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2017 Legislative Session – week 4

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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

With Week 4 of the 2017 Legislative Session over, we are now more than half way done! We have passed a total of 96 bills and they just keep on coming. You can keep track of these bills with the bill tracker tool found here.

Here is a review of a few of the big issues from Week 4:

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Tax Change Proposal

A major proposal to amend the Utah tax code was introduced on Thursday.  That proposal has several elements.  The Income Tax part of the proposal would phase out the taxpayer credit quicker and reduce the Income Tax rate from 5% to 4.5%.  The Sales Tax part would reduce the rate by 0.35%, effectively taking the sales tax rate from 6.85% to 6.5% in Salt Lake County, but would reinstate the full sales tax back on food.  There would also be adjustments to Property Tax.  The net effect would be no additional revenue to the state, but would allow for potential future growth in money for education.  This is very preliminary information, but I wanted you to have it for your review and comments.

Budget

As you may remember, last week our appropriations subcommittees each passed their base budgets. This week, our appropriation subcommittee chairs presented their priorities to the Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC). After the base budgets are passed, the subcommittee chairs report to the EAC about the top priorities their committee has for funding, that were not included in the subcommittee’s base budget. These priorities are shared in hopes that the EAC will fund the priorities in the general budget.

We also received the revenue report this week. As I’ve shared previously, the budget this year is tighter than past years, though it is still a good budget year. Fortunately, our overall revenue is continuing on an upward trajectory.   We will have a modest amount of one time and on-going revenue to fund education and other critical needs.

Unfortunately, the growth is not evenly distributed among our revenue sources, which could mean instability in the future. What is important to remember is that we still have more time left in the session to come up with solutions!

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My Bills

1SB 14 Emergency Telephone Services Amendments

You may recall reading about this bill in previous reports I’ve sent home. This bill seeks to help emergency responders locate callers faster in large, multi-room buildings. This bill would require businesses and governmental entities when they update their telephone services to allow for outgoing calls to not only share the address of the building, but to also identify where in the building the call originated. It would also require that there be instructions next to the phone on how to dial out in the event someone needs to call 9-1-1. This bill passed through both the Senate and House, but because the House made a few changes in committee, the Senate now needs to concur with the changes.

SB 183 High Load Motor Vehicles

There are height standards for vehicles in Utah. A several years back, due to EPA regulations, the large vehicle combination vehicles (often the vehicles carrying cars) caused those vehicles to have to raise the cabs of the trucks, but because of state standards the roofs of the cars had to be chopped lower to meet standards. Then, because the vehicles are so close to the limit, they often have to leave off part of the intended load. A number of other states allow their Departments of Transportation to distribute oversized permits so that the oversized vehicles can use their full towing/hauling ability. This bill allows our DOT to distribute oversized permits so that these vehicles may operate at their full capacity. This bill passed out of the Senate unanimously and is now being considered in the House.

SB 212 Professional Licensing Amendments

When I ran for re-election this past fall, I promised to work on creating less restrictive licensing for businesses. This bill is me keeping my promise. This bill focuses on principles that would offer the least restrictive method for licensing. This bill was actually recommended by committee last year, but died due to lack of time. I am working to make sure stakeholders have a say in this bill. I presented this bill to the Senate Business and Labor Standing Committee and it passed out with a favorable recommendation.

HB 218 Poll Location Amendments

During the last election cycle it became very apparent that we needed more polling locations. Under current law, however there were restrictions that prevented county clerks from adding new polling locations after a certain day. HB 218  would allow county clerks to add additional polling locations and notify the public after that date to accommodate demand. This bill passed unanimously in both chambers.  I was the Senate sponsor of this bill.

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The Bills

Non-Partisan Boards and Commissions

Currently, when establishing regulations for a few of the hundreds of state boards and commissions, provisions exist in state law that require consideration of party affiliation, so that there wouldn’t be a board entirely or Republicans or Democrats. The idea was to promote multiple opinions on the boards, which is commendable. However, current law does did not say “Republicans” or “Democrats” at all, it simply requires that you ‘could not have more than a certain number of board members being from the same political party.’

Unfortunately, in practice this specification can make it impossible to fill certain boards for communities that are relatively small and homogenous. It is already difficult to find members with the necessary skill sets and experience to staff the committees and to add partisan affiliation on top of it all became too difficult.

HB11 resolves this problem by eliminating all references to partisan affiliation. Under this bill, neither the Governor nor the Senate are allowed to even consider partisan affiliation as a prerequisite to service on a board. The purpose is to make qualifications, ability and availability the determining factor, not partisanship.  This bill paralleled the position most of you took last year to make sure state school board members did not have to file with a party label, but ran non-partisan.

I care far more about the desire, capabilities and willingness of a person to serve on the various boards and commissions than I do on about a partisan label. This bill garnered much debate on the Senate floor, but ultimately passed and will now be considered by the House.

