Utah’s 45-day legislative session is more than half over. Here are a few highlights thus far:
The legislature is constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget. This was the first year the legislature included $95 million in new money for education growth and inflation in the base budgets. In addition, they also included an increase in per-pupil spending to restore last year’s 6 percent WPU increase that was cut due to COVID budgeting precautions. Overall, the base budgets were over half a billion dollars in new state spending for high priority items such as education, Medicaid and COVID-19 response.
$43 Million Tax Cut Proposed
The first bill debated in the Senate on the first day of the session was S.B. 11, Retirement Income Tax Requirements, which seeks to remove the tax on Military Retirement Income and reduces the tax on Social Security Income. This bill would create a $43 million tax cut. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.
One bill that received considerable debate was S.B. 107, In-person Instruction Prioritization. This bill gives parents the option of taking their students out of online-only schools and moving them to another school that offers in-person instruction. Funding would then follow the student to the new school. The bill does not force any student to return to in-person learning, it simply gives parents options if their students are struggling under the online format. This bill would only apply to the Salt Lake School District as all other school districts offer in-person learning options. The bill passed a senate committee and is waiting to be passed by the full senate.
Mental Health Services
S.B. 53 Behavioral Emergency Services Amendments makes additional mental health crisis training available for emergency services professionals. Agencies throughout Utah can create teams of appropriately trained professionals to respond specifically to mental health emergencies. These professionals will be licensed to triage people and get them the resources they need. This bill has passed both the House and the Senate.
Additionally, S.B. 41 Mental Health Access Amendments, requires health benefit plans to cover telehealth services for mental health treatment if the plan also covers in-person treatment of the same mental health conditions. This bill passed the Senate and is now awaiting a vote in the House.
Financial Relief for Businesses Harmed by COVID-19
Over the last year, the state legislature made efforts to provide economic support to businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19. S.B. 25 Corporate Tax Amendments, provides more targeted relief to businesses by allowing them to carry back a Utah net loss realized during 2020 for up to three years. The idea is if a business was profitable in the three years leading up to 2020, but then suffered a loss in 2020, the loss is very likely to have been caused by the economic hardship brought about by the pandemic. This bill has passed the Senate and a House committee.
Sarah Frei and her parents joined the legislature in person as the Senate passed H.B. 47 DUI Revisions, nicknamed “Sarah’s Bill.” Last summer, Sarah and three of her friends were hit head-on by a drunk driver, paralyzing Sarah from the waist down and resulting in the loss of her legs. The drunk driver had a blood-alcohol level four times higher than the legal limit but was released on bail while still under the influence. H.B. 47 would deny bail to drunk drivers who injured or killed someone until they have gone before a magistrate (civil officer or judge). This bill underwent changes in the Senate which the House refused to concur with. The bill is back in the Senate for further consideration.
Statewide call for Volunteer Vaccination Distributors
Governor Cox announced Utah’s goal to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to every adult who wants one in the state by the end of May. In order to reach this objective, Lt. Governor Henderson issued an official call to action for volunteers who are licensed medical professionals to administer COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, the state is also looking for anyone willing to assist in tasks required within the vaccine distribution process, regardless of medical licensing or experience. Those interested can register at utahresponds.org.