Utah Legislature final-day updates: The last bill of the 2019 session names an official state reptile — the Gila monster

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Representatives in the House Chamber in Salt Lake City on the last day of the 2019 Utah legislative session, Thursday March 14, 2019.

The 2019 Utah legislative session ends at midnight. Readers, do you have questions about the Legislature’s last day? Post them on Twitter and tag @sltribpolitics to be included in Q&A entries throughout the day.

Here are some of the more interesting happenings as the lawmaking comes to a close.

11:28 p.m.: The governor praises House for ‘impressive effort’ this session. Lawmakers passed a record number of bills.

Gov. Gary Herbert sent off House lawmakers by thanking them for tackling weighty and complex issues from Medicaid to tax reform.

"It's been a very impressive effort," Herbert said.

He praised them for pulling together a $19 billion budget, passing legislation to toughen the state's hate crimes law and enacting a Medicaid plan that would expand coverage in a "fiscally responsible and fiscally sustainable way."

The Legislature this year approved 573 bills, breaking their previous record total of 535, he noted.

But he put House lawmakers on alert that their work is not over and that they’ll likely be coming back into a special session this year to deal with the unfinished business of tax reform. This session’s attempt to modernize the state’s tax structure stalled last week amid opposition from business representatives across the state. Herbert said state leaders will have to help people understand why the tax update is necessary and help them get onboard.

Tax reform is “not for the faint of heart, and that’s proved to be true and then some,” Herbert said.

— Bethany Rodgers

11 p.m.: Senate designates a state reptile and the Legislature adjourns early

Senators took the time to pass one last bill before calling it a night, one hour before Thursday's midnight deadline.

And that crucial, final bill? Designating the Gila monster as the official state reptile of Utah.

The bill was initiated by a group of schoolchildren from Washington County, the only portion of the state where Gila monsters naturally reside.

Multiple senators credited the students advocacy efforts for pushing the bill through in the final moments of the session.

"I have so much enjoyed these emails from these 4th graders," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. "I did not know the Gila monster stored its fat in its tail, and I felt like we had something in common."

While always possible, an early finish for the legislative session is extremely rare, with lawmakers typically voting on legislation until they are forced to stop at midnight.

Among the bills in the Senate that were awaiting consideration were a proposal to eliminate straight-party voting, the creation of a commission to review and recommend new designs for the Utah state flag, and a bill to eliminate school grading.

— Benjamin Wood

10:45 p.m.: Gehrke: The Legislature reinstated lobbyists’ right to file a sexual harassment complaint, but blocked such complaints from becoming public

Earlier in the day I wrote about SB147, which would require lobbyists to take sexual harassment training and prohibits retaliation for filing a complaint. The bill passed the Legislature with almost no debate and was headed for the governor’s desk.

It wasn’t until the bill was through both chambers that female lobbyists noticed an amendment that was added in the House that removed the ability of lobbyists to file a sexual harassment complaint against anyone working for the executive branch or Legislature.

The thing is, lobbyists won’t really discuss instances of harassment publicly because they are in a vulnerable spot, since their entire profession relies on them staying on legislators’ good side. But taking away their only real option for recourse was too much and a handful of female lobbyists did what they do and lobbied the Legislature to fix the problem.

Thursday morning the Senate sponsor, Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, recalled the bill so it could be amended to restore the language giving lobbyists the ability to file a complaint, but House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, resisted and the House refused to back down.

Late Thursday evening, in a conference committee between representatives of the House and Senate, the House finally relented and put the language back in the bill and made a few minor changes. It went on to pass the House and Senate unanimously.

While it was a major improvement, the bill has one major problem in that any records of sexual harassment complaints are exempt from the Utah open records law, meaning the public will never know if complaints are filed or how they are handled, making it impossible to know if perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.

— Robert Gehrke

10:35 p.m.: Senate passes ‘no-brainer’ pregnant inmate shackling bill

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said a bill allowing pregnant inmates to be left unshackled while giving birth is “one of the most no-brainer bills I’ve ever run.”

His Senate colleagues evidently agreed, voting unanimously to send the legislation to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature or veto.

Anderegg is the Senate sponsor of HB318, which calls for the least restrictive restraints necessary to be used on a pregnant inmate, and ban the use of restraints during childbirth unless correctional staff determine they are necessary on an individual, case-by-case basis.

"It's just the right thing to do," Anderegg said.

The bill was similarly approved by a unanimous vote in the House earlier this month, where it was championed by Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City.

— Benjamin Wood

10:32 p.m.: Massive spending package clears both Senate and House

A $349 million appropriations measure, or "Bill of Bills," has lumbered through both sides of the Legislature.

