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Bill requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains passes through Utah Senate

A substitute version of a bill that would require medical facilities to either bury or cremate fetal remains from miscarriages or abortions passed through the Utah Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 67, which is sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, would leave the decision of what happens to the remains up to the woman who had the abortion or miscarriage. The Senate voted 22-6 in favor of an amended version of the bill on Tuesday during the bill’s third reading.

“(The) overarching impact of this bill is that it requires the remains of an unborn child, whether that child’s life is forfeit through an abortion or tragically ended through a miscarriage, ... to be treated with dignity,” Bramble said on Monday, when the bill passed through the Senate on its second reading.

Opponents of the bill argue that women having abortions or going through miscarriages should not be burdened with questions about what to do with the remains.

During a committee hearing on SB 67 on Jan. 31, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, read a letter addressed to the committee written by Utah-based obstetrician/gynecologist Howard Sharp, who called it “extremely inappropriate” to require doctors to ask about what to do with fetal remains “if it was not requested by the person having the miscarriage.”

“Forcing that discussion upon people at that moment … Well, it is hard for me to think of something more inappropriate,” Sharpe wrote.

Bramble said the bill is intended to give women more autonomy over what happens to the remains. He told the story of a friend who had a miscarriage while visiting Utah in 2012 for a legislative conference and the legal hoops she had to go through to transport the fetus back to her home state of Indiana.

“We found that the law didn’t allow for it,” Bramble said on Monday, “because, you see, the law treats those remains as nothing more than medical waste.”

There is a misconception that the bill would require women to choose what happens with the remains, Bramble said, adding that it gives women the option of choosing what to do with the remains but doesn’t require them to make a choice.

“It doesn’t mandate anything on the woman,” Bramble said on Tuesday.

Bramble added an amendment to the bill that “makes it crystal clear” that a woman wouldn’t have to choose what to do with the remains, he said. The amendment puts language in the bill clarifying that a woman would make a decision if she “has a preference for the disposition,” according to the bill’s text.

Bramble also changed the ways in which women would be notified of their ability to make a decision. In addition to informing a patient through a written statement, health care facilities would have the option of informing them through “an in-person consultation with a physician” or with a mental health therapist.

In a statement released Monday after SB 67 passed through its second reading, Alliance for a Better Utah Policy Director Lauren Simpson questioned the motivation behind the bill and said its “true purpose” is to “chip away at women’s reproductive rights.”

“This bill is not about supporting patients,” Simpson said. “It removes choices currently available to women and instead imposes an ideological mandate on a deeply personal experience.”

Now that it has passed through the Senate, SB 67 will go to the House for discussion and vote.

Springville considering ordinance to regulate short-term rentals

Like many other cities in Utah and throughout the country, Springville is looking for ways to regulate short-term rentals in a way that satisfies both property owners looking to rent out their homes and those who want to maintain tranquility in their neighborhoods.

For the last year and a half, Weston Ostler has listed his six-bedroom, 8,000-plus square-foot home, which he and his family no longer live in, on Airbnb for groups of 10 to 30 people to rent out on a per-night basis. Most of the guests are older adults and their children who are in town for family reunions or weddings, Ostler said.

The house is equipped with an indoor basketball court, theater room and inflatable bounce houses. In the backyard, there’s an outdoor kitchen, two gas fire pits and a pool with an artificial rock slide.

“We really just want to cater to people that want to get together as a family and have fun under one roof,” he said.

The short-term rental property has raised concern from some neighbors, including Michael Whiting. When 25 guests show up and invite their friends over, it doesn’t take long before “there’s a continual large party going on in their backyard,” he said.

“And so the concern has been that this has moved from something which is sort of a short-term Airbnb to something which is more akin to a business which is operating as an event venue where we, as the neighbors, seem to have no recourse,” Whiting said.

Ostler said he and his wife regulate the property, installed a camera and have rules in place to prevent guests from being a nuisance. Guests aren’t allowed outside after 10 p.m., the backyard gates are locked at all times, and all cars (limited to eight) must be parked in the driveway and not the street. Neighbors have complained about guests inviting other people over, he said, but that isn’t the case.

“I don’t think it is accurate,” said Ostler. “This notion that we’re hosting groups of 60 people and it’s just these crazy parties that are out of control. That is just not happening.”

But Whiting said, from his perspective, there is a constant party going on at the property adjacent to his.

“It is like we are living the Fourth of July, all day, every day,” he said in an email.

While not the only short-term rental in Springville, Ostler’s property has been the catalyst for city officials, residents and investors to have a discussion over how to regulate such properties. According to Josh Yost, Springville’s community development director, there are no ordinances in place to regulate Airbnb rentals.

“We’re just (now) going through the process of evaluating what’s going on and looking at our options to regulate what we refer to as short-terms rentals,” Yost said.

