Legislative Updates - 5 March 2018

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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 248 of these have already passed.

According to the Legislature’s website, 535 bills passed during the 2017 General Session. A like performance this year might mean that another 280 bills are passed in the last 4 days of the session, which ends on Thursday, March 8th. We hope this does not occur; if it does, then we suspect many bills would pass without adequate reading, discussion, and understanding.

Following is discussion of some bills that we consider to be noteworthy.

A few thoughts on taxes and related bills

We read that “state revenues and surpluses have grown well beyond $500 million” (Lisa Riley Roche, “Sweeping transportation bill barely passes Senate”, Deseret News, February 28th, 2018). Believing, as we do, that government and taxes are not too small in Utah, we are normally leery of net tax and fee increases. But this year, with large surpluses, and with an additional expected $80 million of tax revenues per year resulting from changes in national tax law (see fiscal note for HB355Sub3), we believe there is an extra-strong case for tax cuts. Accordingly, we are inclined to:

  • Oppose HB293Substitute, “Education Funding Amendments”, a tax increase;
  • Support HB355Sub2, “Amendments to Tax Law”, a tax cut; and
  • Oppose SB136Sub3, “Transportation Governance Amendments”, a large fee increase without offsetting tax and-or fee cuts.

Bills catching our attention this week

HB260Substitute, “Professional Licensing Revisions”, sponsored by Representative Ward and Senator Adams, would:

  • modify access to the controlled substance database for certain law enforcement officers so that a search warrant is not necessarily required;
  • modify the authority of the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) to review the controlled substance database to identify any prescriber who may be overprescribing opioids; and
  • grant DOPL the authority to provide education or training to certain prescribers and to take other enforcement action.

Besides listening to the various committee and floor debates on the Legislature’s website, some coverage is provided in the Deseret News of March 1st (Ben Lockhart, “Bill increasing Utah police access to drug database advances after heated debate”).

HB260Substitute passed the House 39-32 on February 27th and the Senate Business and Labor Committee 4-3 on March 1st, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

Should the contents of the controlled substance database be viewed as public information, or private information, or something in between? We think it most prudent to treat these records as private information as much as possible, and, accordingly, to require a warrant or court order before law enforcement may access the contents. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB260Substitute.

HB355Sub2, “Amendments to Tax Law”, sponsored by Representative McKay, would:

  • reduce the state's corporate and individual income tax rates from 5% to 4.95%; and
  • address the apportionment of business income (to Utah taxable income) for income tax purposes.

The fiscal note for HB355Sub2 estimates that “Enactment of this bill could decrease revenue to the Education Fund by $52.9 million in FY 2019 and by $65.2 million in FY 2020. This estimate assumes a base prior to H.R. 1 "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act." However, because federal tax reform has been estimated to increase revenues to the Education Fund by $80 million in FY 2019 and $85 million in FY 2020, the net impact could be an Education Fund increase of $27.1 in FY 2019 and $19.8 million in FY 2020.”

HB355Sub2 passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee 6-2 on March 1st, and awaits consideration by the full House.

We are still studying the technical details of this bill, but very much favor the tax rate reduction. (A larger tax rate reduction to more fully reflect the expected increased revenue to the State resulting from national tax changes would be appropriate. Having said that, passage of some tax rate cut seems much better than no rate cut.) GrassRoots tentatively favors a “yes” vote on HB355Sub2.

Updated status on bills mentioned in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB129, “Self-Defense Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Maloy and Senator Hinkins, would amend existing statute to provide that:

  • an individual is not required to retreat from an aggressor even if there is a safe place to which the individual can retreat; and
  • an individual's failure to retreat is not relevant when determining whether the individual acted reasonably.

Additional coverage of HB129 may be found in our updates of January 29th , February 5th, and February 19th.

Having passed the House 58-11 on February 12th, HB129 went on to pass the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee 4-2 on February 27th, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB129.