The final budget list included about $30 million for air quality projects and money for economic development and social services, the House sponsor said.

“This has been a monumental year, a monumental task,” Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said.

The list had earlier included $1.5 million for a center to honor former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, but lawmakers today took out that appropriation and moved the money elsewhere.

The Bill of Bills passed unanimously in the Senate and 70-5 in the House.

— Bethany Rodgers

10:16 p.m.: Gravel bill makes a surprise comeback

The formerly dead gravel extraction bill has arisen from the pit to pass the Legislature.

In a rare move, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, who’d voted earlier this evening to kill the legislation along with a majority of her colleagues, asked lawmakers to bring it back, saying she’d opposed it in error.

Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said she’d voted no because of a misunderstanding about some changes made by the Senate. She hadn’t realized the revisions had made the bill “more narrowly tailored” than it was before.

The divisive gravel pit bill was designed to provide predictability for the operations, its proponents said, and to prevent local governments from enacting capricious or overburdensome restrictions. Residents who live near these extraction operations strongly objected to the legislation as a state power grab from their city officials and a concession to the gravel pits.

The legislation has bounced between the two chambers and went through several iterations before it came to a vote in the House.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, a Draper Democrat, said the most recent round of tweaks would mean less clarity for local governments and could expose these communities to risk of lawsuits.

However, the House members who voted 39-32 to kill the bill earlier this evening sided with Lisonbee in deciding to bring it back. They passed the bill by a 53-21 vote.

— Bethany Rodgers

10:05 p.m.: Utah is staying on daylight savings time for now, but supports federal bill

Nearly every year without fail, Utah lawmakers propose bills to change daylight saving time. Yet despite all the grumbling about the twice-a-year time change, none of the attempts to do something about it has succeeded.

The Legislature isn’t doing anything about it this year either, but it’s calling on Congress to take action.

HJR15, which cleared the final Senate vote 24-1, supports a resolution by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to allow states to choose whether or not they want to observe daylight saving time throughout the duration of the year.

At the conclusion of the debate, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, gestured up at one of the clocks.

“Can we move our clocks forward tonight?” he asked jokingly in reference to the legislative session’s mandatory adjournment at midnight.

— Sahalie Donaldson

10 p.m.: Utah will help select presidential nominees on Super Tuesday

Assuming the governor approves as expected, Utah will hold a presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 3, next year. Lawmakers gave final approval Thursday night to HB242, which designates the primary in an attempt to avoid the chaos and long lines of party presidential caucuses that occurred in 2016.

Separately, in a last-night budget bill, lawmakers appropriated $2.5 million to the Utah Debate Commission with the intention that the nonprofit attempt to arrange for Utah to host a presidential debate.

— Christina Giardinelli

9:20 p.m.: A quick turnaround on a bill to address turnaround schools

When one of the worst-performing elementary schools in the state closed earlier this year, parents were frustrated by what felt like a rushed decision made with little public input.

A bill passed late Thursday that would change that setup — or at least the perception.

The measure, SB245, which rushed through both chambers in less than a week, would require school boards to inform their communities at least 120 days before a decision is made to shutter or change boundaries. It received final approval in the House with a 66-3 vote.

The bill would have all schools designated in the state’s turnaround program — deemed as needing to improve their test scores or face possible closure — provide initial notice to parents, teachers and residents when a school is designated as failing, as well as annual updates on “their progress or lack of progress.”

— Courtney Tanner

8:37 p.m.: Gravel bill goes up in a cloud of dust

A divisive gravel pit bill ended its drawn-out death on the House floor Thursday.

The legislation would've created protection zones for gravel extraction operations, and residents near Point of the Mountain and other communities vociferously opposed it as a concession to the dust-producing operations.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, was extensively amended and cut back during session to address concerns that it would handcuff local governments that wanted to regulate the pits.

Ultimately, the House couldn't stomach the finished product, voting down the legislation 32-39.

Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Draper, said he’d never been a fan of the bill but the most recent changes made the legislation even more “ambiguous” and “opens our cities more to lawsuits.”

— Bethany Rodgers

8:10 p.m.: Proposal to make drug rebates more transparent wins approval

Utah lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill voted unanimously to pass HB370, a bill that aims to lower prescription drug prices.

The bill to require more transparency about rebates, refunds, discounts or price concessions now heads to the governor.

A small number of pharmacy benefit managers control about 80 percent of the prescription drug market, according to proponents. For this reason, these benefit managers are able to leverage rebates from drug makers, raise prices and control the market. Rebates are generally hidden from patients.

