Another month, another Interim Session with the Utah State Legislature. Except September consisted of twice the fun (or twice the boredom) because the Governor decided to call a Special Session to be held on the same day! I spent all day up at the Capitol and here’s a quick run-down on what I saw and heard, and how you can be involved in what’s happening with your state government.
The Government Operations Interim Committee studies issues and policies “related to the internal operation of state government.” This includes elections, campaign finance, government ethics, and GRAMA, among other issues.
Today, the Government Ops Committee was looking at a couple of bills that would make technical changes to election laws in the state. These proposed bills would:
- clarify that it is not actually a crime for a person to sign a petition without knowing exactly what the petition would do (even though this is technically not a crime, I would encourage all of you to learn more about the various petitions circulating right now and sign them if you are interested!),
- bring school board election requirements more in line with other statewide offices because they are changing from nonpartisan to partisan elections (something we are hoping to change!),
- and make other small changes that aren’t worth going into here.
Even though changes such as these may seem minor and unimportant, it is important to keep up on them because they all affect one of our most important rights!
The committee also heard from the Free Market Protection and Privatization Board, which studies how state and local governments encroach on the free market and makes recommendations on how to prevent this from happening. Interesting tidbit to come from this report wasn’t from the report at all, but actually as a result of Senator Dabakis asking a question of the staff member who was presenting.
Dabakis asked him if the Board had looked at all into “the biggest elephant in the room,” being the state control over one of the most mismanaged entities in the state, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC). I agree with Dabakis when he says that if there is any agency in the state that needs to be privatized, it is definitely the DABC! In my opinion, legislators should not have direct control over how each DABC dollar is spent. However, the staff member said it would be up to the members of the Privatization Board to decide whether it would study whether the DABC deserves privatization.
What do you think? Should the DABC be privatized? Or should it remain under state control? You can contact the Free Market Protection and Privatization Board here!
All the Rest of Interim
- Tax Reform: The Legislature continued its in-depth look at Utah’s tax structure to determine how the state can “broaden the base” while raising more money for schools and other state needs. This month they looked at sales and income tax exemptions.
- The “Gary Ott Dilemma”: Lawmakers have struggled with deciding how to allow municipalities to remove elected officials for reasons such as mental incapacity. The Political Subdivisions Interim Committee introduced a committee bill that would give five Utah county councils the power to unanimously request a mental evaluation for such officials. Read more here.
- Those Dang Tree-Huggers: Rep. Mike Noel continued to lay blame on environmental groups for the Brian Head Wildfire, showing lawmakers a video he plans to present to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. We’ll let you know when we find the video! Read more here.
- Think of the Animals: Senator Peter Knudson continues trying to ban the euthanasia of animals by gas chamber, and it seems that lawmakers might support him if he revives his bill again next year. Read more here.
And Now for the Double Feature
Yesterday, lawmakers toured Rio Grande street and other areas meant to serve the homeless community, and today they met in a Special Session to pass a couple of laws designed to support Operation Rio Grande.
As you may know, the Utah Constitution stipulates that the Utah Legislature may only meet to pass laws for forty-five days each year. However, the Governor has the power to call the Legislature into “special session” during the rest of the year for them to pass bills on certain issues. Therefore, in order to pass these laws officials felt necessary to immediately address the homeless issue, the Governor called the Legislature into its 2017 1st Special Session.
The first law passed would shuffle around some money in the state budget to give $4.9 million to the Operation Rio Grande effort. This money would cover the effort for the rest of the year until the Legislature comes back into session at the beginning of 2018, where they will debate giving tens of millions more. The bill passed unanimously, with most legislators praising Speaker Greg Hughes for his leadership, although Rep. Merrill Nelson questioned spending money for a city problem created by law enforcement not properly doing their jobs.
The second law passed would allow for the closure of Rio Grande Street, a project touted as being necessary for the protection and safety of homeless people in the area but which has also become controversial among various parties. Controversial or not, fences are already being constructed around the street which would create a “safe-zone” where those receiving services would be required to have a homeless-services card to enter. This bill was almost passed unanimously, with only Rep. Angela Romero and Sen. Luz Escamilla voting no. Rep. Romero voted against the bill, saying that putting up this fence sends a message of “criminalizing” homeless people and reminds people of being in jail.