Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Lengthier rumination on the 2020 General Legislative Session

I love to use this blog page as a resource for including details about the goings on at the Utah capitol. As I get into the weeds of details about bills, debates and discussions that occurred during the recently completed session, it is patently obvious that I've got more to share than should reasonably be included under the title "45 Days in a Nutshell." So here are some lengthier comments on some of what I esteem to be the more critical issues to arise this year.

Also, in light of our public health crisis of Coronavirus and the disease that it causes, COVID-19, I plan to write and post more regularly. I hope that you'll visit the resource and information page on my website at this LINK.

Women's Reproductive Rights:
This was a tragic year for women's reproductive autonomy in Utah with the passage of two bills in particular:
SB67: Disposition of Fetal Remains - while it is laudable that women and families have the option to choose cremation or burial of the remains from a lost pregnancy, this bill goes a step too far in requiring just one of these two choices for everyone who experiences a miscarriage or chooses to terminate a pregnancy through abortion. This will inevitable create additional trauma and exorbitant cost that is tantamount to eliminating the full spectrum of choice to which all women should have a right.
***I voted NO on this bill in committee and on the House floor***

SB174: Abortion Prohibition Amendments - this bill outlaws abortion in the state of Utah, allowing for exemptions only in the case of rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. The bill only goes into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. I am and continue to be ardently opposed to legislation that restricts full reproductive freedom, and watch in fear as the discussion about reproductive autonomy continue to play out on the national level.
***I voted NO on this bill in committee and on the House floor***

HB364: Abortion Revisions - attempts continue to not only outlaw safe abortion but to make accessing the procedure more trauma inducing and more expensive. This bill sought to require that, for any woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy, an ultrasound first be conducted including full review of the fetal anatomy and audible demonstration of the heartbeat. Forcing a woman to undergo medically unnecessary procedures in order to exercise reproductive autonomy is not the role of government.

The bill was amended in the Senate to prohibit the use of transvaginal ultrasounds, and received much attention by local and national media when all six female senators, both Democratic and Republican, walked off of the Senate floor, refusing to vote for or against the bill. Despite this, the amended bill passed in the Senate after receiving 16 yes votes. Due to being amended in the Senate, the bill had to be returned to the House for a vote of concurrence to the changes that were made. When the bill sponsor made a motion to concur with the Senate amendments, a substitute motion was made to Circle the bill - this is a motion to hold the bill, meaning that it would not be voted on until it received enough votes to be uncircled. The motion to Circle passed with 41 votes (38 were needed), causing the bill to be held until it died when the clock struck midnight and the General Session ended.
***I voted NO on this bill on the House floor***

Below is a photo of the wonderful Senator Luz Escamilla speaking against this horrible bill, just before she and the other five female Senators made their unplanned departure from the Senate chambers during the vote.

Polygamy:SB102: Bigamy Amendments - Passed
This bill, understandably, received a lot of attention by the media as well as by advocates from around the nation on both sides of the issue. It was not an easy decision to make and I received multiple emails, text messages and phone calls, all of them compelling, on this emotionally charged issue. Ultimately, I supported the bill because I felt that it was an improvement over current law, particularly in light of the fact that the victims of abuse are consistently re-victimized because perpetrators know that their victims live in fear of seeking help.
***I vote YES on this bill on the House floor***

The oil and gas industry's corporate welfare:SB239: Refinery Sales Tax Exemption - Passed
In 2018, the Utah legislature passed a generous sales tax exemption for Utah refineries who chose to retrofit their facilities in order to produce the cleaner-burning fuel called Tier-3. Many refineries opted in immediately and are responsible for the current access to Tier-3 fuel, which makes a measurable difference in the dirty emissions produced from our vehicles. Several companies, however, declined to invest in newer technology and are now asking for more tax-payer dollars to defray the costs of retrofitting their refineries. I find this unfortunate corporate welfare to be a clear example of bad public policy.
***I voted NO on this bill on the House floor***

Medical Cannabis:
SB121: Medical Cannabis Amendments - Passed
This extensive bill included many critical updates that were needed in order to ensure that the state's Medical Cannabis program could be launched on time on March 1. However, due to the need to rush SB121 in time for the Governor's signature before March 1, there were some needed provisions that failed to get incorporated in time. Because I had a bill file opened already, it became a much-needed tool to ensure that those additional provisions were passed during the 2020 Session.
***I voted YES on this bill in committee and on the House floor***

HB425: Medical Cannabis Modifications - Passed (Sponsored by Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost)
The original intent in HB425 was to modify opportunity for healthcare providers to offer standing orders for patients who are stable on their medication (much like current prescribing practices for things like insulin). However, after the passage of SB121 and the initiation on March 1 of the state's Medical Cannabis program, several important issues became apparent and needed timely attention. The most important aspect was the bottleneck that patients were experiencing in obtaining their Cannabis Prescription Card. Prior to the passage of this bill, hundreds of patients were unable to fill their medication at the state's operating dispensary. HB425 creates a provision that allows, until December 31, 2020, patients to fill their prescription using their affirmative defense letter until they are able to obtain their Cannabis Card from their providers.
***I voted YES on this bill in committee and on the House floor***

Many thanks to my floor sponsor, Senator Vickers, in ensuring that HB425 made it through the legislative process in a timely manner.