Senate sponsor Evan Vickers, the chamber’s majority leader and a Cedar City pharmacist, praised the approach to increasing transparency.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, also spoke in favor of the legislation.

“This is a big deal as we start to figure out why are prescription drug prices are so high and how we can possibly get them to be lower. This is a good first step,” she said.

— Sahalie Donaldson

7:45 p.m.: Bill gives first responders an increase in their retirement pay

Recognizing a serious problem in hiring and keeping police officers and firefighters, Utah lawmakers passed legislation Thursday aimed at staunching the bleeding.

SB129 restores retirement benefits equal to 50 percent of salary after 25 years of service. That’s up from the 37.5 percent put in place as part of a sweeping 2010 pension reform.

“We’re really trying to figure out how to get people re-interested in wearing a blue uniform and getting back into law-enforcement careers,” said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns.

Many departments have unfilled vacancies, in part, because of the reduced retirement. And, Hutchings added, the state prison system is short 150 officers.

“We’re at a point we have to do something,” he said.

His legislative colleagues agreed and passed the bill 65-2 in the House and 24-0 in the Senate, and sent it to the governor.

It will cost the state an estimated $2.2 million to boost the retirement for state officers when the new plan kicks in next year. Local governments will have to pony up about $4.4 million, said Rep. Lee Perry, the bill’s House sponsor and a lieutenant with the Utah Highway Patrol.

— Dan Harrie

6:34 p.m.: House sponsor of affordable housing bill strips it of funding, to his own dismay

Legislation to encourage affordable housing cleared the House, but only after representatives stripped out funding for providing low-interest construction loans.

Rep. Val Potter said he was dismayed to put forward the revisions that would take out the $24 million that was previously slated to go into the state's Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund.

"With the budget situation the way it is, we've taken the appropriations out of this bill," Potter, R-North Logan, said.

"Do you want to modify your motion to have a moment of silence?" quipped Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who was manning the dais in the temporary absence of House Speaker Brad Wilson.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, is the product of meetings by the Commission on Housing Affordability, a group created to address a shortage of homes for moderate-income families.

Rep. Steve Waldrip said the legislation represented a serious attempt to deal with the state's housing crunch and advocated for restoring the funds for low-interest construction loans in future years.

"We're going to be checking the couch cushions later," Waldrip, R-Eden, said.

Besides the original funding appropriation, the legislation lays out a variety of strategies cities can use to facilitate affordable residential construction, including waiving development fees or revamping aging homes.

The legislation passed the House 58-14 and is going back to the Senate for consideration.

— Bethany Rodgers

6 p.m.: A loophole to spend Education Fund money on areas beyond K-12 and higher ed?

A proposed constitutional amendment that would let lawmakers spend income tax money on non-education items has drifted to the back-burner since House and Senate leaders struck a budget deal and agreed to create a task force to study tax reform.

But House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday that if the state’s well of sales tax revenue were to run dry without reform, it wouldn’t necessarily take a constitutional amendment to free up school money for other programs.

“The way we have defined Education Fund money in the past may have to change, and it’s subjective,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of educational work that is done by the Department of Workforce Services, for example, to help people get trained to go and get employment.”

Currently, the Utah Constitution requires that all revenue from the income tax be spent exclusively on public education, typically defined as K-12 schools and higher education campuses.

But with the Education Fund surging to a $1 billion surplus this year, and sluggish growth in the sales tax-driven General Fund, one of the ideas proposed — and approved by the Senate — was an amendment to add social services to the list of approved spending items for income tax dollars.

Such a change would require ratification by the state's voters.

Wilson said ideally the tax reform effort this year will be successful, making moot the discussion of what “education” technically means — and which could potentially invite lawsuits from the education community.

— Benjamin Wood

5:49 p.m.: Never too busy for love

House Rep. Eric Hutchings has broken House protocol in the name of love.

Lawmakers aren’t normally supposed to interrupt last-day business on the floor with personal announcements, Hutchings admitted before doing exactly that.

But Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he couldn't resist letting everyone know that he and his wife are celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary today.

“You guys are part of our romantic date,” Hutchings exclaimed to fellow representatives, his wife sitting nearby. “I just wanted to thank you guys for organizing a celebration dinner for us tonight and inviting yourselves.”

He might have gotten more than he bargained for with the declaration, since it inspired several of his colleagues to clink their pens against metal thermoses and demand that the couple kiss.

Which they did.

— Bethany Rodgers

5:45 p.m.: Plan to outlaw placing a tracking device on a car runs into trouble

HB223 to criminalize placing a tracking device on a person’s car without consent has run into a rift between the House and Senate. House sponsors saw some Senate amendments, spurred by concerns about the legislation being overly broad, as gutting the measure.

