Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We completed our last full week of the legislative session. We will adjourn the entire 2020 Legislative Session on Thursday, March 12th. We have passed a little over 200 bills so far, but we will spend the majority of our time next week debating bills on the Senate floor, so that number will increase significantly before we conclude our business.

Here are a few of the highlights from week 6:

My Bills

S.B. 146 Boards and Commissions Modifications: This bill will create consistency in the appointment process by establishing terms for the posting process, time periods for feedback to the Executive Branch, and timeframe requirements for confirmation committee hearings in the State Senate. This allows for consistency, transparency, uniformity and better participation across these boards and commissions in the nomination process and will enhance public awareness. It also proposes a solution to allow board members to declare conflicts but still be allowed to participate in board voting in certain circumstances. This bill passed out of the Senate last week and this week the out of a House committee with a favorable recommendation.

S.B. 149 Occupational and Professional Licensing: We have spent a number of years now working on scaling back on unnecessary business regulations. This bill would scale back on regulations for hunting guides and outfitters by no longer requiring them to obtain a license, though they would still need to register. Another provision clarified the duties of court reporters. This bill passed both chambers and will now be sent to the governor.

S.B. 163 Community Reinvestment Agency Amendments: We’ve had redevelopment agencies in Utah since the 70s. There are established to improve deteriorating areas of cities or to enhance economic opportunities.  There is a lot of discussion about how they are funded. This bill proposes an optional new structure that would provide a stable revenue source, reduce agencies need from participation from other taxing agencies such as school districts or counties and allows cities to make their own plans and priorities. This creates an optional tract for an agency to create its own local taxing agency within the bounds of its city to handle reinvestment and development in their own city.

S.B. 175 Defense Contracts Amendments: This bill works in conjunction with S.B. 139 and S.B. 170 reorganizing the State’s indigent defense and parental defense services. This particular bill creates the Office of Indigent Defense Services and supports families and children in difficult times. This bill passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
 


Budget

While we do not have the final budget prepared yet, our Executive Appropriations Chairs have assured us that we will be increasing education funding again this year. Utah legislators consistently prioritize education funding and have increased it from $2.8 billion to $3.8 billion in the past five years alone. We are prioreitizing a 5 percent increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) and over $500 million in new money to education this year. We are also anticipating money to be set aside for state employee raises with a 3 percent raise for all state employees and an additional 2 percent for targeted state employees that have salaries below the market rate. There are also plans to set aside additional funding for preparation and emergencies for things like coronavirus.
 
Education Funding Proposal

Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, with a population expected to double in the next 40 years. The Legislature is taking important steps to protect education funding as Utah’s population grows and the economy fluctuates. S.J.R. 9Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Use of Tax Revenue would allow the use of income tax revenue to support services for children and individuals with disabilities, including social services that supplement educational needs and support students’ physical and mental health. This proposal is subject to voter approval and will take effect if Utahns approve it during the November 2020 general election. This bill generated a lot of debate in the Senate and ultimately passed. This bill will now be considered in the House.
 


Medical Billing 

Balance billing, also known as surprise billing, is a major cause for concern in our state and throughout the nation. A major hindrance in addressing this issue is the lack of data about exactly what is happening in our state with our patients. S.B. 155Medical Billing Amendments, requires that all data on balance billing be collected by the same entity through one year and recorded to help everyone see exactly where problems are arising. The hope is that this data collection will bring insurers and providers together and result in better self-regulating. This bill requires a report to the Legislature after one year of data collection. Stakeholders worked together on this bill and are in agreement.  This bill is a follow up to a bill I ran 2 years ago to address concerns with exorbitant changes from some air ambulance services. This bill passed in the Senate and is now up for consideration in the House.
You can listen to the floor discussion here.
 
Consumer Alcohol Beverage Purchasing
 
In order to increase consumer choice, S.B. 103 Consumer Alcohol Beverage Purchasing, seeks to allow Utahns to work with Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) to purchase wine and liquor products not currently available at a state store. All orders will go through DABC and will receive the same tax as other products sold in the state. Products order would be available for pickup at a DABC outlet. This bill passed in the Senate and will be considered in the House. 

You can listen to the Senate floor debate here.
 
Coronavirus
 
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) continually making headlines, many Utah citizens are asking about our state preparations. The short answer: Utah is ready. Utah and its citizens are uniquely prepared to handle this situation. We have a culture of collaboration, preparedness and caring for neighbors.
 
Even though this is a worrisome public health situation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes the immediate coronavirus health risk to the general public is low. There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19. Accurate information, facts and prevention tips about COVID-19 can be found online at coronavirus.utah.gov as well as on social media – @UtahCoronavirus. Utah citizens can trust these sources, which are being continually updated.

To help reduce the spread of all sickness, we can each take preventive steps, including 

  • Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue and then throwing the tissue in the trash
  • Proper handwashing – 30 seconds with warm soapy water – taking care to include both thumbs
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
  • Supporting our personal immune systems through adequate rest and good nutrition
  • Staying at home if sick.

These practices will not only help prevent the spread of the coronavirus but will also help protect against seasonal flu viruses. 
 
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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