Annual Report Card on Utah Legislature
PDF version (Contains ratings charts and rankings)
How Did Your Representatives Represent You in 2019?
With the cost of building the Utah State prison going up and up, it was disappointing to watch so many bills which increased government spending be passed during this legislative session. As the cost of government increases, the pressure to increase taxes will as well.
While an effort to increase taxes died under citizen pressure, it will be resurrected again whether during a special legislative session or next year’s session. Tax increases to balance the budget becomes more necessary as the government continues to increase the number of programs it provides. This past session, programs were initiated to help citizens buy cars (H.B. 295) and wood stoves (H.B. 357) and for train companies to buy freight switchers (H.B. 98). Several new mandates were put on school districts as new education initiatives were launched. Unfunded mandates were put on communities in the name of affordable housing and $20 million of taxpayer dollars were given to the initiative with $4 million committed thereafter (S.B. 34).
Another bill of concern is S.B. 103 which creates inequality on how different individuals are treated when a crime is committed against them instead of treating all crime equally.
The legislature should be commended for passing bills which protected life. Bills outlawing abortion after 18 weeks (H.B. 136) and outlawing abortion if the only reason was for Downs Syndrome passed (H.B. 166). Bills which protected citizens right to self-defense also passed (HB 114 & HB 243).
Part of the concern is the limited amount of time bills receive in deliberation. The median bill enacted in 2018 received a total of only seven minutes of House and Senate floor debate before passage according to Utah Data Points.
Robertson Tops House; McKay Leads senate
Adam Robertson (R-UT) received the top score on this year’s GrassRoots report. Other top House members were Travis Seegmiller (R-WA), Kim Coleman (R-SL), Marc Roberts (R-UT), Mark Strong (R-SL), Brad Daw (R-UT), John Knotwell (R-UT), Phil Lyman (R-SJ)
Senate Summary: Dan McKay (R-SL) received the top score in the Senate.
Governor: Governor Herbert received a 40% compared to his lifetime average of 42%. Herbert’s previous scores were: 71% (2010); 73% (2011); 75% (2012); 28% (2013); 29% (2014); 41% (2015), 24% (2016), 27% (2017), 21% (2018)
Averages: The House received an average score of 45% compared to the lifetime score of 43%. The Senate averaged a 38% which is below the Senators average of 46%.
Analysis of Bills for 2019
Bills are listed by number with house bills listed first. The sponsor(s) of the bill is in parentheses with the primary sponsor listed first. The tally on bills from each house is listed by Yeas, Nays and those Absent or Not Voting. Text of all bills can be found at http://le.utah.gov.
A) H.B. 13 (C. Moss, D. Ipson) Criminalizes holding handheld wireless communication devices while operating a motor vehicle and subjects the offender to up to 90 days imprisonment for the first offense. Individuals should be held responsible (civil liable) for damages caused by their careless or negligent acts, but we would lean against criminalizing holding a cellphone. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Failed in the House (32-41-2).
B) H.B. 98 (S. Handy, T. Weiler) Just as Obama administration’s “Cash for Clunkers” program was a misuse of taxpayer dollars and violated Constitutional principles, this bill is Utah’s version but for the locomotive industry. Designated over $2 million to assist train companies in purchasing new freight switchers. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (38-35-2) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
C) H.B. 114 (C. Maloy, D. Hinkins) Protects a citizen’s right to self-defense by providing that an individual is not required to retreat from an aggressor. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (54-16-5), the Senate (18-8-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
D) H.B.136 (C. Acton, D. Henderson) The first duty of government is to protect life. Bill protects life by restricting abortions after 18 weeks. Previously abortions could be performed up to 22 weeks. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (57-15-3), Senate (23-6-0) and was signed into law by the Governor.
