Week 4 of the Utah State Legislative Session saw a ton of bills coming through Business and Labor. The flood gates were definitely opened on Monday and slowed back to a normal pace the rest of the week. Various interests were represented in these bills, including food trucks, licensing, radioactive waste, solar energy, women's rights, and, of course, alcohol. In the interest of space, I am going to cover bills that I noted have a direct impact on business or community, crossed my radar this week and which I haven't covered in a previous entry. That still leaves 27 bills for me to review. To make this a little more interesting and easier to track, I have organized the bills as they came across my radar chronologically. So let's buckle up and get down to this week's review.
Monday saw the following six bills in the Senate Business and Labor Committee:
- SB167 Food Truck Regulation Amendments sponsored by (Senator D. Henderson): This bill is a follow on to last year's bill that prevented municipalities from requiring food trucks to get another business license if the food truck owner or operator already had a valid business license in the state. Senator Henderson's bill further deregulates the food truck industry by prohibiting charging of a fee for the reciprocal business license, restricts a municipality from regulating where food trucks can be via land use and zoning ordinances, and prohibits regulation of food trucks on private property. This bill passed out of committee and is on the senate second reading calendar.
HB163 Repeal of International Relations and Trade Commission Provisions (sponsored by Representative C. Bramble): Representative Bramble, who is the sponsor of this bill, is the chair of the International Relations and Trade Commission. He and the co-chair are running a pair of bills to remove this commission and establish a legislative committee in its stead. The commission was originally created when it was expected that the governor would be taking a more active role in international relations to represent the state's interests. This bill is currently on the senate second reading calendar.
- HB169 Commercial Waste Fee Amendments (sponsored by Representative J. Knotwell): This bill reduces the annual fee paid by an owner or operator of a commercial radioactive waste treatment or disposal facility that receives radioactive waste. The radioactive waste held by EnergySolutions in Utah is from low-level radiation sources produced outside the state of Utah. Environmental activist groups are against this bill, as they would see lowering the cost of holding radioactive wastes would encourage even more radioactive waste to be stored in Utah. The Women's State Legislative Council passed a resolution unanimously opposing this bill in their public meeting Wednesday. HB169 is currently on the senate second reading calendar.
- SB157 Residential Solar Energy Amendments (sponsored by Senator L. Fillmore): SB157 is a companion bill to SB141, which extends solar tax credits by two years and repeals net metering in 2036. SB157 requires a kind of truth-in-contract for people who lease or purchase solar equipment for their homes. Contracts are to spell out that legislation is subject to change as well as prices. This bill was prompted in part by solar energy customers who insisted that they were given certified rates for energy consumption and energy return that would not change.This bill is currently on the senate second reading calendar.
- SB41 Support Special Group Historical License Plate (sponsored by Senator L. Fillmore): SB41 will bring back a specialty license plate for the Utah Historical Society. If it passes, a $25 donation will purchase a license plate and a membership to the Utah Historical Society. Intended to have white lettering on a black background, the sponsor of the bill is having difficulty locating reflective black paint for the plates. In the event they can't find it, it may bump the price of the plates up a bit. This bill is also currently on the senate second reading calendar.
- HB121 Regulation of Alkaline Hydrolysis Process (sponsored by Representative S. Handy): HB121 will allow someone an alternative to burial or traditional cremation for the remains of a loved one. The alkaline hydrolysis process is a form of cremation in which the remains--instead of being burnt--are liquified by dissolution process. What remains at the end of the process is the same as traditional cremation, with the exception that there are more ashes, once the bones are pulverized. It is billed as a green alternative, and will require specialized equipment by the funeral home and a slightly higher price to the consumer than the normal cremation process.
Over in House Business and Labor Committee, the following bills were presented:
- HB323 Massage Therapy Practice Act Amendments (sponsored by Representative M. Roberts): If you want to be able to get a license as a Bowenwork practioner without having to have all the training associated with being a massage therapist, then this bill solves your needs. It will allow someone to practice Bowenwork without being a licensed massage therapist. This is especially relevant since Bowenwork is an energy-point process more related to accupressure and accupuncture than it is to massage. The treatments are done on individuals who are fully clothed and those who practice it have their own academy for certification, where they don't learn massage, and massage schools don't teach Bowenwork. HB323 is on the house third reading calendar for house bills.
