Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It is hard to believe, but we passed the halfway mark of the session midway through week 4. There is still much to be done, but we still have plenty of time to accomplish what we need to this session. Here are some of the highlights from the week:
S.B. 130 911 Communications Amendments: As I mentioned last week, this bill is the result of an extensive audit. This bill raises the standards for 911 calls to help eliminate call transfers and outlines how to best utilize technology to respond to 911 calls. Bottom line, 911 call transfers have to be reduced to less than 2% and all 911 calls need to be answered within 15 seconds. Also, first responders will be able to see exactly what the call taker is entering into the system, and will have that information seamlessly. This is a big step forward for safety and response! I presented this bill in committee this week and police and fire chiefs both testified on behalf of this bill. This bill passed with a favorable recommendation in committee and will be debated on the Senate floor next week.
S.B. 140 Caregiver Compensation Amendments: This bill is designed to reimburse spouses who provide extraordinary personal care services to a Medicaid waiver enrollee. Specifically, this bill directs the Department of Health to apply for an amendment to an existing waiver to the state Medicaid plan to implement a program to reimburse a spouse who provides extraordinary personal care services to a waiver enrollee. A waiver enrollee is an individual enrolled in a home and community-based services waiver in the state that provides services to individuals with an acquired brain injury, intellectual or physical disability, or who are over the age of 65. The focus of this is to improve in-home care and support by family members by allowing them to stay home and have some money to cover basic expenses. Programs like this result in better outcomes, reduction in medical costs and savings to families and taxpayers. This bill also passed out of committee this week with a favorable recommendation.
S.B. 150 Transportation Governance and Funding Amendments: Our state is growing and we have a need to improve our transportation and transit systems. I have worked on this issue for a number of years now. This year, S.B. 150 makes several changes to improve our transportation systems and administrations. This bill requires greater coordination between transportation, housing, and land use at transit-oriented development sites. Second, it requires UDOT to create a plan for a road usage charge as a new means for equitable payment for our roads. Road use charge is designed to replace the current motor fuel tax. Lastly, this bill defines what is a TRZ, how it is created, how state and local entities may participate in Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZ) and legal parameters. TRZ is a tool that allows government entities to pioneer infrastructure and then have that infrastructure be repaid as development occurs.
This week we received an updated revenue forecast. Thanks to our hardworking citizens throughout the state, Utah’s economy continues to expand. The latest forecasts indicate higher revenue numbers than previous forecasts for the year.
The General Fund ongoing forecast shows an available $92 million. Previously, we were on track for a $51 million deficit for our one-time General Fund needs, but recent collection numbers increased by $38 million, leaving us with a $12 million deficit for one-time General Fund needs.
As we have seen for several years now, the Education Fund revenue forecasts outpaces the General Fund. One-time funds in the Education Fund are estimated at $323 million and then $518 million in ongoing funds.
These are great numbers, but they do highlight a structural imbalance in our State budget. The ongoing Education Fund is five and a half times that of the ongoing General Fund. Budget requests seeking money from the General Fund are quadruple available revenue, and that is not even considering bills with fiscal notes, cost of living expenses, and big budget items like Medicaid. We are not in a crisis state at this point, but the structural issues with our budget are notable even in a good year.
You can learn more about the budget here.
Later Start Time for High Schools
As more research comes out about sleep needs for youth– particularly for high school aged students, many parents and schools have begun to question the start time for high schools. H.C.R. 3 Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Consideration of a Later Start Time for High School, encourages local school districts and charter schools to research and consider the potential benefits and consequences of a later start time for high schools. This does not require local school districts or charter schools to adjust their start times, but encourages them to consider the latest research and make the best decision for their schools and students. This bill passed in both chambers and will now be sent to the governor for his consideration.
Tax Credit for Educator Expenses
Each year, Utah teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to supplement teaching and classroom supplies. In recent years we have worked to raise teachers’ salaries and improve overall education funding. S.B. 69, Tax Credit for Educator Expenses enacts a refundable income tax credit of up to $500 for specified educator out-of-pocket expenses. While just a small step in improving teacher compensation, this bill aims to directly compensate teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies. After much debate, this bill passed in the Senate and will now be sent to the House for consideration.
Listen to the debate on the Senate floor here.
Personalized License Plates
Amid a controversial license plate debate in Utah that made national headlines, S.B. 97, Personalized License Plates Amendments gives Utah’s Motor Vehicle Division added clarification and authority regarding what is admissible on personalized Utah license plates. For example, it allows the Motor Vehicle Division to refuse to issue license plates with combinations of letters and numbers disparaging an ethnic group. The bill allows combinations of letters or numbers referring to an official state symbol. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that specialty license plates constitute government speech because they are state issued. This bill includes an amendment to recognize and consider Utah’s non-discrimination law. The Motor Vehicle Division brought forth concerns about offensive and otherwise problematic personalized license plates during Rules Committee review with suggested language and other recommendations. This bill will give the Motor Vehicle Division broader authority to approve or deny personalized license plate requests. This bill passed in the Senate and will be considered in the House.
You can listen to the floor presentation here.
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.
Senate District 6