House members refused to go along with the amendments and appointed a conference committee — three members from each house — to try and iron out a compromise.

— Christina Giardinelli

4:45 p.m.: Gehrke: Less transparency than ever

It’s pretty standard for the big decisions and the toughest debates to be waged behind closed doors, but this year that practice went well beyond what we’ve seen in recent years.

The most politically charged discussions — from rewriting the Medicaid expansion initiative early in the session to arguing over tax reform and the budget at the end and most of the things in between — took place almost entirely by Republican lawmakers in closed caucuses.

That’s not anything new for the Senate, where Republicans have always closed their lunchtime meetings and policy debates. In fact, Republican members of the Senate are admonished to follow the Fight Club rules: The first rule of Senate caucus is you don’t talk about Senate caucus.

(For what it’s worth, I have argued that closing these meetings is illegal, because the Senate Republicans, who make up a supermajority of the body, take “straw votes” in their caucus meetings that can keep a bill from moving forward, but nobody wants to pony up the money to sue.)

In contrast with the Senate, the House caucuses have typically been entirely or mostly open, and it’s a useful forum to hear presentations and at least some debate on the big bills of the day. This year, however, the House followed the Senate’s lead and closed more of their caucuses than they opened.

Part of that might be because they had the thorny Medicaid issue out of the gate. But it also is probably a reflection of the new House leadership team.

There has also been a lingering sense that opening the caucuses doesn’t get the House members any love when the public believes that the meetings are closed. In other words, if they’re going to get beat up in the news and by the public for making decisions behind closed doors, they might as well make those decisions behind closed doors.

Hopefully this was a fluke and the House will go back to more openness next year. I think what is more likely is that the trend will continue and we’ll see even more, perhaps even all, of the House caucuses closed next year.

— Robert Gehrke

4:18 p.m.: An education bill passes — and it tries to get around a Supreme Court challenge

The House narrowly gave final approval to a controversial bill that would allow candidates for the Utah Board of Education to run under a political party.

The measure passed by one vote on a 38-37 count with all Democrats opposed.

It’s an unexpected move that comes three years after the Legislature already approved a bill to do that — but which was immediately held up by a lawsuit alleging that it violated the Utah Constitution. A 3rd District judge struck down the law and a final decision from the Utah Supreme Court is still pending.

“Yes, it’s being challenged by the courts,” said Rep. Brad Last, the House sponsor of SB236. “But we did not mean to suggest that you have to run on a partisan ticket.”

Already, the Alliance for a Better Utah has called on Gov. Gary Herbert to veto the measure.

— Courtney Tanner

4:10 p.m.: Senate approves ‘preemptive’ police oversight bill that sponsor says does nothing

Members of the public were escorted out of the Senate gallery by Utah Highway Patrol troopers after they objected to a 20-7 vote of the Senate for a bill that prohibits cities from setting up boards or commissions to review police department rules, policies and hiring decisions.

Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, sponsored the bill, HB415, and said that it is a preemptive reaction to anti-police advocacy groups that may try to “take over” city councils and create commissions that are adversarial to police chiefs and departments.

“It’s hurting recruitment,” Ipson said, “because there’s such a negative trend coming toward police departments from these community groups.”

The 20-7 vote largely broke along party lines, with one Republican voting opposed. Several Democratic members questioned the need for a bill that limits city authority on a purely preemptive basis.

“I cannot restrict something that hasn’t happened yet, and we don’t know what the outcome would be,” said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights.

Ipson argued that his bill protects the status quo, rather than restricts cities. That prompted Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, to ask, “The bill doesn’t do anything new, then?”

“No,” Ipson said. “It does not.”

Despite Ipson’s characterizations, the bill was criticized by groups such as Utah Against Police Brutality and the Rose Park Brown Berets, which issued statements reacting to HB415’s passage in committee.

“Having an elected civilian council to independently investigate and reprimand corrupt police officers is not only just, it is logical,” read the statement from the Rose Park Brown Berets. And a Utah Against Police Brutality statement last week described HB415 as “a terrible, anti-democratic, overreaching, and cynical bill.”

— Benjamin Wood

3:30 p.m.: Twitter Q&A

@dansmith_tweets writes: I got the idea that most of the governor’s budget proposals got dropped. What survived? Or what’s new? (I’m particularly interested in new arts grant funding.)

Thanks, Dan. First off, the governor’s budget recommendations aren’t exactly “dropped,” as the Legislature has no requirement to consider them at all. But you’re right that the final budget looks quite a bit different than what Gov. Gary Herbert called for in December.