Alternatives to EpiPen

EpiPen, a name brand auto-injector used for anaphylaxis, has been in the media throughout the last year for their skyrocketing prices. This rise in prices has caused more and more people with severe allergies or propensities to fall into anaphylactic shock to go without having accessible epinephrine (the drug in EpiPen). Current state code specifies EpiPen as the manufacturer for epinephrine, which eliminates competition and allows companies to charge whatever they want. SB108 is designed to open up the definition in code to include FDA-approved epinephrine auto-injectors from multiple manufacturers, not just EpiPen. The increased competition in the Utah market will likely drive down prices to the point that, hopefully, people will not go without this medication. The bill passed out of the Senate and will now be considered in the House.

In the News: Utah Policy |

Current Status: House Rules Committee

Convention of States: A call to potentially amend the US Constitution.

Every year for the last few years, we have seen resolutions dealing with Convention of States. This year keeps the course with HJR3, which calls for Utah to join other states in petitioning Congress to call a Convention of the States. The purpose of the Convention of States would be to consider amendments to the US Constitution designed to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.   This is a polarizing issue in Senate District 6.  A flood of emails, phone calls, letters and messages have been sent to me that share your positions and passion on this proposal.  I can report that your positions are fairly evenly split in support and in opposition to this bill and proposal.  I continue to take input prior to voting on this bill next week.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune | Deseret News

Current Status: Senate 2nd Reading Calendar

School Assessment and Accountability

Over the last few years, we have worked on how to improve our school assessment and accountability system. We want to ensure that our school systems are helping our students learn and grow.  SB 220 seeks to evolve to a school assessment and accountability system 2.0 if you will. This bill seeks to switch over from SAGE to ACT, establish a single meaningful statewide report of school performance, use multiple indicators focused on student level outcomes, and collaborate with the State Board of Education and other stakeholders to leave normative school grading and bell curves behind and instead establish set criteria for attaining each grade level.

Current Status: Senate 2nd Reading Calendar

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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 1 update

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Friends and Neighbors,

It’s that time of year again! The 2017 Legislative Session is alive and kicking. We have just completed the first week of Session and I have been busy running bills that you requested and working on a balanced state budget.

Here is a review of the week:

The Budget

Passing a balanced budget is the most important responsibility we have as legislators. If we accomplish nothing else, we will at least pass a balanced budget. You may have heard that this will be a “bad” budget year. The truth is this will be a standard budget year, it just happens to follow after a few years of surplus budgets. The base budget for FY 2018 is about $15.2 billion. Typically, the largest chunk of our budget goes to public education.

We have eight appropriations committees that provide oversight and recommendations on budget matters concerning their various charges (i.e. education, social services, environment, etc). After the eight committees filter through the copious appropriations requests they receive, the chairs report to the Executive Appropriations Committee with their appropriations recommendations.  The Executive Appropriations Committee then prepares a complete budget proposal for the Legislature to approve.

Again in this session I chair the Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Committee that oversees transportation, buildings, technology, finance and all state support services like fleet and purchasing.

Here is a chart of the FY 2018 base budgets for each committee, as approved by the Executive Appropriations Committee prior to the General Legislative Session. You can learn more about the budget here.

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Some of my Bills

1SB 14 Emergency Telephone Services Amendments

Emergency responders in Utah have had a recurring problem with responding to emergency calls and arriving at a hotel or office building, but not having specific information as to where in the building the call was made, making it difficult to locate the person in need. This bill would require businesses and governmental entities when they update their telephone services to allow for outgoing calls to not only share the address of the building, but to also identify where in the building the call originated. It would also require that there be instructions next to the phone on how to dial out in the event someone needs to call 9-1-1. This bill passed through the Senate unanimously and is now in the House Rules Committee.

 

SB 38 Specialized License Plate Amendments

This issue was brought to my attention by a constituent. There are certain commercial vehicles that only receive one license plate. These vehicles typically have things in tow, but when they are not towing anything, these drivers are frequently pulled over for a lack of a rear license plate, even though they are not required to have one. This bill allows for the drivers to request a second plate for the back of their vehicle. This bill passed out of the Senate unanimously and is now in the House Transportation Committee.

1SB 40 School Bus Inspection Revisions

This bill would require any bus that transports students to go through an annual inspection on top of the standard annual emissions and safety inspections. It would also allow for random inspections of 20% of the fleet a year. This bill passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation and has now been sent to the Senate 2nd reading calendar for consideration of the entire Senate.

 

SB 85 Amendments to Child Welfare

There is a limit to the number of foster children that may be placed in one foster home at a time. As often as possible, we try to keep siblings together in foster care. This bill allows a group of siblings who have bonded with a particular foster family to return to that family if their trial home placement does not end in permanent placement, even if that causes foster parents to exceed the established number of foster children in the home at a time. This bill passed through the Senate unanimously and is now in the House Rules Committee.

