Interim Session on Amusement Park Safety, Housing Discrimination, and Dram Shops
This week the Utah State Legislature Interim Business and Labor had its second meeting of the year. The study items on the table were amusement park safety, housing discrimination, and dram shop laws.
Amusement Parks and Trampoline Park Facilities
Representative Val K. Potter, testified that Utah is one of only five states that doesn’t require safety inspections on amusement rides. He believes that it is time that Utah consider legislation concerning the safety of these rides. He and Representative Thurston reported to various political subdivisions last month, and has been working on this bill since last year. The two primary categories of rides are the fixed site and mobile site. Fixed site rides stay in one place, while mobile rides travel around the country. The proposed bill would require operators of amusement rides to carry a certain amount of liability insurance. The governor’s office was contacted about the best way to tackle this bill, and Erica Schaeffer from IAPA sent a latter of support. The draft bill is still in need of modifications so that it does something regarding safety. IAPA supports strong state ride safety regulations based on developed national standards.
Jaceson R. Maughan, Commissioner, Utah State Labor Commission, testified how we would go about putting together a regulatory program in the DIvision of Boiler and Coal Mine Safety. He feels that would be the best place for that office. A director would be in charge of the office of Amusement Safety. The department would certify fixed site locations to continue doing inspections as they do them now. One concession, given the constant flow of mobile amusement parks into the state and through the state, is that if they have been inspected within 90 days with similar requirements in another state, Utah could accept those inspection results . The department would need a full time or a halftime assistant for the office and would certify people to conduct inspections for the state of Utah. Fixed sites, like Lagoon, have inspectors that already meet the necessary standards. The director would also have the authority to conduct audits.
Complainant’s Right to Appeal
Jaceson R. Maughan, Commissioner, Utah State Labor Commission, discussed a provision of the Utah Fair Housing Act. Currently in a fair housing case, if a complainant makes a case of discriminatory conduct, the Labor Commission conducts an investigation and the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division issues a decision of cause, which means that discrimination was determined, or no cause, indicating that no discrimination happened. The respondent has the right to appeal a cause finding. Either party needs to be able to elect to have that heard in adjudication or district court, as required under federal contract. In Utah code, there is no appeal process for the complainant in the case of no cause. HUD is concerned with the unfairness of the statute. If HUD determines this is out of compliance, they will terminate their contract with the state.
Paul Smith, Executive Director, Utah Apartment Association, testified in support of having an appeal process for the complainant. They believe that it is fair that both parties have the right to appeal. He is concerned that the cost of frivolous cases are put on the backs of the defendants. In fair housing testing, two inspectors are sent out to determine if discrimination is occurring. Outside organizations have the ability to pursue very frivolous cases. He would like to see reciprocity in attorneys fees, especially in the case of bad faith litigation.
Aaron M. Kinikini, Legal Director, Disability Law Center, testified that the DLC is a HUD grantee that fights housing discrimination. He thinks that the change for balanced appeal rights is a long time in coming. There are strong procedural protections for landlords already in place. According to Aaron. most complainants are people without resources and most complaints are valid. He stated that there currently doesn't appear to be discrimination that is occurring. Mr. Kinikini said that the Labor Commission is there to provide a free forum to victims of housing discrimination.
Dram Shop Liability
Represenative Norman K. Thurston, testified that this is a bill file that he has been working on for little over a year. It is unclear where the policy direction should go. There are rules in statute that apply to alcohol licensees. If a person goes to multiple bars and drinks, goes home and drinks, and then injures another person, it can result in a lawsuit. Everyone winds up getting sued, from the person who did the injury to each of the bars or restaurants. A jury must decide what was the contribution of each party to the faulty decision making that caused the injury. In reality, the first restaurant or bar may have followed all the rules and still be assigned a portion of the liability. If a restaurant or bar is following all the rules, should there be some form of protection from later lawsuit? Each licensee usually carries some form of liability insurance and the insurance companies are prone to settle instead of going to court. Mr. Thurston believes that there needs to be a better way to structure the liability so that those who follow the rules aren’t punished unfairly, and the burden of guilt shifts to those who don’t follow the rules.
Melva Sine, President, Utah Restaurant Association, also testified that this legislation was proposed last year. A server is required to know if a person has been taking drugs or drinking elsewhere by observing their behavior. If there are no outward signs, it’s hard to say that a server should have known the person had already been drinking in various other places and might already be intoxicated. The Utah Restaurant Association supports looking at the dram shop liability legislation to see if servers who follow the rules may be protected from being declared a contributor in a liability lawsuit, as insurance can become harder to hold and more difficult to obtain. According to Ms. Sine, juries and insurance companies are not considering good faith policies when making awards and settlements.
The next interim meeting is scheduled for July 18 at 1:15 pm in the Utah Senate Building. The meeting schedule and transcripts are available at http://le.utah.gov
Always in Service,
Sophia Hawes-Tingey is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Transgender Inclusion Project, Legislative Liaison for the Utah Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Co-Chair of the Business and Labor Committee of the Women’s State Legislative Council of Utah, member of the Board of Directors for the Utah Stonewall Democrats, the Vice Chair of the Community Council of Midvale, and co-founder of People Empowered, LLC. You can visit Sophia’s webpage at http://www.sophiahawes.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.