Bill would allow state agencies to provide services solely through Internet or by phone
A bill introduced in the Utah Senate on Monday would allow some state government agencies to close their offices if they could provide sufficient services through the telephone and Internet.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is sponsoring SB112, which would allow a state agency to offer services online or by telephone instead of keeping a building open five days a week, as required by current law. If passed, the bill also would allow agencies to cut the hours they operate by five hours per week.
The bill would not affect municipal governments, but some building sites for many county and state run services including elderly care programs and Medicaid services would be affected.
The bill stems from requests from some rural state programs which have had to pay overtime to employees in order to keep up with staffing requirements set by law, Osmond said.
"There are a couple of departments that are frequently non-compliant," Osmond told The Tribune Monday.
While the possible change wouldn't require agencies to get rid of their physical location, it would allow those struggling to keep buildings staffed to offer service in a different way.
Kenneth Sizemore, executive director for Five County Association of Governments (AOG) in southwest Utah, said he thinks services would "continue to do business as usual," if the bill becomes law, but some people may not like it.
"We do have a lot of elderly clientele complain about having to do business online," Sizemore said, adding that telephone service can come with drawbacks. He has heard complaints from customers being put on hold for up to 15 minutes or more.
State agencies like the Driver's License Division and the Division of Motor Vehicles already run several services online or by phone, but some services have to be done in person and will continue to be, regardless of the bill.
Scott Christensen, department director for Six County AOG, said the bill could pose confusion to those working with state agencies.
"The biggest challenge is we have a number of seniors who aren't computer savvy," Christensen said. "They are getting better. But they may not understand where to go for resources."
While some prefer face-to-face interaction, some business may be accomplished online or by phone.
"That is the benefit of having an office such as ours," Christensen said. "When people are looking for answers to questions, they do look to a physical address."