Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We’ve reached the end of week four of the 2016 General Session. In my experience, the next few weeks promise to be quite a whirlwind of hearings, debates, and decisions.
From here on out, we’ll meet exclusively in Standing Committee meetings and on the Senate floor for deliberations. The standing committees I sit on are Business and Labor, Retirement and Independent Entities and Revenue and Taxation.
Here’s a link to next week’s Senate Schedule. Feel free to visit the Capitol to participate in public comment on bills you care about, or to observe debate during our floor time.
If you haven’t been reading the Senate’s daily journal pages and issue posts, I’d invite you to do so. You can find these posts at www.senatesite.com, the Senate’s blog.
Fun sidenotes: This summer, the Senate held a statewide art scholarship competition. Students from 9th-12th grade all over Utah participated, and 21 of the best and brightest were awarded with scholarships, which were presented on the Senate floor. Here’s a blog post from the Senate Site which includes all of the incredible artwork.
Did you know that the Senate Floor has a 24/7 live webcam that you can control right from your computer? Visit the SenateCam here.
Find more information about the legislative process at the Legislative Guide via our website.
I’ll be holding my next town hall meeting:
Thursday February 25th at 7:00 p.m.
Jamestown Courtyard, Wednesday
March 2nd at 7:00 p.m.
at Provo City Library
Saturday, March 5th at 9:00 a.m.
Thursday, March 17th 7:00 p.m.
Orem City Council Chambers.
Please join me! Bring your friends, thoughts, and ideas and we will have a great discussion.
Major Issues Updates
3SB 89, Medical Cannabidiol Amendments, Senator Vickers
This week the Senate started the floor debate on medical marijuana. Senator Vickers’ bill, 3SB 89 Medical Cannabidiol Amendments, was the first medical marijuana bill to be debated on the floor this session. Vickers began his presentation by moving to adopt his third substitute to the bill which primarily made changes to the licensing process. Senator Jenkins also made a motion to change the bill to say that distributors at dispensaries need to wear lab coats as a standard of professionalism which passed unanimously. Vickers explained that his bill would allow for a 10 to 1 CBD to THC ration, with a cap at 5% for THC. This bill is intended to be a moderate step to legalizing medicinal marijuana. The rationale is that if it is a medicine it should be treated like a medicine. This bill would provide de-identified data on medical marijuana use for big data studies that could help doctors and scientists to better understand marijuana.
This bill was thoroughly vetted by senators. Senator Knudson inquired about what will happen if both 3SB 89 and 1SB73 pass, will the sponsors of each bill work together to find a compromise? Senator Vickers affirmed that he would be willing to work with Senator Madsen in the event that both bills pass. Senator Escamilla voiced concern over the lack of a fiscal note and wanted to know how many people would benefit. Previous versions of 3SB 89 have had fiscal notes, but due to the substitute there is no fiscal note immediately available for the latest version. This bill would potentially benefit between 10,000-20,000 patients in Utah. Senator Dabakis asked if Senator Vickers is taking all of the fun stuff out of marijuana. He also expressed concern that we stand the possibility of eliminating the element that actually helps patients. Senator Stephenson spoke to his concern over opioid overdoses. Certain studies indicate that states where THC is legal see a 25% drop in opioid overdoses. From Stephenson’s experience, opioids are “passed out like candy” here in Utah and he hopes to see medical marijuana help in the fight against the opioid crisis. Senator Urquhart referenced the experiences some mothers have related about their experience with marijuana oils to treat seizures. Some mothers saw the need for CBD with THC in order for the entourage effect to kick in, while other mothers found that CBD alone is enough to prevent seizures in their children. This bill passed the second reading 26-3 (watch the debate here) and has been moved to the third reading calendar. Hereis an article about the floor time debate.
1SB 73, Medical Cannabis Act, Senator Madsen
Senator Madsen’s bill 1SB 73, Medical Cannabis Act was also presented on the Senate floor this week. He began by offering seven amendments to his bill. These amendments came from suggestions from his colleagues. Several of the amendments stemmed from concerns raised at an informal meeting that Senator Madsen hosted this past week in an effort to offer clarifications on his bill. These amendments included changing the zoning requirements, removing certain protections for employees who use medical marijuana, clarifying inspection requirements, altering the organization of the Compassionate Use Board, and modifying the form of cannabis that will be available. Amendment 7 modifies the form of cannabis available to eliminate the whole plant usage. The benefit of the whole plant would still be available via cannabis extract products, but the flower itself would not be permitted. It would still permit vaping, edibles, and oils as before, but now they would come in medical dosage form. These amendments all passed on the floor. This does not mean that the bill itself passes, it merely allows for changes to the bill.