- HB191 Carbon Monoxide Detector Repeal (sponsored by Representative M. Wheatley): HB191 would require landlords to provide and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in the property homes they own. Carbon monoxide has been named the silent killer because you can't see it or smell it, is lethal, and is the byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Working carbon monoxide detectors save lives. The city of Ogden had a working plan to encourage people to either pay a $30 fine or buy a detector from the fire station for $10 before the state wrote the current code which prevents holding property owners responsible. The property owners association fought back against this bill because they didn't want to be held responsible for residents that disabled or damaged the detectors on their property. The bill was held in committee.
- HB250 Building Permit and Impact Fees Amendments (sponsored by Representative M. Schultz): This bill is primarily for the construction industry. This bill does a couple of things. First, it allows builders who were charged impact fees to challenge political subdivisions for the collection of those fees if they were not used within a reasonable period of time. It also takes a portion of the surcharge on building permits and transfers it for use in the land use education fund for public officials. A number of subcontractors and building inspectors oppose this redirection of funds as it will take money away from supplying expensive code books that they need to do their jobs and stay compliant with state law. HB250 is currently on the house third reading calendar for house bills.
- HB288 Workers' Compensation Claims Amendments (sponsored by Representative K. Ivory): Representative Ivory related a story about a neighbor of his who worked for a friend. After the neighbor fell off a ladder while working and claimed worker's compensation, his neighbor's friend said he couldn't believe he would do that. HB288 makes it unlawful for a person to interfere with an employee's ability to seek workers' compensation benefits, or retaliate against an employee for seeking workers' compensation benefits. This bill has made it through the house and is sitting in the senate rules committee.
- SB40 Workers' Compensation Dependent Benefit Amendments (sponsored by Representative K. Mayne): The amount of worker's compensation credited to dependents hasn't changed in 40 years. SB40 modifies the calculation of benefits paid to one or more dependents of an employee with a disability under the Workers' Compensation Act by changing the amount credited for each dependent from $5 to $20. This bill was returned to the house rules committee with a fiscal note attached to the bill. It's expected to increase expenditures on worker's compensation claims by 1.1% state wide. The fiscal note shows an estimated recurring expenditure of $68.2K for state government, $420K total for local governments, and $40M total for businesses statewide.
- SB92 Workers' Compensation Attorney Fees Amendments (sponsored by Representative K. Mayne): In a response to the cap on attorney's fees being capped at $5K, SB92 provides, to the extent allowed by court rule, that an employee may be awarded reasonable attorney fees in an adjudication of a workers' compensation claim where only medical benefits are at issue. This bill has passed both houses and has been enrolled for the governor's signature.
- HB133 Employment Amendments (sponsored by Representative C. Hall): This bill was created as a response to the dating partner of the Salt Lake County Recorder covering the absence of the recorder. When HB133 was first written, it was going to extend the definition of hiring to include dating relationships. The bill has been amended from dating partners to people living in the same household. This would essentially mean that state workers are forbidden from hiring people who live with them. HB133 is on the house third reading calendar for house bills.
