Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We have now completed week 3 of the legislative session and we have passed 57 bills total. Last year by the conclusion of the legislative session we passed a total of 574 bills to put things into context. Next week on Wednesday we will hit the halfway mark of the session, but clearly we still have a lot of work to do!

Fallen Soldiers

During each Legislative Session, the Utah Senate honors families of Utah’s fallen service members on the Senate floor. It is deeply sobering to see so many people walking onto the Senate floor to represent family members who have passed away during the past year. We paid tribute to those left behind – parents, spouses, siblings, children and friends. 

It is so important for all Americans to recognize and honor the high price paid for the freedoms we enjoy. This price is paid by young men and women who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives of people both at home and abroad. This price is also paid by their loved ones left behind. 

As an elected body of legislators, we have the opportunity to help exercise our nation’s right to self-governance. We honor Utah’s military families for protecting the freedoms we enjoy in this great country and state.

My Bills
S.B. 59 Daylight Saving Time Amendments: I am happy to report that this bill passed out of the Senate this week. As a reminder, this bill would have Utah stay on Mountain Daylight time year-round if we receive Congressional approval and at least four other western states pass similar legislation. Now that the bill has successfully passed in the Senate, it needs to go through committee and floor debate in the House.
You can listen to the floor debate here.

S.B. 56 Public Safety and Firefighter Tier II Retirement Enhancements: This bill creates a restricted account for Public Safety and Firefighter benefits. In addition, it establishes that any funds appropriated by the legislature into the account will be used to fund the pickup costs, meaning anything above the 14% that is already covered by the employer’s portion of the Tier 2 retirement. Finally, it also amends the statute so the line of duty benefits can be payable to a surviving spouse. This bill does not appropriate any money, it just creates the account.  D
You can watch my floor presentation here.  

S.B. 130 911 Communications Amendments: Last year I requested an audit of our Utah Communications Authority 911 services.  The audit resulted in 17 finds where public safety and first responders should improve. This bill includes all of the recommended changes from the audit. These changes will decrease or possibly eliminate hold time for 911 callers and it will improve coordination between 911 centers, dispatch and first responders.
 


Budget

We continued to review Requests for Appropriations (RFA) presentations in our appropriations subcommittee meetings each morning this week. 

In recent years we have implemented increasingly strict RFA submission standards, requiring more detailed budget information, performance measures and prior state funding history. By requiring this additional information, we’re eliminating excess spending and unnecessary budget requests. 

After submitting all required documentation, legislators and groups sponsoring requests address assigned subcommittees to explain their budget requests and answer questions. After subcommittees carefully review all presentations, they submit priority lists to the Executive Appropriations Committee for final review and consideration before inclusion in the final budget bill.

Higher Education Governance

In an effort to better meet higher-education needs of both students and employers throughout Utah, S.B. 111 Higher Education Amendments proposes to create a unified system of higher education, bringing Utah’s eight public two- and four-year colleges and universities (USHE)  and Utah’s eight technical colleges (UTech) under the same umbrella. This bill aims to help Utah students in a variety of ways. It would allow school credits to transfer seamlessly between all 16 state colleges and universities, protecting students’ investments of time and money. It would reduce student loan debt and increase graduation rates by making postsecondary degrees and certificates more affordable and manageable for students. It would help make higher education more accessible for Utahns — including students in rural areas. It would help ensure institutional programs align with evolving job market demands.

Merging the two systems will reduce overlap and duplication, provide better coordination, promote comprehensive strategic planning, and make administrative efforts more efficient — allowing state education funds to be leveraged in new and important ways. Stakeholders from both USHE and UTech were actively involved in the drafting of this legislation and shared their support publicly during the committee hearing. This bill passed out of the Senate Education Standing Committee unanimously with a favorable recommendation.

You can listen to the committee presentation here.
 


Veterans Treatment Courts

While many veterans are strengthened through military service, the combat experience leaves some struggling with issues such as PTSD and drug abuse. Left unaddressed, these issues can escalate to involvement in the criminal justice system. Utah currently has two successful Veterans Court programs located in Salt Lake County. When veterans are charged with certain crimes, there is an option for a plea in abeyance. This allows veterans to plead “guilty” or “no contest” with the option of having charges dismissed after a certain period of time if specific conditions are met.  Veterans are then connected with a veteran treatment court, and go through a program requiring attendance at treatment sessions that usually last 2–3 years. Upon successful program completion, charges are usually dropped.  

This program has been very successful in helping affected veterans receive treatment, meet obligations to themselves, their families and the court and get back on their feet. Because the program has been so successful, there is a demand to expand these veteran treatment courts to northern and southern Utah. H.B. 100 Veterans Treatment Court Act establishes a process for creating additional veterans’ courts and making them more accessible throughout the state. This bill passed in both chambers and will now be sent to the governor for his consideration.

You can listen to the floor presentation here
 
Bigamy
 
Utah has the harshest bigamy law west of the Mississippi. Vigorous enforcement of the law during the mid-twentieth century did not deter the practice of plural marriage. Instead, these government actions drove polygamous families underground into a shadow society where the vulnerable make easy prey. Branding all polygamists as felons has facilitated abuse, not eliminated polygamy. 
 
The climate of secrecy has led to a situation where victims don’t report crime. There are also barriers to medical care, mental health treatment, education, employment, social services, and justice. In short, we have a full-blown human rights crisis on our hands. The only solution is to lower the barrier to social integration. 
 
Our current law is unenforceable, and quite possibly unconstitutional. S.B. 102 Bigamy Amendments helps bring Utah’s bigamy law more into alignment with surrounding states. The bill also increases penalties for those who are engaging in any sort of abuse or other serious crimes. We are basically codifying the long-standing practice of the Utah Attorney General’s office: don’t prosecute otherwise law-abiding polygamists unless other crimes are being committed. The intent of the bill is to eliminate the fear of arrest, imprisonment and having children removed into state custody in order to encourage more reporting, make investigating abuse easier, and lower the high barrier to community integration.

150th Anniversary of Women’s Voting in Utah

This week we celebrated the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Utah. On February 12, 1870, a law was signed allowing all women over 21 to vote in Utah Territory. The territorial legislature had voted unanimously in its favor, making Utah the second state to pass such a law. Two days later, on February 14, Seraph Young cast the first female vote in the country under equal suffrage laws. The 19th Amendment allowing women to vote throughout the United States wouldn’t be passed until 1920 — 50 years later.

To honor the 150th anniversary, on February 12, the Utah Legislature unanimously passed H.J.R. 12, celebrating trailblazing women of Utah and our state’s role in the women’s suffrage movement. Members of the Legislature wore yellow roses to commemorate the day. 

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

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