E) H.B. 158 (K. Coleman, T. Weiler) Students across the country have been penalized on college campuses for expressing their political views. Bill protected a college student’s first amendment rights by prohibiting an institution of higher learning from punishing certain acts of speech that do not constitute discriminatory harassment. Requires an institution to publish its free expression policies in the student handbook and website. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (44-25-6) but failed in the Senate (8-19-2).
F) H.B. 166 (K. Lisonbee, C. Bramble) Bill protects the right to life by prohibiting abortions that will be performed because the fetus may have Down syndrome. Government has a duty to protect all its citizens particularly those who cannot defend themselves. A government that ignores its most innocent citizens cannot be expected to protect the lives of all citizens. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (54-15-6), Senate (20-6-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
G) H.B. 243 (C. Watkins, D. Hinkins) Protects the right to self-defense by providing that certain criminal penalties for carrying a concealed firearm without a permit do not apply to a victim of domestic violence or dating violence who otherwise would not be prohibited from possessing a firearm. While GrassRoots would allow all citizens to exercise their second amendment rights without a permit, this bill is a step in the right direction. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (58-16-1), Senate (20-6-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
H) H.B. 260 (D. Owens, E Vickers) Allocates $2 million to create the Utah Promise Scholarship Program. If the government is going to fund higher education, it should treat all student’s equally. Instead of allocating money that will be aimed at helping only a few students, the government should look at reducing taxes which will allow more Utahns to achieve their financial goals by returning more of their hard-earned money to their pockets. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (68-2-5), Senate (20-0-9) and was signed into law by the Governor.
I) H.B. 290 (L. Perry, L. Hillyard) Violates a citizen’s right to privacy by allowing driver’s license information to be shared with the State Tax Commission, the University of Utah for data collection in relation to genetic and epidemiologic research or to a government entity in the interest of public safety. Personal information should only be shared for the purpose the citizen provided the information for. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (73-2-0), Senate (25-0-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
J) H.B. 295 (J. Stenquist, C. Bramble) Would cost the Department of Environmental Quality up to $6.5 million. Would assist “qualified vehicle owners” to purchase a new vehicle if their old vehicle failed an emissions test and is a model 2003 or older. As previously noted, the Obama administration’s “Cash for Clunkers” was an improper use of tax dollars and a violation of principles of limited government. This bill does the same. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (40-28-7) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
K) H.B. 357 (T. Hawkes, T. Weiler) Cash for Clunkers for Wood Stoves. Bill appropriates $5 million to assist those at a certain poverty level to purchase new wood stoves. As with trains and cars, government giveaways to purchase wood stoves are not a proper function of government. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (53-21-1), Senate (21-2-6) and was signed into law by the Governor.
L) H.B. 386 (J. Briscoe, T. Weiler) Bill allocates $3 million to create the Affordable Housing Preservation Fund. This reallocation of wealth moves government into areas it does not belong. If the government wants to give charity, it should allow individuals to voluntarily donate towards charity. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (47-26-2) but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
M) H.J.R. 18 (J. Moss, D. Hemmert) Requires legislative appropriations subcommittees to create an accountable budget process for approximately 20% of their budget each year. Committees would be required to review a line item or program in a simple base budget to determine whether or the extent to which to recommend the line item or program be continued. It is the hope that “baseline budgeting” will force legislators to look more closely at government spending. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (65-0-10) and Senate (24-3-2). House Joint Resolutions do not require a Governor’s signature.
N) S.B. 34 (J. Anderegg, V. Potter) Requires cities adopt at least three of 25 prescribed affordable housing policies to become eligible for the Utah Department of Transportation to invest in their transportation corridors. This bill infringes upon the liberties of local townships and burdens them with unfunded mandates. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (58-14-3), Senate (23-3-3) and was signed into law by the Governor.
O) S.B. 83 (A. Millner, P. Ray) Creates the Partnerships for Healthy Communities Grant Program and allocates $500,000 per annum to give grants to private-public partnerships to promote the health of children. While promoting better health is a worthy goal, the government should not do charity. If individuals want to donate to a worthy cause, they should do so voluntarily do so and not be coerced through their tax dollars. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the Senate (24-0-5) but failed in the House (25-47-3).