Hot Topic Issues this Week

Medical Marijuana

 

Medical marijuana has been the hot topic of the last couple sessions. This week, the legislators who have worked on past medical marijuana bills held a press conference to announce the direction they are taking this year on the issue. There will not be a bill seeking to legalize marijuana this year, in part because of the new Trump administration. It is difficult to know whether the Trump administration will crack down on marijuana as it is still illegal on a federal level.

There will be a bill encouraging the University of Utah to research the various potential medical benefits of marijuana. We will also see a regulatory framework bill that would outline how to manage medical marijuana in the event it becomes legal in the future.

 

In the News: Deseret News | Salt Lake Tribune |

 

Alcohol Policy
Every year we see a handful of bills dealing with alcohol. This year there is serious talk of potentially doing away with the Zion Curtain and replacing it with new provisions to eliminate underage drinking as well as drunk driving. Eliminating the Zion Curtain is just a small part of the plan though. Representative Wilson and Senator Stevenson are hoping to make several changes to alcohol policy including how alcohol is displayed, training servers and operators, and enhancing drunk driving enforcement. This will be a big issue to follow this session.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune | KSL |

 

Election Reform

The 2014 election reforms known as SB 54 added a second path to the primary ballot through signature gathering. However, these reforms introduced the new issue of plurality in the primary process. “Plurality” occurs when no candidates receive a majority of the vote. SB114 addresses this issue by bumping the filing period up in the year and instituting a runoff election in the instance of a plurality vote. The bill already has significant support among Senators and is on the agenda for committee discussion on Monday.

In the News: Salt Lake Tribune 

 

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

Community Event – Sept 24

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Join me on Saturday, September 24th at 9:00 AM, for a community event with FREE breakfast and fun activities the whole family can love! Come and enjoy tethered air balloon rides, giant inflatables, train rides, bocce ball, food, and more. This event is at the Valley Regional Park, 5100 South 2700 West in Taylorsville.

Pre-register for this family fun event by clicking here (this will take you to a page for Representative Dunnigan, that’s ok – it is the same event).

If you pre-register, you won’t have to wait in line to sign a participation waiver while at the event.

Service

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I am on the National Conference of State Legislator’s International Committee. As part of the annual conference held this month in Chicago, we hosted over 300 elected officials from countries around the world. During one morning, we broke into smaller groups to discuss issues. I hosted a table of officials from South Africa, Kenya, Turkey and Japan to discuss civic involvement and how we can get more people engaged in politics, public service, voting and government. We learned and shared much. Many issues are similar in each of the countries.

Know Before You Fly: New Drone Rules

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With fire season upon us, Senator Wayne Harper called a press conference to announce the new drone rules as well as to highlight the Know Before You Fly website.

There are currently over 700,000 drones in the United States. Every year in Utah there are drone incidences that interfere with public safety and inhibit public safety officials from doing there jobs, such as containing wild fires. This past session, HB 126, Unmanned Aircraft Revisions, established new rules for drones in the event of a wild land fire.

In case you missed the press conference, here is what you need to know:

  • Recreational drones are prohibited from flying in an area that has temporarily been restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration due to a wild fire. There can be exceptions for public agencies and the media if they first coordinate with the incident commander.
  • New drone owners should visit knowbeforeyoufly.org to learn drone rules and how to register their vehicles.
  • There are steep fines and penalties for violating drone rules or failing to register your vehicle.
  • Drone operators should always keep their vehicles in sight.
  • Do not fly: over public venues and assemblies, over critical infrastructure, within 5 miles of an airport, or near fire and emergency actions where flight restrictions have been imposed.

Functional Consolidation

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Connecting all 9-1-1 call and dispatch centers in the county so one call gets a response. Immediate. No transfers. Timely. Improved public safety!

After many years of working with the 9-1-1 call centers, cities, county, public safety and the legislature, we announced the installation of software to simplify emergency calls and response. I was privileged to work with the fire, police and agencies throughout Salt Lake County to run legislation and provide state funding to make this happen! Our friends and neighbors in Taylorsville, West Jordan and throughout the county will be better served in emergencies.

Accountablity

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The Utah Communications Authority is responsible for helping deploy resources and support 911 call centers and first responders. In the spring, it came to light that an employee had embezzled a lot of money. The director resigned and the employee is under additional investigation, after confessing to the crimes. Last fall, I requested the Legislative Auditors to investigate that agency, which they did. I have asked them to further delve into that agency and two additional audits are under way to identify any additional problems and to ensure that agency operates correctly. Here is a link to a Salt Lake Tribune article on changes in leadership and my comments.

 

http://www.sltrib.com/news/4173269-155/scandal-rocked-utah-agency-suffers-setback-in