Utah’s 45-day legislative session came to an end Thursday night, with a myriad of bills passing dealing with everything from alcohol policy to abortion restrictions to funding for a Provo Airport expansion.
Provo Airport Funding — passed
Provo hopes to break ground on an airport expansion project by the end of the year, and the last piece of funding needed to do that was approved by the Legislature on Thursday night. Senate Bill 262 deals with transportation projects, including $9 million for “infrastructure improvements related to the Provo Airport.”
Phase one of the project would expand the airport from one gate to four, with $8 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants already approved, along with $4.3 million funding from Utah County and $19 million from Provo. Phase one of the expansion could be completed as soon as 2020.
“I’m beyond excited about the Legislature’s bold decision to support Provo’s airport,” Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said in a prepared statement. “This landmark decision stands to impact our region in a positive way for decades to come.”
Post-disaster funding for cities and counties — passed
Counties and cities will now be able to apply for state funds following a large-scale disaster.
House Bill 305 sets aside $300,000 per year to go into a post disaster recovery and mitigation fund. The fund caps out at $10 million. The bill sponsor, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, was inspired by the plight several smaller Utah County cities found themselves in after the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires. Because of those cities’ small budgets, cities like Woodland Hills have struggled to come up with even the match for federal emergency funds that will fund projects to prevent mudslides and debris flow in burn scar areas.
That bill now heads to Gov. Gary Herbert for a signature.
Public records bill for private universities — passed
Brigham Young University’s police department will now subject to public records laws, the same as any other state-certified police department in the state.
Senate Bill 197, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, requires law enforcement agencies from private universities to be subject to governmental records provisions. In a lawsuit against The Salt Lake Tribune, BYU had previously argued that as a private institution, its police department was not required to provide certain records. That bill now heads to the governor for a signature.
Abortion bills — passed
The Legislature passed two bills having to do with abortion. House Bill 166 looks to ban abortions sought solely because of a Down syndrome diagnosis, while House Bill 136 would ban most abortions after 18 weeks. HB 136 is expected to face litigation challenging its constitutionality.
Those bills will now heads to the governor for a signature.
Limiting Medicaid expansion — passed
At the beginning of the legislative session, lawmakers made sweeping changes to a Medicaid expansion initiative that had recently been approved by a majority of Utah voters. The Legislature’s plan would extend Medicaid coverage to an additional 80,000 people, while allowing another 70,000 people to buy heavily subsidized insurance on the federal health care marketplace created under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
The ballot measure would have fully expanded Medicaid to about 150,000 people who make less than $17,000 per year. Herbert has already signed this bill into law, saying it “balances Utah’s sense of compassion and frugality.”
Alcohol and tobacco amendments — passed
The Legislature passed a bill allowing for beer with a slightly higher alcohol content to be sold in grocery stores. The bill raises the alcohol limit from 3.2 to 4 percent by weight starting in November. As many other states have moved away from 3.2 percent beer, it was worried that selection would drop in Utah as major beer manufacturers quit producing 3.2 percent beer. An original plan to raise the grocery store alcohol limits to 4.8 percent was scrapped earlier in the session.
While increasing alcohol limits, the Legislature took steps to make it harder for young adults to obtain cigarettes. House Bill 324 raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 19 to 21 years old. Those bills now head to the governor for a signature.
Tax reform — failed
Though tax reform was much talked about heading into the legislative session, a bill unveiled in the latter days of the session failed to gain approval. The ambitious tax plan would have lowered sales and income tax rates but started taxing most services.
The tax plan was halted so lawmakers can study the issue, likely returning to it during a special session later this year.
Hate crimes bill — passed
Senate Bill 103 passed Wednesday, the results of a several year effort to pass stronger hate crime legislation in Utah. The legislation creates stronger penalties for people convicted of targeting someone because of factors such as sexual orientation, race, political expression or religion.
It gained traction after a Latino man was attacked in Salt Lake City in November by a man who acknowledged he wanted to “kill Mexicans.” The current state law could not be used to charge the man with a hate crime because it did not protect specific groups. That bill now heads to the governor for a signature.
Conversion therapy bill — failed
A bill to ban gay conversion therapy on minors stalled following changes in a House committee that supporters said undermined the original intent of the bill. The bill never cleared the full House.