• Herbert called for a $200 million tax cut, combined with major tax reform. That didn’t happen, but a task force has been created to look at tax reform over the summer.

• Herbert called for adding $445 million to K-12 education, including a 4 percent boost in per-student spending, and $69 million to higher education. The Legislature’s numbers are fairly well aligned with that, but it’s interesting to note that the state’s Education Fund had a $1 billion surplus this year, so schools are getting roughly half of that figure.

• Herbert called for spending $100 million on air quality efforts. Advocates say the final number in the Legislature’s budget is closer to $25 million.

• You asked about “new” arts grant funding. The state’s Division of Arts & Museums is slated to receive $2 million more for its grant program, which distributes seed money to some 250 arts groups, museums, libraries and other nonprofits across the state. That brings the grant’s total fund to $3.6 million.

The final budget list, or “Bill of Bills” shows these other items, on top of ongoing arts funding renewed in the budget that passed earlier this week:

• $1 million for the Utah Film Commission’s Motion Picture Post Performance Economic Development Incentive Program.

• $1 million for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, a public/private program to bring arts education to schools.

• $200,000 for arts groups that take part in the POPS Provisional Program, which exposes students to arts programming, and another $200,000 to bring new arts groups into the program.

• $200,000 for the Informal Science Education Enhancement (iSEE) program, which connects students to science-based nonprofits (such as Hogle Zoo and the Natural History Museum of Utah).

• $750,000 for the Bear River Massacre Permanent Interpretive Center in the Cache Valley.

• $500,000 for the Sundance Film Festival.

• $450,000 for KUER, to extend public radio to Washington County.

• $350,000 for the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera for a 2020 state tour.

• $250,000 for Better Days 2020, a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first women voting in Utah, and the centennial of the 19th Amendment that gave women the vote nationwide.

• $250,000 for Ballet West.

• $250,000 for the state Golden Spike celebration, to display historical railroad artifacts in the Gold Room of the Utah State Capitol.

• $150,000 for Center Pointe Legacy Theatre in Centerville.

• $150,000 for the Hale Center Foundation for the Arts and Education in Orem.

• $110,000 for the Jesse N. Smith Home in Parowan.

• $100,000 for the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy.

• $100,000 for America’s Freedom Festival, the nonprofit that organizes Provo’s July 4th activities, including Stadium of Fire.

• $100,000 for the Ogden Union Station and Utah Railroad Museum.

• $80,000 for Odyssey Dance Theatre.

• $50,000 for the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association conference, set for May 8-11 at the Salt Palace Convention Center, tied to the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

• $25,000 for the Helper Arts, Music and Film Festival.

• $24,700 for the Southwest Symphony in St. George.

• $20,000 for the Salt Lake Film Society.

Groups that received money in past years, but will go without funding in this year’s budget: Desert Star Playhouse and the Utah Children’s Theater.

But a wrinkle in the ongoing tax reform talks is that roughly $300 million in state spending has been moved to “one-time,” meaning that funding will disappear unless it’s specifically put back next year.

@TerraJotunn writes: How late is the session going tonight?

You can bet on midnight. In theory, lawmakers could stop earlier, and every once in a blue moon they do. But essentially every year they have more bills to debate than time to debate them, and they’re forced to stop once the clock strikes 12. There’s also another hour or so after that of procedural pomp and circumstance and prepared remarks from the governor and leadership.

Readers, have any other questions? Post them on Twitter and tag @sltribpolitics.

— Benjamin Wood and Sean P. Means

2 p.m. : Gehrke: Will lawmakers put a hefty tax on vaping liquids?

We’ve got about 10 hours left in the session and here’s a bill to watch: Rep. Paul Ray’s HB252 would slap an 86.5 percent tax on vaping liquids — the same rate at which non-cigarette tobacco products are currently taxed.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 54-20 on Monday without much debate. But it hasn’t popped up on the Senate board and time is running out.

Advocates believe that jacking the price for the vape products would discourage youth from vaping. Ray says that, while 3 percent of youth smoke, vaping rates are as high as 13 percent and 17 percent.

The new tax would bring in about $15 million in the first year and $23.6 million after that, according to estimates from the legislative fiscal analyst.

At this point in the session, House leadership is prioritizing what bills the Senate votes on. House Speaker Brad Wilson and House Majority Whip Mike Schultz (who is the guy who is actually managing the list sent to the Senate) both voted against the bill. Schultz is strongly opposed.

So this is one of those that will likely end up going up in a puff of vapor come midnight.