This bill was heavily debated, but due to lack of time the bill was circled and no vote was taken on the bill. This means that the bill will likely be debated at a future time when all Senators who would like to speak to the bill or ask a question about the bill have time to do so. Of the Senators who did have the opportunity to speak, Senator Knudson, who voted against medical marijuana last year, spoke up in favor of this bill during the debate. He would like to see the pain and agony of many suffering alleviated by medical marijuana. Senator Weiler praised Senator Madsen for improving this bill with the amendments. He warned the legislature that if they do not pass a medical marijuana bill this session it will go to public initiative which concerns him. His own constituency is largely in favor of medical marijuana and now that the bill has been amended he can support it. Senator Mayne also spoke in favor of the bill in part because of her own experience from when her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. One of his oncologist recommended he go find marijuana to make his final days easier, though he chose to abstain because of his position as a state senator. Senator Henderson explained that she came to the floor as a hard no on the bill, but after seeing such positive changes to the bill decided to ask further questions to better understand the bill. She inquired about the impact on K-9 searches, the DUI metabolite statute, and if Utah would recognize out-of-state marijuana cards. She also questioned as to why synthetic THC, Marinol, is not sufficient, why is the natural THC necessary. Senator Madsen explained that synthetic THC does come with an intense and harsh high, but using natural THC with other extracts from marijuana work better because of the entourage effect. Once again there were still several senators interested in debating the bill and so the bill was circled so that it can be discussed further before the vote. You can watch the debate here.
Medical Marijuana in the News:
SB 107, Hate Crime Amendments, Senator Urquhart
Senator Urquhart’s SB 107 Hate Crime Amendments bill received some push back this week. The bill changes the existing hate crime law to include nine identifiers, an expansion from the original five. The nine identifiers include ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identification, national origin, race, religion, and sexual orientation. The bill also seeks to increase the level of punishment by one degree if prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one of the motivations behind the crime stemmed from hate of one of the nine identifiers. Urquhart says this bill will not conflict with first amendment rights.
This past week the LDS church released a statement in response to media inquiries expressing concern about any legislation that could potentially upset the compromise reached with the Anti-Discrimination and Religious Liberty bill that passed last year. While the LDS church did not specifically oppose SB 107, Senator Urquhart in a press conference says the statement “effectively snuffed out” all of his effort in creating this bill. This bill passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation 5-1-1 and is awaiting consideration on the floor. To listen to his committee presentation click here.
1HB 14, Wildlife Amendments, Floor Sponsor Senator Hinkins
This week the Senate considered 1HB 14 Wildlife Amendments. This bill clarifies that a license, permit, tag, or certificate of registration issued by the Division of Wildlife Resources is a privilege and not a right. It also states that points credited to a person to improve their chances of receiving a hunting permit may not be transferred, sold or assigned to another person. Senator Jenkins proposed an amendment to the bill that would remove 12 and 13 year olds from consideration in the bill due to limited points and permits. Several senators spoke against the amendment, expressing a desire to allow interested youth to participate in hunting. The amendment failed, but 1HB 14 passed both the second and third reading on the Senate floor. The bill has now been approved in both chambers and will be submitted to the Governor for his signature. Listen to the debate hereor read about it here.
Wildlife Amendments in the News:
SB 111, Guardianship – Right of Association, Senator Weiler
Senator Weiler presented SB 111, Guardianship – Right of Association, in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee on Thursday. He began his testimony with a personal comment. He said that he spent the last weekend with his ailing mother. He also mentioned that his father passed away a little over a year ago. He said, “I could not imagine if someone was telling me, as my parents were dying, that I couldn’t see them. But that is happening in our country.” SB 111 is designed to address this issue.
Senator Weiler invited Catherine Falk to address the committee. Catherine is the daughter of Peter Falk, famous for starring in the TV series Columbo. Catherine related the experience that she had in trying to visit her father who was dealing with medical issues including Alzheimer’s. Mr. Falk’s second wife did not want his daughters to be able to visit him freely and Catherine spent over $100,000 of her own money on attorney’s fees in fighting for the right to visit her father. Catherine pointed out that she did not want to obtain a conservatorship or power over Mr. Falk’s assets, she really just wanted to have the freedom to visit her father. She said, “Our bill is designed to stop bad guardians from isolating their wards with no accountability for their actions.” She went on to say that, “It protects the growing number of people who are currently falling through the cracks and they have absolutely nowhere to go for help. Our bill is not designed to make it harder for good guardians to do their job. Our bill helps to impede those who are wrongly isolating their wards with no accountability.”
She explained that the bill requires the guardian to provide the burden of proof to the judge in order to override an incapacitated person’s wishes.
In further explaining the bill, Senator Weiler pointed out that when a guardianship is initially established, if the guardian has a concern about visitation, this bill requires them to raise those concerns at the initial court hearing. This gives the guardian the option to restrict visitation if the court determines that the restriction is warranted.
Kent Alderman, an attorney specializing in elder law, spoke in opposition to the bill. Mr. Alderman said that he has experience representing both sides of this issue, the guardians wishing to restrict access and the wards or relatives who have been blocked from visitation. He said that most everything stated by the sponsor and Catherine Falk are true but that he believes that this bill is not the appropriate remedy. He stated that the bill should be referred to the Utah State Bar’s Elder Law section. He said that the best way to provide solutions for this issue is to provide more training for guardians.
Members of the commercial guardianship industry gave testimony that changes should be made to the bill to more closely match standards in the guardianship industry. Senator Hillyard expressed his frustration that their assumptions were that every ward had a professional guardian and he said that most people cannot afford a professional guardian.
