Legislative Updates - 6 March 2017

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ sixth weekly legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

At this time (six weeks into the session), there are about 800 numbered bills for this session, and 234 of these have already passed.

According to the Legislature’s website, 474 bills passed during the 2016 General Session. A like performance this year might mean that another 240 bills are passed in the last 4 days of the session, which ends on Thursday, March 9th. We hope this does not occur again; if it does, then we suspect many bills would pass without adequate reading, discussion, and understanding.

It would be well for us to remember James Madison’s description, in Federalist No. 62, of the evils of fast-changing laws:

The internal effects of a mutable policy are . . . calamitous. It poisons the blessings of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulged, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is to-day can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising and the moneyed few, over the industrious and uninformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few not for the many. . . .

No government any more than an individual will long be respected, without being truly respectable, nor be truly respectable without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.

These timeless remarks by James Madison should be remembered by our state legislators as they are asked to vote on numerous bills during the last few days of the session. While some of these bills may be good, there is also something to be said for a mostly-unchanging, stable set of laws.

Following is coverage of some bills that we consider to be of interest.

Bills catching our attention this week

SB196, “Health Education Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Adams and Representative Stratton, would repeal language prohibiting the advocacy of homosexuality in health instruction by government schools.

SB196 passed the Senate 24-1 on March 1st, and awaits consideration by the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Advocacy of homosexuality to young students is not a proper role of government, nor of the government schools. The current prohibition should stay in place. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB196.

SB264Substitute, “Outdoor Recreation Grant Program”, sponsored by Senator Okerlund and Representative Wilson, would:

  • impose a state transient room tax (0.32%) on accommodations and related services;
  • create the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Account;
  • distribute the revenues the state collects from the state transient room tax to the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Account to implement the Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure Grant Program; and
  • establish the Utah Outdoor Recreation Grant Advisory Committee, composed of appointed representatives of a hodge-podge of governmental and private institutions and interests including the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Utah Association of Counties, the “outdoor industry”, the Utah Tourism Industry Association, the Utah Hotel and Lodging Association, and the “health care industry”.

The fiscal note estimates that the additional 0.32% tax is envisioned to raise an additional $5 million per year.

SB264Substitute passed the Senate 18-6 on March 1st, and the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 8-2 on March 3rd, and awaits consideration by the full House.

Should government be in the recreational infrastructure business? We are not so sure.

Is the proposed advisory committee consistent with the ideal of Representative Government that is accountable to the people? Like so many “public-private partnerships”, the composition of the advisory committee has the appearance of a crony-capitalist-and-government-bureaucrat “swamp”.

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB264Substitute.

Updated status on sales tax bills

There is a continued effort to increase the collection of taxes on purchases by Utah residents from out-of-state companies. When this is done by forcibly deputizing out-of-state companies to enforce, or to help enforce, Utah tax laws, this seems to us ill-advised and constitutionally questionable.

SB83Substitute, “Sales Tax Notification Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Harper and Representative McKell, would require that certain out-of-state companies (that do not collect and remit sales and use tax) with aggregate sales, in the previous calendar year, of more than $100,000 to Utah customers:

  1. report to the state: each customer’s name, billing and shipping address, and the dollar amount of each sale to that customer; and
  2. send each of their Utah customers making qualifying purchases of $500 or more “a statement that Utah law may require the Utah purchaser to report and pay the sales and use tax to the commission on the Utah purchaser's Utah sales and use tax return or individual income tax return” (underlined quoted language is language that the bill proposes to add to Utah Code).

SB83Substitute passed the Senate 24-1 on March 1st, and awaits consideration by the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

This bill would create new requirements (which may be difficult to enforce) on out-of-state companies, to collect and share various information on Utah residents, and to inform Utah residents of their tax liability. Forcing out-of-state companies to help enforce Utah tax laws is unwarranted. GrassRoots still favors a "no" vote on SB83Substitute.

SB110Substitute was replaced by SB110Sub2, “Sales Tax Collection Amendments”. Sponsors are Senator Bramble and Representative Noel. SB110Substitute would have required an out-of-state company, with annual sales of $100,000 or more to Utah residents, to collect sales taxes on purchases made by Utahns. Like its predecessor, SB110Sub2 is a long, complicated bill (over 1900 lines, with numerous cross-references to various sections of Utah Code), and we still do not understand it sufficiently to fairly describe the most important parts of the bill. According to the long title of SB110Sub2, it would:

  • address the circumstances under which a seller may be required to collect and remit sales and use tax to the State Tax Commission;
  • provide a legal process for determining the application of certain sales and use tax collection obligations;
  • repeal a requirement that certain sales and use tax revenue be deposited into a restricted account; and
  • contain a severability clause.

