The Utah legislature kicked off its yearly legislative session Monday, with hundreds of proposed bills lined up to be presented. Many representatives wanted to increasingly focus on the vaping epidemic, LGBTQ+ rights and more.
In this six-week series, The Forum’s editor-in-chief, Cami Mondeaux, and managing editor, Marina McTee, will dive into the highlights from each week. In 13 episodes, Mondeaux and McTee will break down what the bills mean and how they will affect those in the Westminster community.
This week, the editors will dive into the beginnings of a suicide prevention bill, how some people may get blocked from a hunting/fishing permit if they don’t pay child welfare and the recent tax referendum effort.
The legislative process
The Utah legislative session is a 45-day session that happens every year, beginning on the fourth Monday of January. During these six weeks, members of the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate propose bills they want to be signed into law by the governor.
A bill starts with an idea from either a lawmaker, representative or a resident of Utah. The idea will be drafted into a bill that is formally presented to the legislature during the session.
Once presented, the Utah Rules Committee — who are the representatives responsible for expediting the process of passing a bill — will determine which committee will hear the bill for public input.
For reference, there are roughly 34 active committees in the Utah legislature right now — ranging in topics from higher education to social security issues.
The designated committee will determine whether it believes there should be changes or amendments made to the bill. It may also decide to eliminate the bill altogether.
If passed, the bill will return to the floor to be debated within the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate. The two houses will then vote separately on whether to pass the bill.
From there, it gets sent to Gov. Gary Herbert for final action. Gov. Herbert can decide whether to sign the bill into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Herbert has 10 days from the time the bill is given to him to decide what to do with it. If he neglects to sign or veto the bill, it will automatically be approved as law.
The bill will effectively become a law 60 days after being signed — unless otherwise noted.
Tax reform bill repealed
In the first days of the session, the tax reform bill that was passed during a special session in December was repealed. The reform, if implemented, would have lowered income taxes while increasing sales taxes on food and gas.
After the bill was passed during the special session, it entered the 60-day period before becoming law.
Harmons Grocery started a petition for a tax referendum, where Utahns could vote to prolong the bill until voters could decide on the November ballot.
The referendum needed just under 116,000 signatures — which it well passed.
So, during the legislative session Tuesday Gov. Herbert signed to repeal the bill altogether — so it won’t appear on the November ballot. It basically means it never happened.
McAdams suicide prevention bill passes the House
Rep. Ben McAdams’ suicide prevention bill passed the House vote this week, moving forward in the legislative process. As a U.S. House senator, McAdams’ bill doesn’t need to be signed by the governor, and will effectively become law.
Under this bill, McAdams is pushing for heavy research into the rising suicide rate in the U.S. based on scientific research.
He calls it the Advancing Research to Prevent Suicide. If passed, McAdams would partner with the National Science Foundation to fund competitive research among different disciplines.
McAdams said he is sponsoring the bill because there’s been an urgent call to action from mental health professionals across the country who want answers as to why the crisis is growing.
McAdams is pushing for research into understanding suicide by looking at the genetic, behavioral, social and environmental factors surrounding the individual. The bill would direct different organizations to give research grants to colleges and universities to look into these factors.
Tanning bed ban bill is burned out
Rep. Brad Daw from Orem presented a bill that would ban teenagers from using tanning beds. Daw said he was confident with the bill, citing research that tanning beds can increase chances of developing skin cancer from 40-70%.
As of right now, a teenager can go to a tanning bed if their parent or doctor signs a note. But Daw wanted to take it a step further, banning it altogether.
However, the bill didn’t pass the house vote and was eliminated early in the process. Some representatives said it wasn’t the government’s job to prevent teenagers from tanning.
No license plate? Primary offense
Rep. Scott Sandall will present a bill that would make the absence of a license plate on the front of a vehicle a primary offense.
Right now, it is a secondary offense to not have the plate on the front of a car. If it made the switch to a primary offense, drivers could be pulled over and ticketed for that reason.
Sandall said the reason behind this bill is largely because of theft that occurs and the inability to catch the thief without the identification on the front of the car.
“This issue was initially raised by a constituent of mine whose valuable welding trailer was stolen right out of his yard,” Sandall said in an interview with KUTV. “His surveillance cameras captured the scene but the perpetrator was never identified as their truck had no front license plate displayed.”
Hunting and fishing licenses could be suspended
A proposed bill called “Fishing and Hunting Restrictions for Nonpayment of Child Support” is looking to help solve the problem of unpaid child support.
Those who owe $25,000 or more in child support would be blocked from obtaining a hunting or fishing permit if the bill passed. The bill sponsor, Karianne Lisbonee, said that 38% of families in Utah don’t get their child support.
If passed, the bill would be an exception to the 60-day rule and would go into effect July 2021.
The push to eliminate straight-ticket voting
During this legislative session, some representatives are looking to get rid of straight-ticket voting. If passed, Utahns’ ballots would look a lot different.
Rep. Craig Hall wants to eliminate straight-ticket voting altogether, meaning voters can’t check one box that would automatically vote for every candidate of one party. Through straight-ticket voting, Republicans could vote for all Republicans and Democrats could vote for all Democrats with a single check mark.
Hall said he wants to get rid of it so Utahns can be more informed voters, noting that all candidates from the same party don’t have the same priorities or stanecs.
Hall said it also causes voters to turn in incomplete ballots, missing opportunities to vote on propositions or potential judges.
Similar legislation like this has been tried in the past, but wasn’t passed in the houses.
Looking ahead: Vaping epidemic to be a hot-topic
Looking ahead to other bills that will be presented, there are several addressing the issue of the vaping epidemic.
The epidemic gained national attention over the last six months, with several cases of hospitalization and death.
The Forum will be covering these issues as the bills are presented to the legislature.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the status of ben McAdams’ bill. It was passed in the U.S. House, not the state House.