Legislative Updates - 4 March 2019

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Dear Friends:

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

At this time (five weeks into the session), there are about 760 numbered bills for this session. Read on for coverage of some bills that we consider to be noteworthy.

Education Bills catching our attention

Both of these education bills appropriate tax dollars. Whether the amount is $30 million or $130 million, we would prefer an additional tax cut rather than the proposed appropriation. While the objectives of one or both of these proposals may be worthy, we question whether increased state government force is a good way to accomplish these objectives.

Also, we are concerned about corruption and distortion of local education agency (LEA) priorities with grant money “from above”. We would suggest that if the perceived benefits of various proposed expenditures are so compelling, the decision to tax and spend is probably better left with the LEA, with its accountability to local citizens.

HB120Sub3, “Student and School Safety Assessment”, is sponsored by Representative Ward and Senator Millner. According to the bill’s long title, it would:

  • direct the Department of Public Safety to employ a public safety liaison;
  • direct the State Board of Education (Board) to develop a secure digital tool for purposes of providing resources and protocols for school safety;
  • authorize the Board to share certain student data as requested by local law enforcement for specified purposes;
  • create the Student Safety Restricted Account with a 2024 sunset date;
  • create the State Safety and Support Team Program;
  • require the Board to develop model policies and procedures for safety and support teams (team);
  • require a public school to establish a team and conduct a school climate survey;
  • establish duties of a team, including working with and responding to an individual who poses a threat to the individual, or a member of the school community;
  • enact provisions granting immunity from liability for a member of a team;
  • require law enforcement to report a student to the student's school if that student poses a threat;
  • direct the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to employ a school-based mental health specialist; and
  • classify certain records created by a team as protected.

According to the bill’s long title, HB120Sub3 would also appropriate in fiscal year 2020:

  • to the Education Fund Restricted - Student Safety Restricted Account, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $30,000,000;
  • to the State Board of Education - Minimum School Program - Related to Basic School Programs, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund Restricted - Student Safety Restricted Account, $30,000,000;
  • to the State Board of Education - Minimum School Program - Related to Basic School Programs, as a one-time appropriation: from the Education Fund, One-time, $66,000,000;
  • to the State Board of Education - MSP Categorical Program Administration – State Safety and Support Team Program, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $415,000;
  • to the State Board of Education - State Administrative Office - Student Advocacy Services, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $65,000;
  • to the State Board of Education - State Administrative Office - Student Advocacy Services, as a one-time appropriation: from the Education Fund, One-time, $1,055,000;
  • to the Department of Public Safety - Programs and Operations – Department Commissioner's Office, as an ongoing appropriation: from the General Fund, $150,000; and
  • to the Department of Human Services - Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, as an ongoing appropriation: from the General Fund, $150,000.

HB120Sub3 passed the House 45-27 on Feb 21st, and awaits consideration by the Senate Education Committee.

This looks to us like a lot of state-tax-dollars and a lot of state-level mandates on LEAs.

We would ask: Are our students unsafe now? If they are unsafe, is this $127 million appropriation, along with the various proposed mandates on LEAs, the best, or at least a good, way to address the unsafe condition. Or should more leadership be left to local communities, LEAs, teachers, and parents?

We are skeptical of the top-down approach. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB120Sub3.

HB373Substitute, “Student Support Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Eliason and Senator Millner, would:

  • require the State Board of Education (board) to coordinate with the Department of Health and make recommendations related to Medicaid reimbursement for school-based health services;
  • authorize the board to distribute money to local education agencies (LEAs) for personnel who provide school-based mental health support;
  • require the board to establish a formula for distribution of money to LEAs;
  • enact requirements on LEAs to receive money;
  • require the board to make rules related to money for the personnel;
  • enact other provisions related to student mental health support; and
  • appropriate in fiscal year 2020: to the State Board of Education - Minimum School Program - Related to Basic School Programs - Student Health and Counseling Support Program, as an ongoing appropriation: from the Education Fund, $32,100,000.

