It’s been a busy week politics-wise in Salt Lake City, with the state legislative session kicking off its fourth week and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg hosting a town hall meeting Feb. 17.
The town hall attracted over 4,500 Utahns to the Union Event Center to hear him speak — Buttigieg was also given a surprise endorsement from Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
Mendenhall is the fourth to endorse Buttigieg in the past few days, following Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson.
State lawmakers are still in the process of proposing bills while hurrying to get others passed. Several of these bills are focused around environmental regulations, with many legislators pushing to curb the effects of climate change.
Lawmaker pushes to increase Frontrunner, train rails throughout state
Sen. Jacob Anderegg is proposing a bill that would potentially lay out a plan for a statewide rail system, with the goal to speed up trains and expand service.
The goal: to get people out of cars and off the freeway — instead, have them ride trains to decrease air pollution.
Ideally, the bill would increase the rail tracks across counties, reaching the entire state. It would also create a “double-tracking” system: two rail tracks lying next to each other, allowing trains to go in either direction.
This “double-tracking” could allow for trains to come every 15 minutes, increasing convenience.
Anderegg compared Utah to Europe, saying the state needs to take after its example. He said he could see the idea being extended to getting railroads going up to ski resorts, decreasing canyon traffic.
Senator wants to place limits on Inland Port
After several protests and concerns being raised over the development on an inland port, one Utah lawmaker wants to put restrictions on what can projects can be worked on.
Through this bill, Sen. Luz Escamilla said it would require the Utah Inland Port Authority to study the effects of developing and implementing the port in that area. They would have to submit findings to the state legislature before Oct. 1.
Minimum standards to be included in the findings include rules related to waste reduction, hazardous materials management and dust mitigation.
Escamilla said the bill is an attempt to be proactive about the environmental effects that will be present in the future, addressing the concerns of residents near the development site.
President Trump finalizes plans to reduce two state national monuments
Earlier in the month, President Donald Trump announced finalized plans to downsize two Utah national monuments. With this plan, lands that were previously under environmental protections are now open to mining and drilling.
The move surpassed lawsuits from several environmental groups and native tribes who live around the area — especially those that occurred after the large reductions of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante in December 2017.
Those were the largest eliminations of public lands in the country’s history.
The Bureau of Land Management said it plans to still protect the environment and manage business development at the same time. Governor Gary Herbert and both Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney support the move.
Other bills gaining attention this week
State lawmakers have addressed other issues over the week, including human trafficking, alcohol sale prohibitions and the decriminalization of polygamy.
Changing the punishment for sex trafficking
Under Utah law, those who are found guilty of rape, sexual abuse of a child or child kidnapping are required to give private information, such as home addresses, to the Utah Department of Corrections. However, the law doesn’t require those convicted of sexual trafficking to do the same.
One lawmaker wants to change that.
Rep. Angela Romero is proposing a bill that would help police track these cases, building off other victim-focused legislation that has been passed in the past.
The bill states anyone found guilty of sex traffickign would be required to register as sex offenders in the state. It would also require new police officers to receive training on how to spot and respond to human trafficking cases.
Romero said the bill would ensure victims of sex crimes and human trafficking get justice in court.
‘You’re on the list.’ Translation: you can’t buy alcohol here.
Under a new bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, the government would create a list restricting some people from buying products at a state-run liquor store. It would block people who have shown habits of overconsumption and have been charged with some related sentence.
Names would be added to the list from a court order after a drunk driving sentence or probation requirement. A judge can order that those who are convicted get their names added to the list.
However, anyone can volunteer to put their name on the list should they choose to. Those who volunteer can take their name off whenever they choose.
Liquor store employees would identify those buying alcohol with driver license scanners to see if their names are on the list.
Senate votes to decriminalize polygamy
Utah senators passed a bill Tuesday that reclassifies bigamy as an infraction of the law. The bill sponsor, Sen. Diedre Henderson, said that while it doesn’t make bigamy legal, it’s a step forward for some.
The bill puts bigamy on the same level as a traffic ticket, meaning there is no threat of imprisonment. Under current Utah law, polygamy is a felony with punishment of up to five years in prison.
Henderson said decriminalizing bigamy will encourage victims of crime to come out and report abuse without the fear of being prosecuted.