P) S.B. 88 (J. Iwamoto, C. Hall) Raises eight amendment concerns by making victim restitution include expenses for security measures. While criminals should be required to pay restitution to make a victim whole, this bill goes beyond this and raises concerns about what adequate security measures could be. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (47-24-4), Senate (27-0-2) and was signed into law by the Governor.
Q) S.B. 96 (A. Christensen, J. Dunnigan). In November Utah voters passed Proposition 3 which expanded Medicaid in the state. The initiative raised concerns about future costs and Utah being able to be able to pay for it in the future. While GrassRoots wishes Proposition 3 would have been repealed (which was proposed in S.B.97), this bill put guardrails on Prop 3 to attempt to avoid a budget emergency in the future. We still encourage lawmakers to repeal Prop 3 in the future. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (56-19-0), Senate (22-7-0) and was signed into law by the Governor.
R) S.B. 103 (D. Thatcher, L. Perry) Bill creates inequality under the law by creating an enhanced penalty for a defendant who “selects the victim of the criminal offense because of the defendant’s belief or perception regarding the victim’s personal attribute.” Our laws should punish criminal actions. Under the First Amendment, our laws should not punish beliefs and perceptions. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (64-9-2), Senate (22-3-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
S) S.B. 109 (T. Weiler, K. Lisonbee) Tightens Utah’s asset forfeiture statute by a) removing “incident to an arrest” as a sufficient ground for seizure of property (which often leads to full forfeiture); b) providing for release of property held for forfeiture when the seizing agency fails to timely “serve a notice of intent to seek forfeiture upon any claimant known to the agency”; c) require reporting of every forfeiture case by specifying that “A law enforcement agency that fails to provide a report of its forfeiture activities may not be awarded a grant [from the State Asset Forfeiture Grant Program] during the following calendar year.” This is a good step in the direction of due process, respect for property rights, and transparency. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the Senate (25-0-4) but did not come up for a vote in the House.
T) S.B. 149 (A. Millner, J. Moss) Will cost over $65 million in 2021 to create the Teacher and Student Success Program. Not only is the amount of funding problematic, but bill infringes on local control of education by requiring local education agencies (LEAs) to create guidelines in accordance with this program. LEAs would be forced to follow state guidelines in order to get money back from a fund that their taxpayers funded. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (61-11-3), Senate (25-0-4) and was signed into law by the Governor.
U) S.B. 151 (D. Henderson, C. Maloy) Increases transparency by requiring an application for a statewide initiative to contain information on the funding sources of the proposed law. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Passed the House (54-16-5), Senate (21-0-8) and was signed into law by the Governor.
V) S.B. 160 (D. McCay) Improves accountability on law enforcement in its use of force by disallowing deactivation of an officer’s body camera for consultation with their supervisor after a law enforcement encounter involving the use of force against an individual. Transparency in government is good and is extra important when our agents in government employ physical force against an individual citizen. GrassRoots approves of a YES vote. Failed in the Senate (12-13-4).
W) S.B. 166 (A. Millner, B. Last) Increases government spending by allocating $12 million annually and acting preschool provisions to the School Readiness Initiative. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (68-3-4), Senate (29-0-0) and was signed into law by the Governor.
X) S.B. 242 (C. Bramble, P. Arent) Violates free speech rights of Utah political party members, increases government spending and treats political parties as political subdivisions of the state by requiring a presidential primary election to be held in 2020. In 2016, political parties chose the method of choosing their nominees which allowed their members to exercise their first amendment rights of association and saved taxpayers millions of dollars. Primary is estimated to cost Utah taxpayers $2.9 million each election cycle. GrassRoots approves of a NO vote. Passed the House (66-1-8), Senate (25-2-2) and was signed into law by the Governor.