The apparent purpose of the severability clause is to ensure that effect is given to all parts of the bill that are not found unconstitutional by a court (which appears quite possible from the Legislative Review Note that accompanies the bill).

SB110Sub2 failed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee 5-5 on March 3rd, and may be dead for this session (but no guarantees).

GrassRoots favored a “no” vote on SB110Substitute, and would favor a “no” vote on any subsequent version that would forcibly deputize out-of-state companies to enforce Utah tax laws.

Updated status on other bills covered in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB159Substitute, “Amendments to Voter Registration”, sponsored by Representative Handy and Senator Adams, would:

  • provide that an individual who applies for or renews the individual's driver license or state identification card will be registered to vote unless the individual opts out;
  • provide that an individual is not guilty of fraudulent registration if the individual is ineligible to register to vote but is inadvertently registered to vote under this bill.

HB159Substitute having passed the House, was assigned to the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Voting is a serious privilege with serious consequences. Registration to vote should not be viewed as just another automatic occurrence when one visits the DMV for a driver license renewal. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB159Substitute.

HB198, “Concealed Carry Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Lisonbee and Senator Weiler, would:

  • establish a provisional permit to carry a concealed firearm;
  • stipulate that individuals must be at least 18 years of age, but no more than 20 years of age, to obtain the permit.

HB198 passed the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee 4-1 on March 1st, and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Extending recognition of rights of self-defense, in this manner, to those 18 to 20 years of age, is a sound step. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB198.

HB253Substitute was replaced by HB253Sub2, “Short-Term Rental Amendments.” Sponsors are Representative Knotwell and Senator Adams. Like previous versions, HB253Sub2 would still prevent a political subdivision from prohibiting a person from listing or offering a short-term rental on a short-term rental website.

HB253Sub2 passed the House 71-1 on February 27th and the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 3-0 on March 1st, and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Property owners should be free to rent, or otherwise use, their property as they please. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB253Sub2.

HB259Substitute, “Duty to Retreat Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Maloy and Senator Dayton would still amend existing statute to:

  • provide that a person is not required to retreat from an aggressor even if there is a safe place to retreat to; and
  • prohibit a trier of fact from considering whether a person who did not retreat from an aggressor acted reasonably.

HB259Substitute passed the House 53-15 on March 2nd, and awaits consideration by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.

HB259Substitute would clarify Utah statute to avoid a situation in which aggressors might assume that their intended victims have a legal duty to retreat. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB259Substitute.

HB312, “Housing Pilot Program for Low-income Students”, sponsored by Representative Winder and Senator Howard Stephenson, would still:

  • authorize, and describe the requirements of, a housing pilot program for low-income students;
  • appropriate $250,000 to the Department of Workforce Services -- Housing and Community Development, as an ongoing appropriation.

HB312 passed the House 57-15 on February 28th, and the Senate Education Committee 6-0 on March 3rd, and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

We do not need a pilot program to pursue more social planning related to low-income student housing. We would benefit from less taxes being taken from the private sector for such social planning. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB312.

HB332 was replaced by HB332Substitute, “Criminal Procedure Revisions”, still sponsored by Representative Roberts. HB332Substitute would specify that “The jury shall be informed of the potential sentence for a guilty verdict.”

HB332Substitute failed the House 29-45 on March 3rd.

Juries have a duty to seek justice, and the defendant’s potential sentence for a guilty verdict is a legitimate consideration for the jury. GrassRoots favors a “yes” vote on HB332Substitute.

SB115Substitute, “Compulsory Education Revisions”, sponsored by Senator Anderegg, would eliminate criminal penalties (Class B Misdemeanor) for a parent of a truant school-age child.

SB115Substitute failed the Senate 13-15 on February 28th. The original vote was 14-14, but the sponsor, Senator Anderegg, requested to change his vote to a “no” vote, and was allowed to do so. The next day, having voted on the prevailing side, Senator Anderegg was able to make a motion (which he did) to reconsider SB115Substitute, and this motion passed. He then circled SB115Substitute, so that it may be brought to another Senate vote.

Should a parent of a "truant" school-age child be subject to 6 months in prison and a $1000 fine for this "offense"? We think not. In a manner of speaking, SB115Substitute would decriminalize various parental actions and inactions that are no one else’s business. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on SB115Substitute.

If you have any questions about these bills, GrassRoots’ position on these bills, or related matters, please contact either of us or any other member of the Board of Utah GrassRoots.

Sincerely,

Steve Stromness
Vice-Chairman, Bill Review Coordinator, Utah GrassRoots
steven.stromness@gmail.com
435-637-5248

Don Guymon
Chairman, Utah GrassRoots
donguymon@gmail.com
801-574-9461

PS Do you want to contact a legislator? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “Legislators”.

Do you want to read and follow legislation yourself? Go to le.utah.gov and click on “2017 General Session Page” then click on “2017 Bills”.

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