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View From the Gallery - Week 6

Week six was the most eventful of the legislature thus far, but somehow much of the hotly contested bills still have a ways to go before reaching the Governor’s desk.

Medical Marijuana

One of those hotly contested bills is Sen. Mark Madsen’s medical marijuana legislation. At the moment, the bill has stalled in the Senate over concerns that they need to take more time to get the language of the bill just right. On top of that, Governor Gary Herbert has threatened to veto the bill if by some chance it does pass both chambers.

Criminal Just Reform

But while that bill might not be going anywhere, the House did pass a bill that would make huge changes to Utah’s criminal justice system, including making the possession of a small amount of some drugs including marijuana, a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill also allocates money to create more programs to assist people who have substance abuse or mental health problems. The whole idea is to get people help, instead of filing up the state’s jails with non-violent criminals.

Partisan School Board

Continuing with their busy week, the House also voted down a bill that would have made State School Board elections partisan. But the issue is far from decided, there are still several other bills out there that that propose their own idea of how the State School Board should be elected, including one that would give the governor the power to appoint them.

Anti-Discrimination Compromise

But the biggest news of the week was the announcement of a statewide LGBT anti-discrimination bill. The bill would make it illegal to deny people housing or employment because of their sexual orientation, while at the same time carving out exceptions for religious organizations and their affiliates. Members of the LGBT community and leaders of the LDS church joined together for the announcement that included smiles and hugs for everyone.

The Battle for a Healthy Utah

And while the legislature managed to find a compromise between LGBT protections and religious freedom, they still can’t figure out what they want to do with the thousands of people in Utah who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but also don’t qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

While House Speaker Greg Hughes changed his mind on his decision to keep Healthy Utah from getting a committee hearing, it was only sent there to die. But proponents of the legislation refuse to accept its fate, and Democratic Rep. Justin Miller motioned to resurrect the bill and move it to the house floor. While it was a futile attempt, it did force the whole House to take a vote on it, infuriating Republican leadership.

And that’s the penultimate View From the Gallery.  Tune in next week where the legislature will pass more bills in the final week of the session than they have in the previous six.

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