I am so grateful to live in Utah and for the great people in this state. Thank you for your engagement and support. Please reach out to me with any questions or issues that you have. I don’t know all the answers, but there are great people up at the Capitol who can help you and me navigate through whatever specific difficulties or issues you are dealing with.
Utah moving from Red to Orange
At a press Conference yesterday, the Governor announced that on May 1st, businesses can open with precautions in place. The Governor and State Epidemiologist, Dr. Angela Dunn, strongly requested everyone wear a mask when in public. You can find what the guidelines are for each color in the tiered system here.
Governor Herbert and Lieutenant Governor Cox also announced a partnership between the state of Utah and the Utah Manufacturers Association to coordinate efforts for the initiative of “A Mask for Every Utahn”.
Utahns can go to https://coronavirus.utah.gov/mask/ and place an order for a free face mask. These masks are particularly for Utahns who:
- Don’t already have a face mask,
- Aren’t able to make a face mask or get one from someone else, and
- Aren’t able to purchase a face mask.
Masks are being manufactured at facilities throughout the state and supporting the continuation of 200 jobs throughout Utah. To read the announcement on Governor Gary Herbert’s website Click Here.
I know opinions on mask-wearing are quite varied and strong. Remember, this is a request, not a mandate–you have a choice unless a business you are visiting requires you to wear one. Let’s all be kind and respectful even if we disagree.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Available
The Utah Department of Workforce Services announced additional assistance is available for those who would not ordinarily qualify for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed or gig economy workers. More information about this program and other unemployment programs with links to apply are found here: https://jobs.utah.gov/covid19.
CHIP Premiums Waived and Disenrollment Suspended
The Utah Department of Health announced that they are going to waive CHIP premiums and stop disenrollment, except for out of state moves. This move will help keep children covered during the COVID-19 crisis and matches a move made previously by the department to prevent Medicaid disenrollments. More CHIP and Medicaid information is available here: https://medicaid.utah.gov/covid-19/
Special Session Bills
We finished up the special session called by the legislature on Thursday morning, and then went into the special session called by the Governor. Here are links and explanations of the bills passed.
HB3005 Pandemic and Emergency Response Act
This bill requires the Governor to notify and consult with House and Senate leadership 24 hours before taking executive action in response to an epidemic or pandemic emergency. The Governor is exempt from these requirements if the epidemic or pandemic poses an imminent threat of serious bodily injury, substantial harm to property, or loss of life that could be mitigated by executive action.
This bill also allows the Legislature, through a joint resolution, to overturn or terminate an executive action taken by the Governor during a state of emergency.
SB3006 COVID-19 Financial Relief Funding
This bill assists individuals, businesses, and agriculture operations that have been financially harmed by the coronavirus’ economic impact. $20 million is funded within the Department of Workforce Services for a rent payment assistance program for individuals. Up to $40 million is used to establish a commercial rent payment assistance program within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Additionally, a 0% interest emergency loan program for agriculture operations is created in the Department of Agriculture and Food.
SB 3007 COVID-19 Provisions
We want businesses to be able to open up without fear of being sued if they are following safety guidelines. This bill provides a person immunity from civil liability for damages or an injury resulting from exposure of an individual to a contagious virus. It does not apply to willful misconduct, or reckless or intentional infliction of harm.
HB 4001 Pandemic Response Federal Funds Appropriations
Because the Utah Constitution limits legislatively called special sessions to appropriate less than 1% of the prior year budget, SB 3001 Pandemic Response Appropriations Adjustments (passed in the previous special session) authorized agencies to expend only a small portion of the accepted federal funds. This bill appropriates the remaining federal funds so agencies can execute the federal programs for which they are intended. It also provides federal funds to implement bills passed in the 2020 Third Special Session. Please note most federal education funds are not included in this bill. They will be appropriated at a later date as well as other funds as we receive more information.
I voted for an amendment that would have limited the types of medications that could be bought with this money. Six million dollars for medications is appropriated in this bill, and the state has already spent $800,000 on 20,000 doses of hydroxycholorquine. This purchase was EXTREMELY frustrating to me because the state paid more than twice as much per dose than you have to pay at Walmart for the same amount. Unfortunately, the amendment failed.
HB 4002 Rail Fuel Sales Tax Amendment
This bill repeals the sales and use tax exemption for the sale of fuel to a rail carrier for use in a locomotive engine. This bill was passed during the session and vetoed by the governor. This exemption is not granted to other businesses using this type of fuel, nor has the state seen benefits from the rail industry for this exemption. I have sat on committees and questioned Union Pacific representatives on how the state and they could work together to make communities safer through rail crossing improvements. They have not been remotely interested in collaborating.
The taxes collected would go into a special account to be used only in the following ways: 10% for grants to jurisdictions for improved safety, 10% for environmental impact studies, and 80% to be appropriated by legislature specifically for rail crossing improvements.
HB 4003 Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program
This bill creates a scholarship program using income tax credits and donations for students with a documented disability to pay for educational services, including tuition to an approved private school; an educational therapy; or costs for an online course. The scholarship amount is on a sliding scale based on household income and the value of the weighted pupil unit. The bill also appropriates $60,000 to the state board for program administration and directs the Public Education Subcommittee to study the feasibility of combining this program and the Carson Smith Scholarship.
I voted no on this bill. It is a revised, better version of a bill I voted yes on during the session. I have had children with special needs and understand the frustration of trying to find the right fit educationally for them. There are very good things about this bill, but here are some of the reasons I voted no.
- There is money left on the table every year in the Carson Smith scholarship, which is very similar to the new program, but funded out of the general fund. This year, there are $800,000 dollars unclaimed that parents can use for private school education.
- I find it somewhat irresponsible to set up a new, expensive program that is very similar to Carson Smith when we are in such an economically disastrous time. If improvements need to be made to how Carson Smith is implemented, let’s do that. It would be far less expensive.
- The Utah State Board of Education, who is required to implement this new scholarship program, was not consulted about this bill. All stakeholders should have been at the table when these decisions were made.
- We are currently under funding public school special ed students by about 10 million dollars per year.
- If a student uses these funds to go to a private school, but the private school does not work out for them and they go back to their public school, the public school will not receive any funds to educate this student. The remaining WPU will instead go back to the state.
HB 4004 Bar Establishment License Renewal Amendments
Because many businesses with bar licenses have been economically impacted by coronavirus, this bill permits a bar licensee, under certain conditions, to delay making their renewal fee payment in 2020.
Have a great day! I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know.