It’s the end of week three for the Utah Legislature, and lawmakers have been busy considering bills that touch on everything from corporate tax incentives to tanning beds to medical marijuana. KUER’s Sonja Hutson and Caroline Ballard spoke in the press room of the Utah State Capitol to cover all that and more in our weekly political roundup.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: A new bill dropped this week that makes some changes to the state’s medical marijuana law — what was in it?
Sonja Hutson: Utah's medical marijuana program is set to start on March 1, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is trying to make some changes to the law that created that program.
The bill that he unveiled this week would expunge criminal records of people who have used marijuana medicinally in the past before this program started, but it would not apply to anyone who was caught dealing or selling it or those that have felony charges. The idea is that people shouldn't be prevented by their criminal record from things like getting a job or finding an apartment for something that's soon going to be legal.
CB: Speaking of health, there was a pretty lengthy debate on the House floor about a bill by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, which bans minors from using tanning beds.
SH: Right now, people under 18 can only go use a tanning bed if they have their parents consent. Under this bill, they couldn't do it at all. The idea is to protect minors from an increased risk of skin cancer, immune system suppression and a couple other health issues.
But, essentially, the debate that sprung up on the House floor was about parental rights, where to draw the line about what parents can decide for their children and what the government should do. Daw and other supporters of the bill liken tanning to things like vaping and drinking, and said the government should protect minors from that. But opponents said that this bill is just taking it too far, and parents should have the liberty to make decisions for their children even if they come with health risks.
CB: Let's move to the corporate tax incentives bill by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem. What's that about?
SH: There's been some criticism of this program that we have here in Utah that lots of other states have too. [In it], they give tax incentives to companies in order to bring them to Utah and to encourage them to expand in the state. It's under the Governor's Office of Economic Development, also known as GOED. It started under former Gov. Jon Huntsman when he was in office back in the late 2000s.
A couple of weeks ago, actually during gubernatorial debates, the most contentious part of the debate was actually about these corporate tax incentives and whether or not we still need them since the unemployment rate is so low now.
What Roberts’ bill essentially does is create an agreement between Utah and other states to not use tax incentives to lure companies from other states. But it only becomes valid if all 50 states sign on and Congress would also have to approve it, so we're a long way from this actually becoming a thing, but it's a small step in that direction. Roberts points to research that shows that incentives are not very effective at bringing new jobs to states that have these programs.
[But] GOED's last annual report actually points to 11,000 new high-paying jobs as a result of this program. They also make companies that are receiving the tax break sign this legal document that says without the incentives, they wouldn't come to Utah. So they're still defending their program, and we'll see how far this bill gets.
CB: Looking ahead a little bit, Super Tuesday is coming up in a few weeks where Utahns are voting in Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. Are we seeing increased campaigning here in Utah?
SH: Yeah, absolutely. The focus here is really on the Democratic primaries. President Trump doesn't have a really viable contender that's running against him.
Democratic candidates are starting to send staff here. They're opening offices. Mike Bloomberg's been here for a long time because he has this unconventional strategy of skipping the early voting states and focusing on Super Tuesday states, including Utah. He is opening a second office this weekend.
Pete Buttigieg is going to be here on Monday, and he'll have staff here, as well. Bernie Sanders has staff that arrived this week.
In terms of polling, there was a January poll that put Sanders well ahead of everyone else in the field. He had enormous support here back in 2016. He got about 79% of the caucus vote against Hillary Clinton, which is just enormous.
He's not going to get that level of support this year because there is a much wider field of candidates, and it's a primary instead of a caucus. Caucuses tend to bring out the more ideologically left-leaning Democrats than primaries do. But it'll be interesting to see if he can keep that lead.