— Robert Gehrke

1:30 p.m.: Counties must notify lawmakers before seeking new federal land designations

Counties are likely to soon need to notify the Legislature before proposing or endorsing any new national monuments, forests or other federal land designations.

The House gave final approval Thursday to HB78 on a 54-14 to approve Senate amendments. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration.

The bill by Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, originally sought to require counties to receive legislative approval before they advocated for new federal land designations, but the Senate amended it to require only notifying the Legislature — and meeting with committees about it if requested.

Albrecht had argued earlier that his version would ensure that proposed land designations align with the state’s interests. “The state of Utah is the sovereign, and cities and counties are political subdivisions of the state,” he had said. “If it’s a good proposal and we make suggestions, that’s the right process and we will support them going forward to make a federal designation.”

But critics see the bill as a way for conservative lawmakers to sabotage or dilute locally driven conservation proposals, such as those currently underway for the Central Wasatch, Emery County and San Juan County, whose new Navajo-majority County Commission supports full restoration of Bears Ears National Monument.

— Lee Davidson

1 p.m.: Appropriators strip out funding for Orrin Hatch Center

Appropriators had second thoughts about giving $1.5 million in state money for a center to honor former Sen. Orrin Hatch, and serve as a museum and library for his papers.

They stripped out earlier-approved funding for it from the final spending package that lawmakers will consider later Thursday, officially called SB3, but which all lawmakers call the “bill of bills.”

“We just felt because of concerns from my body [the House] that we ought to do something different with the money,” said Rep. Brad Last, House chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee. “So that money has been reallocated to a number of different places.”

Democrats had tried to pull it out of earlier-passed bills implementing this year's budget deal, but had initially failed.

The new Hatch center, which is partnering with the University of Utah, plans to erect a building that includes a replica of Hatch’s Washington office, and is aiming to raise $40 million. Initially, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation had sought private money for the project — but asked the state for a contribution.

Some other items of interest in that last package of appropriations include:

• $5 million in one-time money to boost cancer research at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute. “We think some great things are going on with that, that make Utah the cutting-edge of cancer research,” said. Sen. Jerry Stevenson, the Senate chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee.

• $1.4 million in fiscal 2020 to demolish The Road Home shelter for the homeless in downtown Salt Lake City, which is being replaced by other homeless resource centers as part of an area to halt crime and clean up the Rio Grande area.

That also ensures The Road Home cannot reopen. “I'm not sure if that's what they intended, but that certainly will be the effect,” Last said. Stevenson added, “It's worth more with the building gone than with the building there” as the site is redeveloped.

• Several appropriations to help arts and heritage groups and festivals, including $500,000 to Farm Country at Thanksgiving Point, $250,000 to Hogle Zoo, $50,000 to Gigi’s Playhouse, $100,000 to the Sandy Arts Build, $25,000 to the Utah Humanities Museum on Main Street and $20,000 to Taylorsville Dayzz.

• $158,400 for reproductive health education for incarcerated women.

• $100,000 to the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

As the committee approved the final portion of the annual state budget, “In spite of what we put in the front end, we have sausage,” Stevenson said.

Last added, “In the end I think we came up with a budget that serves the citizens of the state well.”

— Lee Davidson

12:30 p.m.: Gehrke: A promise busted

A top priority for the state’s university presidents this session was transforming the way the state awards scholarship money, focusing it on student need in hopes of expanding college access.

It looks like they’ll come up short of the goal.

The presidents wanted to phase out the Regents Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship awarded by the state. The reason they wanted the change is that upwards of 90 percent of students who get the Regents Scholarship are already getting other scholarships. As a result, there were stories that some of those students end up pocketing the money or using it to take a trip or buy a car — not exactly the objective of the program.

In addition, some 40 percent of the Regents Scholarship money ends up going to private institutions — we’re looking at you, Brigham Young University.

In its place, the presidents wanted to take a program from Weber State University — Dream Weber — that is designed to help students who meet the criteria to get into college but might not have enough money to attend. The Access Utah Promise Scholarship would bridge that gap and make college possible for more Utah students. (Earlier in the session, I called it perhaps the best bill we would see. Full disclosure: I have a kid starting college in the fall.)

The program, outlined in HB260, needed about $15 million this year and another $15 million next year to get off the ground. Then, as the Regents Scholarship is phased out — students who have earned it already wouldn’t lose their funding — that money would roll over to Promise.

The Legislature is appropriating $2 million, a very slim amount that won’t go far. And they aren’t planning to phase out Regents. They are phasing out the ability to use the state money for private schools, so that should free up additional money in the future.

It’s a small step forward, but a missed opportunity to do a lot more to expand college access for working-class Utahns.