In closing, Senator Weiler pointed out that he is always willing to listen to those who have input on ways to improve the bill. He said that in the last two weeks, none of the members of the Elder Law section of the Utah State Bar were willing to meet with him to discuss possible changes. He also said that he will continue to work with all stakeholders involved to improve the bill, even if it passes favorably out of committee.
The committee passed the bill with a favorable recommendation on a vote of 7-0.
Listen to the committee meeting here.
Guardianship in the News:
SB 94, Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras, Senator Thatcher
Law enforcement use of body cameras has been gaining interest nationwide and this session there are two competing body cam bills. Senator Thatcher has sponsored SB 94, Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras and Rep. McCay has sponsored HB 300, Body-worn Cameras for Law Enforcement Officers.
Senator Thatcher’s legislation includes a “presumption of privacy” that would “give citizens some defense against having the worst moments of their lives played out on the news.” The bill makes private any video from a body-worn camera that contains images of nudity, death, or gruesome events. The bill also stipulates that law enforcement agencies shall have written policies for the storage and retention of video and audio and policies and procedures for officers wearing body cameras.
Rep. McCay’s bill is different in that it has minimum state guidelines for the use of body cameras for all agencies within the state. It also requires that body-cam video be released to the public in certain circumstances where there is a significant public interest.
Rep. McCay talked about a study conducted in Rialto, California in 2012. For one year, the Rialto police force had 54 front-line officers that were assigned randomly to wear or not wear body cameras. Nearly a thousand shifts were monitored. All 54 officers experienced work with and without body cameras. Rep. McCay said that the results of the study were quite dramatic. There was a significant drop in use-of-force incident complaints over previous years. Use of force incidents roughly doubled when body cameras were not worn by front-line officers. The agency found that the use of body cameras will allow for better training procedures, allowing new officers see real-world incidents and appropriate responses to those incidents. It also allows an officer to study footage of their own actions giving them the tools to analyze and improve their own performance.
One possible negative consequence of body cameras found in the study is that video had the potential of carrying more weight as evidence than officer testimony which was deemed sufficient in most cases before wide use of cameras. This brought up the question, would district attorneys be reluctant to prosecute when there is no evidence from body-worn devices to corroborate the testimony of the officer.
Tom Ross, the Chief of Police of the City of Bountiful and the President of the State Chiefs of Police Association spoke about the perspective of law enforcement. He said that the quest comes down to privacy vs. transparency. He explained it as, “the need to see what law enforcement does and feel good about the services that our law enforcement officers provide against how much of that we take away from the privacy of our residents.” He went on to say that the single biggest issue to residents that he has spoken to is the need for privacy.
Chief Ross also brought up the issues inherent in making changes in state code as opposed to making those changes in POST policy. POST policy allows for changes with new technology without the need to wait for legislative session to change State code.
Body Cameras in the News:
SB45, Compulsory Education Revisions, Senator Jackson
Senator Jackson presented before the Senate Education Committee. This bill SB45removes the language from our code that specifies the punishment for parents who fail to register their children for school. This bill passed out of the Senate and will be considered next by the House.
Compulsory Education in the News:
Smoking in Public Places
SB61 Smoking in Public Places Amendments, Senator Vickers
This bill bans smoking inside the SLC airport. The SLC airport is one of five airports across the nation that allows smoking rooms and two of these five—Denver and Ft. Worth—will be prohibiting smoking rooms soon. Senator Vickers said the bill would allow people to smoke outside the airport–though they may have to re-enter security. The discussion on the floor centered on the proper place of government in regulating someone’s choice to smoke and the perception of our state in the eyes of the travelling public. The bill was defeated on the second reading but a motion was made to reconsider it on the floor.
Smoking in Public Places in the News:
School Building Location
SB86, School Building Coordination, Senator Jackson
This bill requires a school district to notify the department of transportation as they select a location for a school. The intent of this bill is to allow UDOT to create a plan for providing adequate transportation infrastructure prior to the construction of the school rather than after the school is built. The construction of new schools can often impose a significant transportation burden on a community and UDOT, especially when stoplights and intersections are required to accommodate the increased traffic. Senator Jackson pointed out that some school districts already do this as a matter of practice but most do not. The Senate passed this bill and it will be heard next in the House.
Thank you for tuning in to my update this week. Please follow along all things Utah Senate by connecting to us wherever you live on social media by visitingwww.senatecloud.com. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and all sorts of other sites.
Again, I’ll be holding my next town hall meeting on Thursday, February 25th at 7:00 p.m. at Jamestown Courtyard 3352 N. 100 E. in Provo. Please join me!
Bring your friends, thoughts, and ideas and let’s have a great discussion.
I can also be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (801) 376-8297. You’re welcome to join me at the Capitol any time this session – you would be a welcome guest.
If you’d like to meet with me, you can reach out to my intern, Zac Fender (801) 361-5802.
It is a pleasure representing our community here on the Hill. The experience is both gratifying and humbling.
Utah State Senate, District 16