With the Utah Legislature now half over, bills are starting to pick up steam headed into the final stretch. Meanwhile, lawmakers are preparing to debut a large tax reform package that could deliver an even larger tax cut to Utahns — among a host of other changes.
Here’s a rundown of some of the bills racing their way through each chamber:
- Abortion Ban: House lawmakers approved a constitutionally dubious ban on abortions after 18 weeks. Bill sponsor Rep. Chery Acton, R-West Jordan, calls the legislation “very timely” after Virginia and New York moved to expand their abortion laws and believes her legislation makes reasonable accommodations for the health and safety of the mother. Democrats pointed out that a similar ban was already tried in the early ‘90s and will likely cost the state more than $2 million in legal challenges. The final vote was 57-15, with two Democrats in support and two Republicans in opposition. It now heads to the Senate.
- Stronger Beer: A bill to allow beer up to 4.8% ABW beer in grocery and convenience stores (and on tap) got final approval from the Senate and heads to the House, where it may face stiffer opposition.
- Contraceptives in Sex-Ed: A zombie bill to clarify that teachers can, in fact, teach about contraceptives in health education class sailed through the House with little debate. The legislation had nearly died in committee before its sponsor, Rep. Ray Ward, made some revisions. The latest version of the bill stipulates that teachers can teach about the “effectiveness, limitations and risks” of birth control methods, but does not make it a requirement. Ward noted how far the socially conservative Legislature has come in approving what would have been D.O.A. in years past.
- Police Retirement: The Senate passed a watered-down version of a bill to beef up retirement benefits for first responders. Under the original proposal, the state would have paid several million dollars annually for retirement benefits for police, firefighters and other public safety employees. But some Republicans say it should be cities’ responsibility long-term and appropriated the bulk of the money as one-time funding.
- Distracted Driving: House lawmakers were divided over a bill by Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, to ban talking on cell phones while driving. Pointing to reams of research showing a decrease in crashes in states that have enacted such bans, Moss said the law could save lives. But many of the more Libertarian-leaning members of the House expressed skepticism that a hands-free law would make much of a difference, and said it could be onerous for those without cars with built-in bluetooth or GPS. The bill was defeated with a vote of 32-41.
Campus Safety: Spurred by the shooting death of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, a bill that would require colleges and universities to create campus safety plans and training passed the full Senate.
- Constitutional Convention: There hasn’t been a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution in over 200 years, but some have been calling for one in recent years. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is running a resolution to make Utah the latest state to officially support a Constitutional Convention (sometimes called a Con-Con), specifically to rein in the federal government’s spending power. Utah Senators gave it a first thumbs-up with a close vote of 16-12.