While the city generally interprets its code as not permitting the short-term rental of single-family homes, officials are not enforcing this rule and are, instead, waiting to get a fresh policy on the books, said Yost.

In January, the city hosted a public workshop for residents on both sides of the issue to make their cases. In the upcoming weeks, the Springville City Council will use this input from residents to potentially craft an ordinance regulating short-term rentals, according to Yost.

“The general consensus, I believe, is that they could be permitted with certain regulations,” he said, adding that it isn’t yet clear what those regulations would be.

Different cities have taken different approaches to dealing with Airbnb rentals. Provo’s municipal code states that “it is unlawful to maintain a short-term rental dwelling in any agricultural or residential zone.”

In August 2018, the Sandy City Council passed an ordinance allowing for short-term rentals that meet strict requirements. These requirements include that the home must be owner-occupied, all parking must be off the street and guest count must be limited to eight family members or four nonfamily members.

Ostler said he checked with and received approval from the city before listing his property on Airbnb, adding that he is willing to work with both neighbors and city officials to address concerns with his property being rented out.

While some neighbors have been supportive and even used the property themselves, Ostler said others have made it “very clear” that there is nothing he can do to appease them. He said his family has even gotten hate mail over the property.

“There’s no amount of cameras to add or rules to enforce,” Ostler said. “They simply just want it shut down and for it to be gone.”

Ostler added that he believes he should be able to decide how to use his property, into which he has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“For us, it comes down to property rights,” Ostler said. “So long as we’re not causing major problems (or) infringing on anyone else’s rights, we feel like we should be able to use our property the way that we feel like we would like to.”

Whiting said he has no issue with Airbnbs in general but that they need to be regulated by the city.

“I’m not taking the position that short-term rentals should not be allowed in Springville city,” said Whiting. “My position is that, much as in all the other cities within Utah, there needs to be some sort of regulation. There needs to be some sort of way to make sure that the neighborhoods are protected.”

Provo City School District, Redevelopment Agency enter into inter local agreement

The Provo City School District approved an interlocal agreement between the district and Provo City Redevelopment Agency during a meeting Tuesday.

Provo City Redevelopment Agency requested the interlocal agreement with the Provo City School District for the newly created Provo Medical School Community Reinvestment Project area, some housing changes and upgrades to a city golf course.

The total cumulative tax increment to be paid to project developers is set at 70% participation over 12 years with a set maximum amount of $4,498,911, with the deferment of funds ceasing at whichever event occurs first, district business administrator Stefanie Bryant said.

This does not mean 70% of property taxes will be redirected to the Redevelopment Agency, however. Rather, she said, 70% of the difference between the tax revenue provided to the school district through property tax after 2020 will be allocated to the developer. The district will continue to collect 30% of the difference until 2032.

Currently, the project area has a taxable value of about $3,421,500, which generates around $26,000 in tax revenue for the district, according to the proposal documents.

At the end of the tax increment period, taxes are estimated to be about $685,000, annually. New tax collections for the 12-year period are estimated to be around $80,000 in the first year to $200,000 in the final year.

Bryant said interlocal agreements like this are meant to entice developers to complete projects within certain jurisdictions to help boost the area’s economy and provide jobs.

“The theory is if that tax increment is provided to the developer for a set period of time, written in the agreement, they will get a sort of tax break to come and build and develop within our economy,” she said.

The interlocal agreement will go into effect for the 2021 tax year and occur through 2032 as long as the deferred funds remain within the maximum amount.

The district allows for a one-year buffer to allow for the developers to begin their projects before the tax increments take effect, which Bryant said usually takes anywhere from six months to a year.

In the Provo City School District, there are guidelines to help school board members decide whether to approve the interlocal agreement or not, Bryant said.

First, the Redevelopment Agency is required to come to the district and present its proposal to the board. Provo City as well as the developers have met with the board in prior public meetings to provide details of the project area.

The district also has a maximum percent participation of 75%, meaning the agency cannot expect more than 75% of the property tax differential, and a maximum timeline of 15 years.

In the series of decisions, the Provo City School Board has the final say, but the agreement will be turned over to Utah County officials, who will oversee the implementation of the agreement as the county is the entity that collects the applicable taxes.

Orem council hears proposal for Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council

In 1980, a proposal was put forward in Orem to organize neighborhoods into a program called Neighborhoods In Action. The city council at the time did not approve the proposal. A similar measure was eventually passed by the council in 1998.

The Neighborhoods In Action program organized neighbors for things like spring and fall cleanups, neighborhood parties and meetings on issues of concern.

That program, according to discussion at Tuesday’s Orem City Council meeting, has lagged in the past few years.

A new proposal is being put forward hoping to develop greater neighborhood representation. It also hopes to connect that representation to city leaders on issues in various neighborhoods throughout Orem.

