This session was very different in many ways, but we got a lot of great things done. I didn’t agree with every bill passed, and some of the bills I strongly supported did not pass, but I feel very good about what we accomplished overall. Here is an overview of many of the bills that passed with brief summaries.
Sometimes it is difficult to know how what we do during the session really impacts Utah’s families. Watch this short video to find out!
It was so nice to have public participation from all over the state. Because of the pandemic, our amazing tech people made sure that anyone who wanted to watch, hear, or give public comment, was able to from the comfort of their home or wherever they happened to be. We will continue to do this so that those who cannot attend hearings or meetings in person because of distance or other reasons can still make their voice and input heard.
MY BILLS THAT PASSED
HB 68 Rental Expenses Disclosure Requirements This bill requires a landlord to be transparent by letting a potential renter know the full amount of monthly rent and fees charged for a rental before accepting any non-refundable money from the renter. Good landlords do this already, but many renters don’t find the true cost of their rental until after they have paid an application fee and deposit, and they are signing the lease. These surprise fees often increase the monthly rent by 15-20%, and the renter is faced with either losing the money they have already paid and looking for other, more affordable housing or signing the lease and hoping they can make the payments.
Governor Cox Signing HB 68 into law
HB 135 Congregate Care Program Amendments Congregate care program, as used in this bill, means any of the following that provides service to a child: an outdoor youth program, residential support program, residential treatment program, or a therapeutic school. Utah has more congregate-care programs than any other state, and 90% of the youth served by these programs come from out of state. This bill requires these programs to have a disruption plan for each child. These plans detail how a child will be returned to their home state if they unexpectedly leave the program. They are critical, first and foremost, for the safety of the child, and also because of the impact a run-away from these programs has on our communities and social services.
Very importantly, this bill also requires congregate care programs to keep the Office of Licensing in the Department of Family Services informed of the children that have been placed in Utah from out of state. This information will help keep kids safe and inform future discussions with providers, the Legislature, and DCFS.
HB 158 Juvenile Interrogation Amendments Parents must be present with children under the age of 13 during questioning by law enforcement. However, under the previous statute, children aged 14 and older were allowed to be interrogated and waive their Miranda rights without any parent or other friendly adult being consulted or present. These kids were presumed mature and knowledgeable enough to withstand the imbalance of power inherent when questioned by law enforcement and to understand the full impact and consequences of what they were saying.
Decades of research in basic and applied psychology and developmental neuroscience, including studies focused specifically on juvenile interrogations, clarify that adolescents are systematically and severely disadvantaged during police interrogations compared to adult suspects. Juveniles should NOT be treated as adults in these situations.
This bill extends the protections already afforded to kids 13 years old and younger to all youth regardless of age and requires a parent/guardian/friendly adult to be present for custodial interrogation.
HB 167 HIV Testing Amendments Existing statute allows alleged victims of sexual assault to request that an alleged offender undergo HIV testing and be informed of the results. However, it didn’t give clear guidance on how to obtain a test or how to deliver the results to the alleged victim once the test was completed when the alleged offender was in custody.
The changes in this bill allow facilities to obtain testing at a location typically used by the facility for medical testing and permits the release of the results to the prosecutor to share with the alleged victim.
HB 421 Intensive Services Pilot Program Our most vulnerable, high-cost students are not fully funded through the federal government or the state. These are students who may be medically fragile, needing nursing services, in a wheelchair needing extensive physical and occupational therapies, having extreme needs for behavioral supports, or those needing sign language interpreters, etc. This bill creates the Intensive Services Special Education Pilot Program to provide funding to local education agencies to supplement some of the costs of educating these students with intensive special education needs.
HB 426 Therapy Animals Amendments Research shows that animal-assisted interventions increases reading fluency, stimulates memory and problem-solving skills, etc. Because of these amazing benefits of therapy animals in a school setting, many schools have utilized these teams. However, there has not been a definition of therapy animals in either federal or state statute, and there can be issues with trainers and animals not being certified or trained sufficiently.
This bill takes care of each of these issues: 1. It defines therapy animals and therapy animal handlers so that there cannot be confusion between these trained teams and emotional support animals or other animals. 2. It says that if a school provides animal-assisted interventions, the district needs to adopt a policy to handle a therapy animal on school grounds properly. This bill does not require a school to allow the use of a therapy animal; it only addresses if a school wants to allow the use.
SB 126 Sentencing Commission Requirements (I was the House Floor sponsor) Collateral consequences are penalties and restrictions that aren’t in the penal code but are scattered throughout state and federal laws. These “invisible” punishments are additional sanctions or disqualifications attached to a sentence, such as disenfranchisement, eviction, or the loss of business licenses, and defendants are usually not aware of them. These unforeseen and unexpected penalties often restrict freedoms and opportunities for convicted individuals long after their sentence has ended, and some last indefinitely.
This bill requires the Utah Sentencing Commission to identify all collateral consequences for a conviction or an adjudication of an offense and post them on their website. It is important that a defendant is aware of the full consequences of his or her choices when deciding to accept a plea deal.