HB161Sub2, “Auto Registration Requirements”, sponsored by Representative Watkins and Senator Ipson, would remove:

  • the requirement for an individual to carry a vehicle registration card; and
  • the (infraction) penalty for failure to sign or display a vehicle registration card.

Additional coverage of HB161Sub2 may be found in our update of February 26th.

HB161Sub2 passed the House 63-1 on Feb 27th and the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee 5-0 on March 1st, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

In most cases, failure to carry a piece of paper should not be a crime. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB161Sub2.

HB264, “Elementary School Counselor Program”, sponsored by Representative Eliason and Senator Howard Stephenson, would:

  • authorize the State Board of Education (board) to award grants to local education agencies (LEAs) to provide targeted school-based mental health supports in elementary schools;
  • authorize the board to make rules for grant applications and awards; and
  • require an LEA that receives a grant to submit an annual report to the board.

Additional coverage of HB264 may be found in our updates of February 12th and February 19th.

Having passed the House 59-11 on February 16th, HB264 passed the Senate Education Committee 6-0 on Feb 26th, and awaits consideration on Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

HB264 is another proposal to channel funds to local government entities from state coffers. Such proposals, we believe, compromise and distort local sovereignty and self-governance. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB264.

HB293, “Education Funding Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Last, was replaced by HB293Substitute, which would be a major taxing and spending increase (compared with current law). According to the fiscal note, HB293’s proposed tax law changes are estimated to increase both taxes and spending by $36 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, $56 million in FY2020, and maybe $126 million in FY2022.

Additional coverage of HB293 may be found in our update of February 19th.

HB293Substitute passed the House Education Committee 7-5 on February 26th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

We admit that we have not studied this 1800+ line bill to our satisfaction. But HB293Substitute proposes increased taxation and spending, and appears to be another proposal to increase channeling of funds to local government entities from state coffers. GrassRoots tentatively favors a “no” vote on HB293Substitute.

HB319, “Early Care and Learning Coordination Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Chavez-Houck and Senator Millner, would:

  • create the Governor's Early Childhood Commission (commission) in the Department of Workforce Services, and the Early Childhood Utah Advisory Council (council) in the Department of Health;
  • describe the membership of the commission and the council—mostly an assortment of unelected bureaucratic appointees and special interest representatives (“experts”?); and
  • describe the duties of the commission and council, the ultimate objective being the development and coordination of a comprehensive socialized welfare delivery system for children in early childhood.

Additional coverage of HB319 may be found in our update of February 19th.

HB319 passed the House 38-32 on February 26th and the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 3-1 on Feb 28th, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

HB319 appears to be a textbook example of how our growing welfare state is being shaped by groups of “experts”, bureaucrats, and special interest representatives with little or no accountability to the people. We should not be surprised when initiatives like this undermine our representative form of government. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB319.

HB326, “Intergenerational Poverty Initiative”, sponsored by Representative Redd and Senator Howard Stephenson, would:

  • establish a pilot program in the Department of Workforce Services to address intergenerational poverty by providing “funding for counties to implement local solutions to address intergenerational poverty”; and
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2019: to the Department of Workforce Services -- Intergenerational Poverty Plan Implementation Pilot Program a one-time appropriation: from the General Fund, One-time, $1,000,000.

Additional coverage of HB326 may be found in our update of February 19th.

HB326 passed the House 65-3 on February 26th and the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 4-0 on Feb 28th, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

HB326 is another proposal to channel funds to local government entities from state coffers. Such proposals, we believe, compromise and distort local sovereignty and self-governance. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on HB326.

SB54Substitute, “Marriage and Premarital Counseling and Education Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Christensen and Representative Edwards, would authorize the county clerk to increase the marriage license fee (by $20) for applicants who fail to complete specified premarital counseling or education.

Additional coverage of various versions of SB54 may be found in our updates of February 5th and February 26th.

