Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After two weeks of session, we’re hitting our stride and getting a lot done. One comment I hear quite often from constituents is that we are just passing way too many laws. There is some truth to that. What Utahns may not know, is that many, if not most bills make very small changes to Utah law. In fact, quite often, bills repeal laws that were passed years ago. So, it is not all about adding more laws, it’s also about fixing what is already on the books. The last few years have seen more of a push to remove burdensome regulations that don’t improve the lives of Utahns or make us any safer.
Occasionally, a law is passed and months later, it is found that there are unintended consequences to that law. It can be something as simple as replacing the word “shall” for the word “may.” It is important that we fix mistakes and do everything we can to get government out of people’s lives while also protecting their rights. Of course, we’re all imperfect and we need your help to get things done. For years, Utah has been ranked the most well-run state in the nation because we have an intelligent, educated, hard-working citizenry that are engaged in the process. Please, continue to be involved in this process. We can’t do it without you.
As always, I’ve provided some summaries of bills that we are considering. You’ll find links to the bill text, to video of debates, and occasionally, news coverage of the issues involved.
I am working on a bill that protects the free speech rights of Utahns from threats made by private corporations or people who may want to restrict free expression. I’ll let you know when this legislation is available and ready for consideration.
Human Services Oversight
Some of you may have seen recent media attention about residential treatment centers for youths in Utah. This industry and other similar human services businesses have operated in Utah for years without much oversight. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some examples of questionable practices in my work as an attorney. Teenagers can be drugged, physically held down, locked in rooms for hours on end and quite often these punishments are not a part of any record or documentation.
My bill, S.B. 127, Human Services Program Amendments has the support of stakeholders in the industry and has been in the works for some time. It’s designed to limit the punishments allowed under law and increase reporting, inspections and general oversight, especially the use of physical restraints and seclusion. S.B. 127 was introduced in the Senate this week and will be considered in a Senate standing committee soon. Read more about it here: Salt Lake Tribune
Mental Health Treatment
The nationwide push for a mental health crisis hotline began here in Utah. It has become increasingly clear that mental health services need to be improved, and first responders are often not trained to help people experiencing a mental health crisis. This session, more is being done to put trained professionals in positions to help people in crisis.
S.B. 53Behavioral Emergency Services Amendments, make additional mental health crisis training available for emergency services professionals. Agencies throughout Utah can create teams of appropriately trained professionals to respond specifically to mental health emergencies. These professionals will be licensed to triage people and get them the resources they need. S.B. 47 Mental Health Crisis, Intervention Council creates a council of stakeholders from various agencies to design the statewide training offered to these emergency services professionals.
Additionally, S.B. 41Mental Health Access Amendments, require health benefit plans to cover telehealth services for mental health treatment if the plan also covers in-person treatment of the same mental health conditions. All three bills passed in the Senate and are now in the House for consideration.
To view the bill presentations on the Senate floor, click here: S.B. 41, S.B. 47 and S.B. 53.
The Utah Sentencing Commission is responsible for advising the Legislature, governor and judicial council regarding sentencing and releasing policies for those who have committed crimes. Last year, the Commission reviewed S.B. 50Juvenile Offender Penalty Amendments and recommended its passage in the Legislature. The bill came from an issue where a young adult was charged as an adult for a crime committed as a 14-year-old. As a result, they served 10 years in state prison and were put on the sex offender registry. The bill would help ensure that if individuals commit a crime, they face the appropriate level of punishment based on their age when the crime was committed. Currently, if a crime report is delayed until after the perpetrator is an adult, they are tried as an adult.
In Utah criminal law, gang enhancement provisions were applied to help alleviate issues with street gangs or organized criminal enterprises. Since the provisions were originally created, the requirements for applying the enhancements have been considerably loosened. The enhancement was recently used against protesters who committed acts of vandalism. The broad nature of the provisions allowed vandalism to be raised to the level of a first-degree felony, punishable by a maximum life sentence. S.B. 51 Group Gang Enhancement Amendments, raises the bar so that the enhancements are only used in violent offenses and increases the requirement for the number of assailants involved.
S.B. 64 Domestic Violence Amendments, proposes to change Utah law to make domestic violence a third-degree felony in certain situations. If it is a third-time offense in a 10-year window, it will be charged as a third-degree felony.
All these bills passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
To view the bill presentations on the Senate floor, click here: S.B. 50, S.B. 51 and S.B. 64.
In the News: KUTV | Salt Lake Tribune
Double taxation is an issue brought forth by the Utah Tax Commission in which a tax is being paid twice on the same source of income. S.B. 95Sales Tax Revisions, creates a one-time tax collection for services, a tax break that already exists for retail. Currently, when a business owner needs to purchase items in order to provide a service, the business owner is taxed for the items needed and then the consumer is taxed again for the cost of the service. This bill makes retail and service tax equal by taxing goods and services only once. S.B. 95 passed in Senate Revenue and Taxation committee and is currently placed on the second reading calendar.
Since 2005, the Price Controls During Emergencies Act was not used or modified until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. S.B. 86 Amendments to the Price Controls During Emergencies Act, makes necessary changes to the act to ensure consumers are not price gouged and protects Utahns from false claims during an emergency. S.B. 86 targets four changes to the act, including checkpoints before an investigation, transparency in changes to the cost of items, privacy protection for those accused until after adjudication and higher evidentiary standards. This bill passed in Senate Business and Labor committee.
This week we passed our base budget bills. These bills traditionally use the previous year’s ongoing appropriations as a starting point. This was the first year we included $95 million in new money for education growth and inflation in the base budgets, making it the first year we have included these items in our base budgets. In addition, we also included an increase in per-pupil spending to restore last year’s 6 percent WPU increase. Overall, our base budgets we passed this week they also include over half a billion dollars in new state spending for high priority items such as education, Medicaid and COVID-19 response.
I Look Forward to Hearing From You!
I can be reached by email at email@example.com. My mobile phone number is 801-210-1495.
Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation – and thanks for paying attention.
Until next time,
Senator Mike McKell