— Robert Gehrke

Noon: The Senate adjourned, and is scheduled to resume at 2 p.m.

11:55 A.M. Higher-alcohol beer in grocery stores finalized

Beginning Nov. 1, 2019, Utah consumers may be able to buy higher-alcohol beer in Utah grocery and convenience stores.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 27-1 to boost the state cap on retail beer from 3.2 percent to 4 percent by weight. Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, was the only dissenting vote.

The House signed off on the compromise bill Wednesday by a vote of 51-14. The bill now goes to the governor, who has said he supports it.

Even with the change, Utah still has one of the strictest alcohol caps in the nation

Under current Utah law, only beer that is 3.2 percent alcohol by weight can be sold in grocery and convenience stores. Stronger beer is offered in liquor stores operated by the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

In recent months, however, new alcohol laws have taken effect in Oklahoma and Colorado that allowed higher-alcohol beer to be sold in grocery stores. Kansas is not far behind; it will allow full-strength beer in stores April 1.

That would have left Utah one of the only states to have the 3.2 beer requirement and large companies, such as Anheiuser-Busch and MillerCoors, have said it was not worth brewing lighter beer for such a small market.

Increasing the cap to 4 percent by weight (or 5 percent by volume, a more common industry standard) “preserves almost 90 percent of the labels already in the store, “ said the bill sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. “All the players feel like that is a good place to be.”

Nationally, most light beers are 3.4 percent by weight, and dozens of others — such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller Genuine Draft — are 4 percent by weight.

The initial version of SB132 would have hiked the alcohol limit on retail beer from its current 3.2 percent by weight to 4.8 percent. Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed that plan.

Last week, that proposal, which already had been approved by the Senate, was gutted by a House committee and replaced with language that would create a task force to study the issue.

The second substitute bill, which now awaits the governor’s signature, is a blend of the two bills and includes a formation of a “beer availability work group” staffed by the DABC. The group will look at issues of availability, alcohol content and retail practices and report back to legislative interim committees before the law goes into effect on Nov. 1.

— Kathy Stephenson

11 a.m.: Giving domestic violence victims easier access to guns

Senators passed a measure letting victims of domestic violence temporarily avoid certain rules on carrying concealed weapons, giving them expedited access to guns in cases where their lives are threatened.

HB243 provides that criminal penalties for carrying a concealed firearm without a permit do not apply to a victim of domestic or dating violence for 120 days after the day the victim obtains a protective order — when they are not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Sponsoring Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, argued the measure would better allow domestic violence victims to protect themselves in situations when they might be vulnerable to attack.

The measure passed 20-6, with opposing senators raising concerns over gun owners not getting adequate firearms-safety training and the possibility the law might unnecessarily bring weapons into situations of domestic violence.

HB243 now heads to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

— Tony Semerad

10:41 a.m.: Who’s watching you?

After diluting the measure’s effects, senators passed HB223 to make it a misdemeanor crime to place a tracking device on someone’s car without their consent.

Sponsoring Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Salt Lake City, said such tracking was not a crime now, but colleagues immediately raised questions about the bill in cases where vehicles were owned jointly, and situations involving estranged spouses and adult children.

In debate, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, asserted that smartphones qualify as tracking devices, raising further doubt about the bill and concern it was overly broad.

On a substitute motion from Sen. Todd Weiler, R-wood Cross, lawmakers sought to limit the bill to prevent only those enjoined by a protective order from placing devices, even when they were joint owners of the vehicle. Then, Weiler said, lawmakers could study the issue more thoroughly until they convene again next year.

“It’s going to have all kinds of unintended consequences,” Weiler said. “Let’s take some more time to discuss this.”

That watered-down version of HB223 then passed and heads back to the House for its consideration.

— Tony Semerad

10:34 a.m.: Happy Pi, or pie, Day

The last day of the Legislature was also March 14, or 3.14 — the first digits of Pi.

So Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, told the House that he brought pie to share on Pi day.

The physician also passed out a sheet with the first 2,036 digits of Pi, an irregular number. Studying that could be something to fill in any boredom on a long day.

Ward said in a world where truth is sometimes hard to perceive, one thing to count on is “the diameter of a circle times Pi equals the circumference of that circle. ... I hope you keep that in mind as we try to make good policy today.”

— Lee Davidson

10:29 a.m.: 102-year-old leads Pledge of Allegiance in House

Clint Spendlove, who turned 102 years old this week, led the House in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Hurricane resident who fought in three wars wore his old Army sergeant uniform as he saluted the flag.

House members gave him a standing ovation, and sang Happy Birthday to him.