Having passed the Senate 23-4 on Feb 21st, SB54Substitute went on to pass the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 7-2 on February 26th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

We would do better to leave pre-marital counseling in the voluntary realm of individuals, families, churches, and others in the private sector, and keep marriage license fees down (or even do away with marriage licensing altogether). GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB54Substitute.

SB136Substitute, “Transportation Governance Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Harper and Representative Schultz, was replaced by SB136Sub3. According to SB136Sub3’s long title (a summary of the bill typically drafted by the drafting attorney in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel), the new version of the bill would still:

  • modify responsibilities, authority, makeup, and governance of the Department of Transportation, and of a large public transit district (like the Utah Transit Authority (UTA));
  • require a large public transit district to transition retirement benefits to fall under the provisions and oversight provided in the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act;
  • create the "Transit Transportation Investment Fund" within the Transportation Investment Fund of 2005; and
  • impose a deadline for a local government to impose certain local option sales and use taxes.

SB136Sub3 would still impose various fee increases, while not imposing certain other tax increases proposed in previous versions of SB136. According to the bill’s fiscal note, “Businesses and individuals could pay an additional $42.8 million in FY 2019 and $88.8 million in FY 2020 in motor vehicle registration fees with the potential of future fee adjustments based on a Consumer Price Index.”

Our coverage of previous versions of SB136 may be found in our updates of February 19th and February 26th.

SB136Sub3 passed the Senate 15-12 on February 28th, and awaits consideration by the House Transportation Committee.

Admittedly, there is reason to believe there is a need to reform the UTA. And we must admit that we have not studied this 5900+ line substitute bill to our satisfaction. But we do not believe government in Utah is too small at this time, and are leery of any tax or fee increases not accompanied by offsetting fee or tax cuts.

GrassRoots tentatively favors a “no” vote on SB136Sub3.

SB154Substitute, “Prohibition of Law Enforcement Quotas”, sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Coleman, was replaced by SB154Sub3, which itself was amended. SB154Sub3, as amended, would prohibit a political subdivision or law enforcement agency from requiring or directing a peace officer to meet an arrest, citation, stop, or other quota.

Additional coverage of previous versions of SB154 may be found in our updates of February 12th and February 26th.

SB154Substitute passed the Senate 23-2 on Feb 21st. SB154Sub3 passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee 11-0 on March 2nd, and awaits further action by the House.

Law Enforcement Quotas as defined in this bill distort law enforcement priorities. This bill is a sound step in the direction of avoiding such distortion of priorities. GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on SB154Sub3.

SB181Substitute, “Infertility Insurance Coverage Pilot Program”, sponsored by Senator Escamilla and Representative LaVar Christensen, would require the Public Employees' Health Plan to create a 3-year pilot program to cover a portion of the cost of using an assisted reproductive technology.

Additional coverage of the original SB181Substitute may be found in our update of February 26th.

SB181Substitute passed the Senate 21-5 on Feb 26th, and awaits consideration by House Business and Labor Committee.

We still think either a direct wage increase for government employees, or a tax cut for all of us, would be a better than a government subsidy for use of assisted reproduction technology subsidy. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB181Substitute.

SB185, “Post-film Production Incentives”, sponsored by Senator Anderegg and Representative Noel, would (as amended by the Senate on February 27th):

  • allow the Governor's Office of Economic Development to provide motion picture incentives for companies engaging in post-production work in Utah; and
  • increase the amount of tax credits available for motion picture incentives.

The bill’s fiscal note estimates that SB185 “could reduce revenue to the Education Fund by $5,006,300 annually beginning in FY 2019.”

SB185 passed the Senate 15-10 on February 28th and awaits consideration by the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

SB185 provides for additional social planning by the Governor's Office of Economic Development, and appears to advance crony capitalism in Utah. While we are all in favor of a $5 million (or larger) tax cut, we would prefer that it be done in such a way as to treat various individuals and businesses more equally. GrassRoots still favors a “no” vote on SB185.

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

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