Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We are already two weeks into the 2021 General Legislative Session and we’ve passed a total of 19 bills with many more to come over the next five weeks. One comment I hear from constituents on occasion is that we pass too many laws during the session. There a lot of bills passed each year.  And to review, not every bill we pass creates a brand-new law. While some bills do create new laws or programs, many of the bills we pass each session make small fixes to existing law or seek to make government run more efficiently. And each year we pass repeal old law.

One of the things I have worked on for the last few years with the Legislature is to remove burdensome regulations that do not improve the lives of Utahns or make us any safer.   And as always, the vast majority of my bills are in response to issues raised by our neighbors.

My Bills

S.B. 18, Property Tax Exemption Amendments– Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19.  This bill is an effort to support our small businesses and keep them from closing.  After businesses were closed and people asked to shelter at home, lots of money has been invested by city, state and federal governments. This bill tries to help keep businesses afloat by removing personal property tax for thousands of small businesses. This is a tax cut for our local small businesses that are so important to us.

S.B. 63 Caregiver Compensation Amendments– This bill directs the Department of Health to apply for an amendment to an existing federal waiver to the state Medicaid plan that would allow a spouse who acts as a caregiver, to receive reimbursement for their services that would otherwise be contracted out. By having a spouse provide the care, instead of placing their loved one in a care facility, quality and personalization of care is improved and families can stay together. This bill passed in the Senate with unanimous support.

S.B. 109 Emergency Services Amendments– This bill is a direct response to our audits on 911 systems and training of dispatchers. The audit did not find any major changes, but recommended changes on how emergency medical professionals and call takers are certified and trained. This bill implements those findings.

Week 2 Highlights

Budget

This week we passed our base budget bills. These bills traditionally use the previous year’s ongoing appropriations as a starting point. This was the first year we included $95 million in new money for education growth and inflation in the base budgets, making it the first year we have included these items in our base budgets. In addition, we also included an increase in per-pupil spending to restore last year’s 6 percent WPU increase. In a nutshell, the education base budget infused a greater than 10% increase in educational funding over last year!  Outstanding! Overall, our base budgets we passed this week they also include over half a billion dollars in new state spending for high priority items such as education, Medicaid and COVID-19 response.

As part of our base budget, we passed the following bills:

Mental Health Services

As a Legislature we have passed a number of major bills over the last few years to improve our mental health treatment services in our state. We even began the nationwide push for a mental health crisis hotline. This session, more is being done to put trained professionals in positions to help people in crisis. This week we passed S.B. 53 Behavioral Emergency Services Amendments, which makes additional mental health crisis training available for emergency services professionals. Agencies throughout Utah can create teams of appropriately trained professionals to respond specifically to mental health emergencies. These professionals will be licensed to triage people and get them the resources they need. We also passed S.B. 47 Mental Health Crisis, Intervention Council which creates a council of stakeholders from various agencies to design the statewide training offered to these emergency services professionals.

Additionally, S.B. 41 Mental Health Access Amendments, requires health benefit plans to cover telehealth services for mental health treatment if the plan also covers in-person treatment of the same mental health conditions. All three bills passed in the Senate and are now in the House for consideration.

To view the bill presentations on the Senate floor, click here: S.B. 41S.B. 47 and S.B. 53.

Criminal Penalties

This week we considered a couple of bills pertaining to criminal penalties. The first bill was created at the recommendation of the Utah Sentencing Commission, from a situation in which a 14-year-old girl was charged under the adult justice system rather than the juvenile system which resulted in a 10-year sentence to the state prison and registration on the sex offender registry. S.B. 50 Juvenile Offender Penalty Amendments, ensures that the appropriate level of punishment is administered based on the age of the offender at the time of the crime. It will not change the punishment for sexual infractions, for youth or adults. This closes a loophole where previously the punishment was based on the time of reporting rather than the time of the crime.

The second bill  S.B. 64 Domestic Violence Amendments, proposes to enhance domestic violence a third-degree felony if it is a third-time offense in a 10-year window.

Both of these bills passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.

To view the bill presentations on the Senate floor, click here: S.B. 50 and S.B. 64.

Price Controls

The Price Controls During Emergencies Act was created in 2005, but not ever used until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. S.B. 86 Amendments to the Price Controls During Emergencies Act, makes necessary changes to the act to ensure consumers are not price gouged and protects Utahns from false claims during an emergency. S.B. 86 targets four changes to the act, including checkpoints before an investigation, transparency in changes to the cost of items, privacy protection for those accused until after adjudication and higher evidentiary standards. This bill passed in Senate Business and Labor committee and will be debated on the Senate floor in the coming week.

Cosmetology Services

Thousands of young women throughout the state visit hair salons or ask a friend to style their hair before prom. It might surprise you to learn that individuals who try to make a little extra money by styling their friend’s hair for prom do so illegally. To address this, S.B. 87 Professional Licensing Amendments, creates an exemption from licensure for individuals who only dry, style, curl, shampoo, condition or hot iron hair. Individuals who choose to offer these services without a license will need to display a prominent sign in their place of practice stating they are unlicensed. Additionally, they are subject to sanitization standards established by the Utah Department of Health and accountable to the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing should they go beyond the exempted services. Stakeholders were engaged throughout the process of this bill to ensure the changes made do not diminish the credibility and stature of licensed cosmetologists. This bill passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.

Survey Results

In my 2021 Legislative Session I asked you to rank the most important issues in the upcoming session. 47.7% of respondents said education was the most important issue. It was followed by air quality and tax reform.

Stay Involved!

There are a number of ways to stay engaged in the legislative process this session. For starters, you can always reach out to me with your thoughts and input.

Additionally, you can also attend committee meetings and Senate floor time in-person. Seating is more limited this year to allow for physical distancing. Masks are required.

Finally, you can participate in committee meetings online or watch House and Senate floor time on le.utah.gov.

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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