E-Cigarettes and Vaping:HB23: Tobacco and Electronic Cigarettes Amendments - Passed
While I believe that the sponsor initiated this bill with good intentions, I was distressed to see the bill significantly amended when it was in the Senate. The bill that was returned to the House for concurrence, where I voted no, had become a piece of legislation that paid significant deference and concessions to tobacco lobbyists and mixed retail store owners that have been largely responsible for the scourge of youth sales that contributes to our state's growing problem of youth addiction to nicotine.
***I voted YES on the original bill but voted NO on the amended bill***

HB118: Retail Tobacco Amendments - Failed (Sponsored by Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost)
I sponsored this bill for a second year, hoping to finally gain some ground on the ease in which children access flavored e-cigarette products to which they are highly susceptible and attracted. Unfortunately, as described in this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the tobacco lobby in Utah continues to have outsized influence over policies that stand to harm their long-term business viability. The fact is that without addicting children to their products, the tobacco industry does not have future-looking viability, and it is important to note that big tobacco companies own the vast majority of the e-cigarette industry.
***I voted YES on this bill on the House floor***

SB37: Electronic Cigarette and Other Nicotine Product Amendments - Passed
After years of attempting to tax electronic cigarettes, the legislature passed this bill during the session. It implements a 56% point-of-sale tax on all e-cigarette products. This is an important policy because price is known to be one of the most significant tools that affects decisions by children to initiate use of tobacco products. The likelihood that it will affect the purchasing habits by children who are already addicted is lower, but I am hopeful that it will make a difference going forward. Taxes on cigarettes have historically been proven to decrease demand by children, but has not had as significant of an effect on adults, as children's demand for products is much more elastic, meaning that they are more responsive to increases in prices than are adults. I would have much preferred that the originally proposed tax rate of 86% had passed, but given the focus on the use for that tax revenue, including funding programs in HB58 (below), and focusing on prevention and cessation efforts, this is an important step in the right direction.
***I voted YES on this bill on the House floor***

HB58: Electronic Cigarettes in Schools Amendments - Passed
It has become patently obvious that there is still a significant amount of disinformation and misunderstanding about the dangers associated with youth vaping. This bill provides significant funding for schools to implement mandatory training and outreach to students and parents regarding the dangers of youth nicotine use, as well as to connect young people with tools for cessation. The costs associated with this bill will be funded by the tax income created in SB37 (above).
***I voted YES on this bill on the House floor***

Utah's Inland Port:HB347: Inland Port Modifications - Passed
This bill was the next iteration of changes to the 2018 law that passed which created the Inland Port Authority. It continues to be a highly unpopular policy, particularly for residents in Salt Lake City, given the risk of the port worsening air and water quality, as well as the law's unabashed pilfering of fragile land that legally belongs to Salt Lake City. In light of the bill changing the tax ownership by Salt Lake City from zero to 25 percent, among other things, this bill did have the support of the Salt Lake City Mayor and City Council. The bill sponsor also made concessions in adding language to strengthen requirements for minimizing ecological impact of the port - an addition that I have great appreciation for. Regardless, our community stands in ardent opposition to the Inland Port and I stand with you, but I would also note that the bill sponsor, when I asked for stronger concessions regarding environmental impact, worked to make changes to the bill. I appreciate his willingness to hear my arguments and to work with me on this issue, and also am grateful for his deference to my need to vote no on this bill, even after his willingness to make that change.
***I voted NO on this bill on the House floor***

SB112: Inland Port Amendments - Passed
This bill makes important strides in  measuring the impact of the Inland Port and implements important reporting requirements to the legislature. I am proud of the hard work that Senator Escamilla put into the crafting of this bill and recognize that it sets important precedent for activity moving forward. My wish would be that this bill could have gone further in establishing robust oversight of the port, though I will express regret in not supporting Senator Escamilla in her laudable efforts to mitigate the negative impact that the port will have on surrounding communities.
***I voted NO on this bill on the House floor***

Obviously, there were vastly more bills that were discussed, voted on, passed and failed during the session than are mentioned here. If you have questions or concerns about specific policy issues that you wish to know more about, please email me at Thanks for being engaged in Utah's political scene.

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