In Senate Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday, only one new bill was heard, SB152:
- SB152 Equal Compensation Study (sponsored by Senator L. Escamilla): I followed this bill from its inception when Senator Escamilla first broached the potential of a wage disparity issue in Utah based on gender in Utah. During interim committee in November, it was decided after 30 minutes that a study needed to be done to determine if there truly is a wage gap when it comes to gender. This particular bill was designed to be a narrow focus on the state executive branch, excluding institutions of higher institution. Representative Anderegg had a similar bill for the commercial sector. SB152 was designed after other wage studies and a pricetag of $125K to perform the study was attached. When this bill showed up in committee, the chair who had not been at the interim meeting where it was discussed complained that the issue was supposed to be studied during the interim session. This was followed with references to a fiscal note that was supposedly attached to the bill, when in actuality, as Senator Escamilla explained, the fiscal note was applied to Representative Anderegg's legislation before he pulled the bill. It was for this reason that Senator Escamilla found a comparable study to use to estimate the cost of SB152. With plenty of time left to discuss the bill or reasons to hold it, neither was done. One of the senators present moved to adjourn the meeting, and when the vote was taken, one other senate voted in favor, effectively shutting Senator Escamilla off, and putting her on hold. When interviewed, the senator that moved to adjourn the meeting stated that he made the motion because he felt "the bill wasn't ready." In my opinion, Senator Escamilla had gone the extra mile in preparing a very viable bill. My intuition suggests that she was shut down in a very patriarchal way, because there are members that don't want to see any evidence that wage disparity actually exists in Utah. After the committee meeting, this bill has received a fiscal note, and the senator's estimate wasn't that far off. Adding $29.4K for a full-time employee, SB152 is expected to be a one-time expense to the state of $154.4K. It was effectively held in the Senate Business and Labor Committee.
On Wednesday, in the House Business and Labor Committee, the topic appeared to by alcohol :
- HB107 Alcoholic Beverage Proof of Age Amendments (sponsored by Representative M. Poulson): Representative Poulson told the story of a foreign national who was taken out to a restaurant and carded. Not carrying their passport on them, and being told that their country's driver's license could not be used to verify age, especially when the person was clearly of age, was seen as a slight. Currently, the only proof of age someone can use from a foreign country is their country's passport. The argument was made that we need to be more welcoming to foreign visitors and tourists, especially if we want to host the Olympics again. Concern was brought up by the DABC that with over 190 countries, and their various provinces, we could not verify that a license was real or necessarily how to read it. Due to the fear of youth creating fake drivers licenses for proof of age, Utah has mad its drivers license hard to fake. Many countries around the world simply allow or disallow consuming alcohol without presenting a proof of age. The underlying unspoken fear seemed to be that if we allow foreign drivers licenses for proof of age, the would be spoofed by underage drinkers. HB107 was held in committee.
- HB149 Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Funding Amendments (sponsored by Representative G. Froerer): The motivation of HB149 is the ability to more quickly create new liquor stores in Utah in response to the demand. The department was running into issues that once a state liquor store was approved by the legislature, the price of the land in the area would go up a significant amount. To get around this, and make the process faster, this bill seeks to transfer $1.75M to a new fund from the general to be used to lease or purchase land where liquor stores can be built. This would allow the department to first purchase the land using the fund, and then get approval to build the store. The DABC would responsible for restoring capitol it used to the fund from their net proceeds. This is meant to also reduce the cost to the state of startups, and have less of a long-term impact on the general fund. HB149 is on the house third reading calendar for calendar bills.
- HB252 DUI Program Amendments (sponsored by Representative J. Fawson): HB252 applies to people who have been assigned to the 24/7 monitoring program. As currently written, due a clerical error a judge must assign people to the 24/7 monitoring program under certain circumstances with a DUI. This bill changes it from mandatory to an option. The 24/ monitoring program requires people under it to be tested twice a day to make sure that they are conforming to the requirements to be completely sober for a year. HB252 also changes the imposition of the sanctions from immediate to timely, and adds more testing methods. This bill has passed the house and is with the Senate Secretary.
- HB98 Driving Under the Influence Revisions (sponsored by Representative N. Thurston): HB98 removes the definition of novice licensed driver from state code with regards to alcohol restricted drivers. This became an issue when the state passed a bill last year lowering the DUI level to 0.05 blood alcohol level. The code was rather draconian in the aspect that anyone who had owned a Utah driver's license less than two years that did not previously own a license in any other state would be convicted of a class B misdemeanor if they were found to have any alcohol in their system at any time. This bill is currently on the house third reading calendar for house bills.
