantial in Utah. For an affiliate, the threshold is $10,000 of sales in Utah before they are required to collect sales tax. This bill passed out of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee with a favorable recommendation.

SB82 Library Technology Use Amendments  

In the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee on the 31st, Senator Weiler presented SB 82 Library Technology Use Amendments. Senator Weiler said that about 15 years ago, Congress passed a law that stated that any library that accepts federal funds is required to filter internet content. About 12 years ago, the State of Utah said the same thing, that libraries that accept state funds are required to have filters on their internet connected computers. Both of these laws went into effect before the wide use of wireless internet. Senator Weiler found out that some libraries only have filters on their computers that are directly connected to the internet. If the library provides wireless internet service, that service is not always filtered. This bill is designed to extend the law that was created 12 years ago to include filtering of wireless internet at public libraries

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune |

Current Status: Senate 2nd Reading Calendar

2SB 114 Election Law Amendments 

In 2014, SB 54 modified election code to provide an alternative route to the ballot; a candidate could go through a caucus, gather signatures, or do both in a primary partisan election. This created a potential problem with plurality of candidates. 2SB 114 changes the filing period and timeline of an election year to accommodate a potential runoff election. In the event that a primary has 3 or more candidates and none receive more than 35% after the initial primary election, then the top two candidates would go to a runoff primary in August in a vote-by-mail election. This bill would only impact partisan elections, which take place in the even numbered years. This bill passed out of the Senate.  On Saturday February 4, the GOP Central Committee, based on this bill, voted to drop its lawsuit against the state on SB 54 and close a divisive chapter in Utah election process.

Bears Ears National Monument

 

HCR 11 is a resolution that calls on President Trump to overturn President Obama’s Bears Ears decision.  The resolution sharply criticizes President Obama for using the Antiquities Act—which was designed to help protect Native American structures and objects—to unilaterally set aside 1.5 Million acres of Utah land for environmental protection. Among other things, the resolution chides Obama for ignoring the wishes of the residents of San Juan County-many of who are Native American. This resolution has passed in both chambers.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune | KSL |

Current Status: Returned to the House for enrolling and printing

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What do you think?

I am grateful to represent you in the processes that make Utah such a great place to live and raise our families.

I hope to hear your input on these issues this session. The best way to contact me is via email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Wayne Harper

Senate District 6

wharper@le.utah.gov