Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It has been a dry, hot summer and the fires keep burning. I’m so grateful for the brave women and men fighting to keep our state safe. They work to make our families and homes safe while we continue to lead our lives in a relatively normal fashion. Here on Capitol Hill last week, the legislature met for our interim session. Various committees convened to discuss the many issues facing our communities. Included here are a few of the points of discussion from those committee meetings.
Operation Rio Grande
While, not officially part of our interim meetings, this month marks the one year anniversary of the commencement of Operation Rio Grande. Prior to this initiative, about 5,000 people were lingering around the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City, this included the homeless, drug seekers, and drug dealers. It was an area of high crime, and made the homeless shelter in the area a dangerous place for families down on their luck to stay. Operation Rio Grande is a three phase initiative, phase one focused on public safety and restoring order, phase two focused on assessment and treatment, and phase three focused on dignity of work. In the last year, crime in the Rio Grande area has decreased 44% and now 106 people have landed jobs through the dignity of work phase. While all three phases have now been launched, this initiative is not complete and all participants agree that more work needs to be done, but we are proud of the progress that has been made. You can learn more about Operation Rio Grande here.
During the 2017 General Legislative Session, we passed SB 220, Student Assessment and School Accountability Amendments, the bill will change the way we approach school grading in the state and allows for the opportunity to look into an alternative to SAGE testing in high school. Due to the changing of the school grading system, which will be a benchmark approach rather than a comparative approach, no school grades will be issued this year. Reports on school progress will still be released, but no official letter grade will be assigned. Additionally, this bill created a dashboard view for parents to offer easier access to data about student growth and achievement. You can listen to the report on the progress of the dashboard and school grades discussion here.
There are approximately 65,000 refugees living in Utah. A refugee is someone who is forced to flee their home country because of severe persecution based on race, religion, nationality or political opinion. A person is given refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR). The number of refugees coming to Utah has declined quite significantly in the last two years due to changes on the federal level. Utah differs from other states in that we provide case management and integration services for the first two years a refugee is resettling in our state. Our Department of Workforce Services partners with private organizations, such as Catholic Community Services, to help refugees find success in resettling via language courses, help navigating systems, and work placement. You can learn more about these services from the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee meeting here.
Medical Marijuana Implementation
This year Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative, provides voters a chance to vote on an expansive medical marijuana initiative that would allow for more widespread use of medical marijuana than is currently permitted in the state. Due to the scope and size of the changes that would need to be made in order to implement the initiative if it passes, the legislature is currently studying out how to implement Proposition 2 if it passes in November. Because marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, pharmacies may not be used for distribution of marijuana even for medical purposes, and banks can not be involved in the transactions, making it a largely cash-based industry. These present difficulties in the state for how to safely provide the desired product to patients in need. The initiative also allows for certain patients to grow their own marijuana plants, causing an enforcement problem for police officers. All of these issues need to be considered before any widespread initiative passes. To help us consider these and other possible issues, seven different agencies presented to the Health and Human Services Commission this month. You can listen to the presentations here.
Identification Request Amendments
Presented as provisions of the 2019 General Session, legislation to allow law enforcement to ask for your birth-date in addition to your name and address was introduced to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday. Law enforcement’s current system requires a name and date of birth to look up past criminal history. This bill is said to help law enforcement know who they’re dealing with when they confront suspicious persons. This bill originally intended to replace the address with the date of birth but, since discussion in committee, will be amended to add requesting a person’s birth-date in addition to their name and address. This bill will be voted on in the 2019 General Session and more information will be made available then.
HB 200 (2017) Annual Report on Sexual Assault Kits
As part of the passing of HB 200 from the 2017 General Session it is required that an annual report be given on the processing of sexual assault kits. The bill also required that a timeline to process these kits would be created and implemented. The Utah Bureau of Forensic Services has classified sexual assault kits in three categories: First Priority, which has a timeline of 30 days to be processed; Second Priority, which has a timeline of 60 days; and Third Priority, which has a processing timeline of 180 days. From July 2017 through June 30, 2018 they have tested and completed 373 sexual assault kits while recruiting, training, and receiving new analysts. However, as of July 31, 2018, the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services has a backlog of 1880 sexual assault cases. HB 200 requested that 17 new forensic scientist positions be created and provided funding for them. Currently nine out of the requested 17 have been filled and funding for the remaining 8 positions is still needed. You can find the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services Report here.
In the wake of dockless scooters and electric bikes being released throughout the state, concerns have been raised about the regulation of such devices. Although dockless scooters have been able to help solve the first and last mile transportation problems for persons who use public transportation, it has become a concern for the safety of pedestrians and the aesthetic nature of the cities. Suggestions have been made to create ordinances and policies for the upcoming 2019 General Session to help solve the issues that have raised concerning the implementation of these new devices.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune
Cannabis Extracts in Food and Animal Feed Products
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food was asked to speak to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee about cannabis extracts in food and animal feed products. Melissa Ure with the department discussed areas in Utah law that may potentially conflict with bills that past in the 2018 general legislative session. The department has also been receiving inquiries from people interested in industrial hemp and cannabidiol products for animal feed uses. Currently those products can only be used in approved medical doses outlined in statute. Industrial hemp products would also violate the Commercial Feed Act as unapproved ingredients.
Listen to the committee meeting here.
Earned Income Tax Credit
Representative John Westwood spoke to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee about the State Earned Income Tax Credit, and specifically about his bill, HB 57 Utah Intergenerational Poverty Work and Self-sufficiency Tax Credit which failed to pass in the 2018 general session. Rep. Westwood pointed out that this is a topic discussed many times in this committee. During the 2018 session, the bill passed in both the House and Senate but was not funded. Funding has been the obstacle for this initiative in past years. Because of the large price tag, work is being done to reduce the cost to around $6m in comparison to the $25m from last session.
The benefit of the Earned Income Tax Credit is that it specifically incentivizes work. The Federal Earned Income Tax Credit is a federal anti-poverty tax credit designed to supplement the earnings of low income workers and work on the state credit is being initiated through Utah’s Intergenerational Poverty Initiative.
Listen to the committee meeting here.
Change of Legal Gender
Last year, Senator Todd Weiler was attending a Bar conference in Sun Valley Idaho when a district court judge approached him. The judge told Senator Weiler that the legislature had failed Utah judges by failing to provide guidelines for petitions on name and gender changes. As a result, each judge who receives a petition has to make up their own rules. Senator Weiler sponsored legislation in the 2018 general session that did not pass. Two areas of debate in the legislation pertain to the age of the person petitioning the court and the fact that reissued birth certificates indicate that they were amended certificates. Senator Weiler and the committee discussed his plans for legislation in the upcoming general session.
Click here to listen to the committee meeting.
I Look Forward to Hearing From You!
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