“I can’t think of a better way to end the session,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson.

— Lee Davidson

10:25 a.m.: Why did the House schedule a late start?

It’s the last day of the Legislature, when lawmakers almost always stay in session until midnight — the latest allowed by law — to pass every possible bill up to the last second. But the House did not plan to convene until a leisurely 10 a.m., and then did not actually start until 10:25 a.m.


House members feel like more of their bills are pending over in the Senate than senators have bills pending in the House. So they have been stalling a bit in recent days trying to get the Senate to move faster on their backlog of endorsed legislation — including coming in late Thursday to allow senators “to catch up.”

The stalling tactics on Wednesday included stretching debate on noncontroversial bills — such as Rep. Mike Winder talking in Chinese during a debate on dual immersion classes in schools. (Winder also sang, instead of just reading, an explanation of changes in another bill until House Speaker Brad Wilson killed his mic).

Any time a bill dealing with railroads came up, Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, would take the mic to ask fellow House members if they knew what the train signal is for one thing or another. She would then blow a wooden whistle that mimics a train (also sometimes used when members think something is being railroaded through).

It's not surprising that the House may have more bills pending in the Senate. After all, the House has 75 members compared to 29 senators — so more members can equate to more bills.

In the final couple of days of the Legislature, each chamber considers only legislation passed by members of the other house. So both sides closely monitor the progress of the other side, and take breaks or slow action if they feel the other is not moving quickly enough.

And late Wednesday, House leaders said they felt like the Senate isn't moving quickly enough on the backlog of House bills pending there. So House Minority Leader Francis Gibson announced the relatively late start was to give the Senate time to catch up.

The Senate was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday — but it actually convened at 9:33 a.m., late like the House.

— Lee Davidson

10:20 a.m.: Priests for Life commends Utah lawmakers for abortion bill

After the Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill to prevent abortion after 18 weeks of gestation — similar to a bill the Arkansas Legislature also passed — Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, urged governors in both states to sign the bills.

“The legislatures of Utah and Arkansas are to be congratulated for passing laws that would ensure that babies within the second trimester would be protected from death by abortion,” Father Pavone said in a news release.

“I am hopeful that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will sign these life-saving laws,” he said. “Priests for Life is working toward the day when legal abortion is a sad memory of a past tragedy in our nation, and laws like this bring us closer, step by step, to that day.”

But within minutes of the Senate’s vote Wednesday, several groups were warning of lawsuits against the state on constitutional grounds.

The ACLU of Utah warned that the organization, “together with our partners in the state, will pursue a lawsuit in federal court to stop this violation of a woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion."

Also, the Planned Parenthood Action Council tweeted that the bill “will now head to the Governor’s office, “and if he signs it, we will be fighting this in court.”

— Lee Davidson

10 a.m.: Gehrke: A sexual harassment bill is pulled back to fix a gap

Last year, there was a lot of discussion about the way women, in particular, are treated in state capitols in Utah and nationwide.

In that context, legislation was proposed to protect interns, staff and legislators from harassment by legislators and lobbyists. Turns out, the lobbyists did what they do and killed the bill. The news media, by the way, is already required to take sexual harassment training in order to get a press pass to cover the legislative session.

This year, SB147, which requires lobbyists to take sexual harassment training and prohibits retaliation for filing a complaint, passed the Legislature and was headed to the governor’s desk.

“We have an important … obligation to the public to make sure we have a safe, non-threatening environment for legislators, employees and interns,” said the House sponsor, Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, who said that legislative counsel said they needed to pass the bill. “This bill seeks to strike that balance.”

But what about protecting lobbyists? An amendment Schultz tacked onto the bill without any discussion or debate takes away a provision that would have allowed lobbyists to file a harassment complaint against anyone who works at the Legislature or for the executive branch.

The existing state harassment policy only provides state employees the right to file a complaint of harassment against a supervisor.

While female lobbyists don’t like to talk about incidents of harassment publicly, fearing it would hurt their ability to do their job, these incidents do happen. And apparently they now leave lobbyists with no recourse.

On Thursday morning, the Senate realized what they had done and recalled the bill, presumably to strip out the amendment.

Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said House revisions to the measure had exempted lawmakers and members of the executive branch from the new sexual harassment rules.

“It’s our belief that goes too far and we shouldn’t be given special consideration,” Ipson told Senate colleagues. SB147 was then pulled back and senators voted to ask the House to back down on its changes.

We will provide updates as the bill progresses.

The bill, by the way, also makes records of any complaints filed against lobbyists protected records under the state’s open records act, so the public will likely never know whether there are complaints or how they are handled.

— Robert Gehrke