House of Representives:
- SCR1 Concurrent Resolution Recommending Replacement of Statue of Philo Farnsworth in United States Capitol (sponsored by Senator T. Weiler): After our board meeting for the Women's State Legislative Council, a number of us pinned on yellow roses and headed to the gallery to watch SCR1 presented by Representative Becky Edwards. Several of us were on the floor, and I was with the others in the gallery watching the presentation. The resolution asked to replace the statue of Philo Farnsworth in the Capitol with a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, who was the first female state senator in Utah. Philo, known for inventing the television, the baby incubator, the electron microscope, and the gastroscope, as well as holding about 300 patents, has been in Washington, DC, about 40 years. There are a number of organizations that would love to have Philo in their collection, including the Smithsonian Institute. As the one hundredth birthday of the women's right to vote comes up in the next couple of years, it would be a good symbol to have a woman who represented what women can do when enabled to serve, who also represents Utah's role in the suffrage movement, and a promise to women to bring about full equity. There is also the concern among women that the move would only be symbolic and not engender real change, a view that does gather merit when you see how some our legislators respond to bills with regards to women's rights, like Senator Escamilla's bill asking for a wage study to determine if there is a wage gap, Senator Fawson's bill to allow breastfeeding in public, and Senator Thatcher's bill to add penalty enhancements for victim targeting. There was an attempted amendment to require the legislature to reconsider returning Philo Farnsworth to the Capitol in 10 years. That amendment failed, and the resolution has passed both the senate and the house.
Women's State Legislative Council Meeting:
- SB112 Voter Registration Revisions (sponsored by Senator D. Henderson): The Business and Labor Committee of the Women's State Legislative Council, which I co-chair, invited Senator Henderson to present SB112. This bill takes the opt-in checkbox on your drivers license registration and renewal form and turns it into an opt-out; that is, your information that is already being updated with the Lieutenant Governor's office will automatically shared with the county clerk for voter registration purposes. This helps address the issue in which about 20% of the ballots cast during the 2016 election were provisional because the registered voter addresses were not automatically updated when people moved. This would also automatically register anyone to vote who was not previously registered when updating their drivers license. The form will still have the option to keep the information private so that the voter record is not available to the public. Representative Lisonbee represented the minority who want to keep the option as opt-in, just with a bigger checkbox. The representative stated her firm belief that voter registration should not be automatic, but require people to invest themselves in the system; and that non-invested voters would cost the state more money if we maintain universal vote-by-mail. SB112 is currently circled in the senate second reading calendar.
- HB196 Breastfeeding Protection Act (sponsored by Representative J. Fawson): At the request of WSLC President-Elect Josie Valdez, I co-sponsored with a resolution with her in support of HB196. Senator Henderson, who is co-sponsoring the bill spoke to the council as to why the bill is necessary. Utah and Arizona are the only two remaining states that do not have protections allowing women to breastfeed in public. The reality is that infants typically need to feed every two hours, and public bathrooms are not hygenic enough for a newborn. Furthermore there are health benefits for both mother and child if breastfeeding can be established. The resolution in support passed unanimously. The bill is on the house third reading calendar for house bills.
In Thursday's Senate Business and Labor Committee, we heard testimony on the following three bills:
- HB45 Consumer Reporting Agency Fees (sponsored by Representative J. Dunnigan): HB45 is meant to help with victims of identify theft. Anyone can send a letter to a credit reporting agency to have their credit report frozen and subsequently thawed. The difficulty is that there are three credit agencies that each charge $10 to freeze or thaw credit in Utah. That means that it would cost a victim a minimum of $60 to protect their credit. Other states don't allow the credit reporting agencies to charge as much. In addition, freezing and thawing credit reports by postal mail is a time-consuming process. The credit reporting agencies have agreed to this law, which would remove the ability to charge for services relating to freezing credit reports, and allow the process to be done electronically via apps for handheld devices. Electronic requests would be required to be processed in 15 minutes. This bill is currently on the senate second reading calendar.