It’s called the Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council. It would be made up of nine residents representing the nine districts in the city — a step up from the past NIA proposals, according to city spokesperson Steven Downs.

Under the plan, those nine neighborhood representatives would serve three-year terms. They would be selected by the council through an application process.

Applicants must show their interest and knowledge of the community through an interview process. Those representatives will also be evaluated on their knowledge of ongoing issues, as well as communication skills and creative thinking, according to Downs.

Modern technology, and the way the city communicates with its residents, has changed significantly over the last 20 years, according to Downs. The city now has emails, newsletters, a 311 information line and surveys replacing how neighborhoods communicate.

Under the NIA program, chairmen, assistant chairmen and secretaries from 22 neighborhoods designed to fit LDS Church Stake borders are used. In all, when fully staffed, more than 250 people were responding to issues in their neighborhoods.

Those church-drawn boundaries have been done away with by the new NPAC proposal.

“Rarely before would they say they had the pulse of the neighborhood,” Downs said. “We’re modernizing the NIA program because we can get results in a different way and neighborhood goals will be shared.”

The neighborhood organization represents all of the residents, according to Downs.

Representatives can get more specific concerns taken care of and become more deeply involved under the new program.

Downs said the program is still receiving its final tweaks and is a work in progress, but he would like to have the council’s input on the program as a whole.

Council members would also be assigned to the districts as part of their annual assignments from the mayor.

“We are still trying to do the same thing (as NIA) but with more efficiency,” Downs said.

The council gave a positive response to the presentation and encouraged Downs to continue with the final tweaks to the program.

“The next step is to make it formal,” Downs said. “I feel this can bridge the old NIA and the new program.”

District judge dismisses libel lawsuit filed by former Utah County Commissioner

After almost eight months, a district judge ruled to dismiss a libel lawsuit filed by former Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves against his fellow commissioners.

The suit, which was filed in June, named the Utah County government, Nathan Ivie, William Lee and an employee with the county, with whom Graves claimed fellow commissioners acted in hostility, releasing malicious information about him.

In a previous meeting held in November, 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen listened to arguments from Graves’ attorney Ryan Schriever and defense attorney Andrew Morse to decide if the lawsuit met the requirements for invasion or privacy, libel and defamation.

According to court documents, Graves had a “contentious relationship” and “many political disagreements” with fellow commissioners, namely Lee and Ivie. In an internal misconduct report — conducted by an independent workplace investigator — it was found that Graves was widely viewed as the workplace bully, displaying “intimidating,” “explosive” and “threatening” behavior.

The controversy surrounding Graves came to a climax in October 2017 when a female employee came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, alleging that Graves made inappropriate comments toward her. The workplace investigator, however, was unable to find any eyewitnesses to confirm or deny Graves’ involvement in “various allegations of sexual or suggestive comments and behaviors.”

The commissioners named in the suit released a redacted version of the misconduct report, later identifying Graves as the subject of the report. Graves argued that the female employe’s allegations were falsified in an attempt to remove him from his position and other commissioners released the information with the intention of damaging his reputation.

Morse argued that his clients’ actions, including their social media posts, are protected under the Governmental Immunity Act. Not only was the public already aware that Graves was the subject of the investigation, but sharing known information with constituents would not put the commissioners at fault.

Following the November meeting, Lunnen had 60 days to complete further research and issue a final decision. Lunnen called a hearing on provisions scheduled for Monday afternoon within the 60 days, looking to specifically touch on provision 63G-7-201 in regards to immunity of government entities and employees from suit.

In section four of the provision, Utah code states a governmental entity, its officers and its employees are immune from suit for any injury caused by a negligent act committed within the scope of employment. This section specifically states that a governmental entity and its employees are not exempt from immunity when judicial or administrative action is taken — even if malicious or without probable cause — or a misrepresentation is made by an employee, whether or not it is negligent or intentional.

“The judge found it really significant that Mr. Graves was a public official at the time, and he found it very important that the public had an interest in knowing what is happening with public officials,” Schriever said.

Based on Utah code, Morse said, the court verbally dismissed the allegations. The next step in the case involves Morse drafting documents outlining the terms of the dismissal. These documents will then be presented to Schriever to negotiate specific terms before they are set before Lunnen to make changes or to sign.

Schriever said he knew it was a difficult case from the beginning. However, both Schriever and his client felt the two other commissions acted outside of their governmental duties by releasing Graves’ identity as the subject of the misconduct investigation after voting to redact the information in the initially released copy of the report. These actions, he said, caused a lot of embarrassment for Graves.

“We appreciate the judge putting a lot of thought into his decision,” Schriever said. “We’re now evaluating the next steps in the case.”

The Utah County government and the government employees named in the suit are pleased with the outcome of the Court’s decision, Morse said.