Legislative Updates - 15 February 2021

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Dear Friends:

This is GrassRoots’ 5th legislative update of this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

At this time (5 weeks into the session), there are about 680 numbered bills for this session on the Utah Legislature website. Here are some bills and issues that we consider to be noteworthy.

Bills catching our attention this week

HB177Sub3, “Health Education Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Carol Spackman Moss and Senator Riebe, would:

  • require the State Board of Education (state board) to establish curriculum requirements that include instruction in: a) consent, including what does not constitute consent; b) sexual violence behavior prevention; and c) sexual assault resource strategies;
  • amend provisions related to when a student receives health education instruction; and
  • require a local education agency (LEA) to review data on sexual assault for each county in which the LEA is located.

HB177Sub3 passed the House Education Committee 6-5 on February 17th, and awaits consideration by the full House.

It is possible that some of the supporters of this bill are trying to address some real problems for the youth of our society. But we think the approach of throwing more problems and power at the government school system, under the direction of the distant State Board of Education, is wrong-headed.

Who determines what is “consent, including what does not constitute consent”? To a large extent, we think the answer should be: the elected representatives of the people in the Utah State Legislature. We suspect there is already Utah Code (already enacted by the elected representatives of the people) that, whether explicitly or implicitly, states that minors are not qualified to give consent for sexual relations—whether with an adult or with another minor. (We are confident there are already laws on the books against adults seeking and having sexual relations with minors. In other words, the law already recognizes that minors are not qualified to give consent for sexual relations. And we agree.)

Another answer might be: parents. And this is one reason that laws have been written (we think in many states) to require parental permission for a minor to marry.

For us to empower the distant State Board of Education (Board) to determine when minors are giving or not giving consent for sexual behavior seems: a) an ill-advised delegation of power to the Board; and b) sure to cause confusion about minors’ ability to give consent, and maybe even overthrow or replace the current standard that minors are not qualified to give consent.

If our schools need to do more to protect our children from sexual abuse and to teach them how to protect themselves, we would think that the heaviest emphasis should be on the benefit and necessity of abstinence from sexual relations as a minor. But our government schools should not be empowered to confuse minors with the idea that they are qualified to “give consent” or that there might be an acceptable answer to sexual advances other than “no.”

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on HB177Sub3.

SB157Substitute, “Citizen Advisory Boards”, sponsored by Senator Thatcher and Representative Wheatley, would require the Department of Public Safety to:

  • develop and administer a support program to assist municipalities and counties to establish citizen advisory boards relating to police conduct and misconduct; and
  • provide consultation on establishing a citizen advisory board.

SB157Substitute passed the Senate 21-6 on Feb 17th, and awaits action by the House Rules Committee.

First, we question the advisability of setting up “Citizen Advisory Boards.” Hopefully nothing is stopping any citizen from offering advice or recommendations, either directly or through their elected representatives, on what constitutes sound or unsound law enforcement, or relating to police conduct and misconduct. But the people making actual binding policy decisions should be duly elected representatives of the people. (And the people making binding decisions in relation to specific cases of alleged misconduct might include various officials and judges and jury members.)

Second, if we believe such Citizen Advisory Boards are a good idea (and we do not), then we would think the consultation about establishing such boards should rest primarily with the elected representatives of the people, and not with unelected bureaucrats in the Department of Public Safety.

GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB157Substitute.

SB158, “Children's Health Coverage Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Escamilla, would:

  • create the Children's Coverage Outreach Pilot Program;
  • describe the Children's Coverage Outreach Pilot Program, which includes: a) a grant program to deliver targeted outreach and direct application assistance; b) a media outreach campaign to raise awareness of options for health insurance coverage that are available to Utah children; and c) direct enrollment assistance to certain populations;
  • create the Children's Coverage Outreach Pilot Program Restricted Account; and
  • direct the Department of Health to expand eligibility for the Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program to include children who do not currently qualify.

The fiscal note for SB158 estimates additional expenditures resulting from this bill would amount to $12.6 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, and $14.9 million in FY2023 (including a contribution of $3.8 million in “Federal Funds” each year).

SB158 passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee 5-1 on Feb 17th, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.

In the area of medical coverage by state and national governments, we would urge cuts, rather than growth, in these programs. Certainly in the case of the national government, but also with the state government, we question whether this is a proper role for the government to take on. Furthermore, we would prefer tax cuts instead of the proposed additional government spending. GrassRoots favors a “no” vote on SB158.

Updated status

HB116, “Student Attendance Amendments”, sponsored by Representative Robertson and Senator Fillmore, would prohibit a local school board, charter school governing board, or school district from requiring documentation from a medical professional for an absence due to mental or physical illness. Additional coverage of HB116 may be found in our updates of January 25th, February 8th, and February 15th.

HB116 passed the House 48-22 on February 5th, passed the Senate 27-2 on February 18th, and awaits action by the Governor.

Parents should be assumed competent to excuse their children’s absences from school, and should not have to spend money on a medical professional to confirm that their child is ill. GrassRoots favors a signature of HB116 by the Governor.

HCR8, “Concurrent Resolution on Education”, sponsored by Representative Lisonbee and Senator Johnson, would reaffirm that the state is secondary to and supportive of the primary role of a parent in educating the parent's children. Additional coverage of HCR8 may be found in our update of February 15th.

HCR8 passed the House 53-14 on February 11th, passed the Senate Education Committee 3-1 on February 18th, and awaits consideration on the Senate 2nd reading calendar.

GrassRoots still favors a “yes” vote on HCR8.

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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