- HB139 Telepsychiatric Consultation Access Amendments (sponsored by Representative S. Eliason): HB139 would require Medicaid to pay for telepsychiatric services and to allow physicians to use the telepsychiatric consultations services to aid their patients with diagnosis and treatment. This is meant to help with the shortage of psychiatrists in Utah, and to be able to help more people to need psychiatric treatment. HB139 is currently on the senate second reading calendar.
- SB181 Infertility Insurance Coverage Amendments (sponsored by Senator L. Escamilla): SB181 would allow the $4,000 adoption allowance required by insurance to be used toward fertility treatments as a pilot program for state employees. The current law allows the insurance company to pay toward the fertility treatments as an option; however, the insurance companies have as a bloc denied that option to everyone who has applied. Fertility treatments can range up to about $20K for a young couple putting them seriously in debt and having to work multiple jobs. The stories were heartbreaking. Representatives from the insurance industry said that they were opposed to a mandate, but were neutral to a pilot program, giving worst-case numbers based on 50% of infertile couples in the state taking advantage of the offer. For the people in the room, the $4,000 would go a long way, even if they have to cover the other $16K out of their own pocket. This bill is currently on the senate second reading calendar.
Friday's House Business and Labor Committee saw the following three bills:
- HB310 Professional Licensing Amendments (sponsored by Representative M. Schultz): HB310 repeals the Residence Lien Restriction and Lien Recovery Fund Act and related provisions and modifies provisions related to the Building Inspector and Factory Built Housing Licensing Act. There is currently $1.9M in the account. The account was created to protect homeowners from second liens from subcontractors who were not paid by the entities charges with doing the work if the homeowners could demonstrate that they paid for the work. The fund itself has seen dramatically reduced claims over the last couple of years as SCRs and registration of building contractors and organizations has become more commonplace. In my opinion, a subcontractor should not be able to take a primary loan against a property owner as their contract is with the primary contractor, and the liability should rest with them. The concern is that if and when the housing bubble bursts, is that home owners will not be prevented from claims due to dried up cash flow. The bill suggests closing the account and transferring the money to the general fund. Since subcontractors have been paying into the account for this purpose, an amendment was made to allow the funds to be drawn on the account until it reached a zero balance. HB310 has been held in the Business and Labor Committee.
- HB263 Assisted Living Facilities Amendments (sponsored by Representative K. Kwan): HB263 requires an assisted living facility to document the reason for transferring or discharging residents and refer their cases to state long-term-care ombudsmen to gather certain information in order help senior citizens bypass the risk of homelessness when the facility initiates the transfer or discharge. This bill is currently on the house third reading calendar for house bills.
- HB335 Occupational and Professional Licensing Revisions (sponsored by Representative B. Greene): HB335 equalizes cosmetology apprenticeships with school programs, and changes the master/apprenticeship supervisory ratio from 1-1 to 1-4. There was a lot of mixed community information on this bill. A couple of salon owners praised the bill, saying that they were capable of training multiple apprentices, and testimony from an owner who had said that she had been an instructor in the beauty school and a salon owner and said that she could provide better training in the classroom. It became clear over the multiple testimony that both paths--school and apprenticeships--need to be available for both trainees and trainers. While some people admitted that they were too busy in their business to attend to their apprentices, others demonstrated that it was quite doable for them. In addition, those who did not have the gift of training in a shop were able to admit it. Time ran out during the hearing of this bill leaving it held in committee.
It's a lot of work keeping up with these bills, but I enjoy the education of what is happening and the opportunity to be a part of it all. Last year, I saw very little deliberation and weighing of testimony before the committees, but 4 weeks in to this year's session, for the most part I see legislators coming to the table to deliberate. It was about 35 years ago, I took business law in high school; and, now, I am learning to have a deeper understanding appreciation not only for the existing laws, but the process and conversations necessary to bring more equity for workers, small business owners, and the people they serve.
President's Day is tomorrow, giving a one-day holiday for the legislature before starting Week 5 on Tuesday. I already have nine bills on the agenda for me to review before the two committee meetings starting the week.
Always your servant,
Sophia Hawes-Tingey is the 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, a Member of the Board of Directors for the Transgender Inclusion Project and 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.