The following is the transcript from this week’s Better UTAH Beat. It aired on February 12, 2013.
The state legislature is now in the third week of the 2013 legislative session. That means there are only five weeks left of this year’s general session. And, with only five weeks to go, there is a lot to keep track of. As of last Thursday, all bills had to be titled and listed for consideration. There are now over 500 numbered bills and resolutions. With so many bills and not much time, it can be daunting to keep track of everything.
Last week we told you about our coding system for tracking bills during the legislative session. The system is modeled off of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index. Green denotes good bills. Yellow is neutral. Orange is used to code bills that are problematic. And Red is used for bad bills. This week I’ll discuss two green bills and one red bill. All three of these bills are particularly important for the public to follow.
The first, and perhaps one of the most important bills of the session, is the Dating Violence Protection Act–HB 50, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Seelig. The bill changes current law to allow for protective orders in dating relationships. The bill passed committee last Wednesday, and will soon head to the house floor for full debate and discussion.
This bill is particularly important because right now victims of domestic abuse in non-marital relationships have little legal protection from their abusers. Dating violence is particularly harmful to our teens. According to a survey by the Center for Disease Control, one in ten high school students reported being physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the last 12 months. The survey also found that dating violence among teens is a precursor to other forms of violence. In fact, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who have been victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking had their first experiences with intimate partner violence while teenagers. This bill would make it easier for people involved in a dating relationship to obtain a protective order before violence occurs.
The second bill that deserves special attention is Rep. Patrice Arent’s HB 13 – Protection of Children Riding in Motor Vehicles. The bill is sponsored in the senate by Aaron Osmond. Arent’s bill makes smoking in a car illegal when a child 15 years or younger is a passenger in that vehicle. It establishes a 45 dollar fine as a penalty.
The dangers of secondhand smoke have been well-documented, and placing a child in the harm of cigarette smoke can cause lifelong health effects. This bill is significant for its proactive approach to protecting the interests of our youth. We’ll briefly note, if only as an indication of the Eagle Forum’s diminishing influence, that the far-right organization opposed the bill on the grounds that it stripped parent’s of their right to choose. Though obvious, the irony of the Eagle Forum’s stance is that they would give parents the right to harm their children post-birth, but restrict access to a parent’s right to make reproductive choices.
The last bill, which has earned a distinction of red, is HB 76 – Concealed Weapons Carry Amendment. Sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, this bill would eliminate the concealed carry permit requirement for gun owners over 21.
Despite a groundswell throughout the country to reduce gun violence, Utah is part of a handful of states that is instead favoring policies that would escalate gun violence. The concealed carry permit requires that gun owners receive at least some firearms training, even if that training is woefully insufficient for the responsibility of carrying a gun in public. This law would roll back that otherwise reasonable restriction, allowing the possession of a firearm in public without any training required. The bill also creates an undue burden on the ability of our police officers to safely and adequately protect us. We hope cooler heads prevail and that this bill will serve as a message not for proponents of the anything-goes reading of the second amendment, but rather a message that Utahns support reasonable regulations on the right to bear arms.
Bills of all sorts will continue to wend their way through the legislative process over the next couple of weeks. We hope you’ll continue to look to the Alliance for a Better UTAH as an important voice in helping make sense of much of that legislation.