HB373Substitute passed House Education Committee 8-1 on February 28th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

We believe HB373Substitute reflects and exemplifies a disturbing trend away from the idea of the traditional family as the foundation unit of society for raising and nurturing children; and toward state-mandated programs, taxes, and regulations putting more of the burden of raising, nurturing, and protecting our children on the government schools, of course with plenty of guidance and carrots and sticks to be wielded by the State Board of Education.

We would ask: Where the traditional family struggles, should we rely more on local communities and churches and other private associations for help? Or should we employ state-level force and manipulation?

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB373Substitute.

Other Bills catching our attention

HB243, “Domestic Violence Modifications”, sponsored by Representative Watkins, would provide that certain criminal penalties (mostly class A and class B misdemeanor) for carrying a concealed firearm without a permit do not apply to a victim of domestic violence or dating violence, who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm, for a limited period (120 days) after the day on which the victim is issued a protective order.

HB243 passed House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee 6-4 on February 27th, and is circled on the House 3rd reading calendar.

We do not believe citizens should be tossed in the slammer for up to 6 months (class B misdemeanor) or for up to a year (class A misdemeanor) for exercising their natural rights of self-defense without a permit. HB243 is a welcome step in the direction of respect for our natural rights of self-defense. GrassRoots favors a “yes” vote on HB243.

SB34Sub3, “Affordable Housing Modifications”, sponsored by Senator Anderegg and Representative Potter, would:

  • modify the requirements (including reporting requirements) of certain municipalities and counties related to the moderate income housing plan element of their general plan; and
  • modify provisions related to the use of Transportation Investment Fund money, such that Fund money expenditures are prohibited or restricted in municipalities and in unincorporated areas of counties that have failed to adopt and implement a moderate income housing plan element meeting state requirements.

Municipalities’ planning commissions would be required to include a recommendation to implement 3 or more strategies from a list of 23 possible strategies. Some of these possible strategies include:

  • allowing accessory dwelling units in residential zones;
  • permitting single room dwellings;
  • allowing higher density in mixed use zones;
  • zoning incentives for low to moderate income units;
  • eliminating or reducing parking requirements;
  • implementing a mortgage assistance program;
  • applying for (or partnering with an entity that applies for) federal or state or interlocal-association-of-governments funding, tax incentives, or other services or programs; and
  • utilizing a moderate income housing set aside from a community reinvestment agency, redevelopment agency, or community development and renewal agency.

SB34Sub3 would also appropriate in fiscal year 2020:

  • to the Department of Workforce Services -- Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund as a one-time appropriation: from the General Fund, $20,000,000; and
  • to the Department of Workforce Services -- Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund as an ongoing appropriation: from the General Fund, $4,000,000.

SB34Sub3 passed the Senate 20-9 on February 13th, and the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 10-0 on February 20th, and awaits action by House Rules Committee due to fiscal impact.

We see good and bad in SB34Sub3.

We are concerned about the tendency to mandate certain planning by local governments, and we wonder if “the tail might be wagging the dog” here in regard to various Transportation Investment Fund expenditures.

One argument in favor of this bill is that some of the possible strategies would have cities permit moderate income dwellings (not that anyone has to build them). In that regard it seems to support a free market economy. (Local zoning ordinances can be very restrictive. An important root of the evil here is the practice of zoning in cities across America. It has often caused a lack of affordable housing by regulating what types of homes can be built and where.)

On the other hand, some of the strategy alternatives allowed by SB34Sub3 seem more oriented to welfare-statism and social planning.

And, of course, there is that welfare-statist appropriation to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund. We would prefer a $24 million tax cut over this appropriation.

Our judgment is that the bad of SB34Sub3 outweighs the good. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB34Sub3.

Updated status on other bills mentioned in earlier GrassRoots updates

HB114, “Self-defense Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Maloy and Senator Hinkins would provide that an individual is not required to retreat from an aggressor; and would provide that an individual's failure to retreat is not relevant when determining whether the individual acted reasonably. Additional coverage may be found in our updates of February 4th, February 18th, and February 25th.

HB114 passed the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee 3-2 on March 1st, and awaits consideration on Senate’s 2nd reading calendar.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HB114.

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”.

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