This time of year is known for new beginnings. Spring is just days away, which means flowers are budding, plants are breaking through the earth and birds are returning to roost in trees across the valley.
But we’d like to focus on the closing of a chapter — the last 45-day-long Utah legislative session.
Myriad bills were tackled at the Capitol. Some passed with flying colors, while others hardly saw the light of day. Some were the butt of many jokes, such as the red-light running bill, while others were adjoined with the fervor and passion of many support groups, like the Medicaid expansion reversal or conversion therapy bill.
We would like to use this opportunity to discuss our impressions of this legislative session and how it pertains to Utah’s future.
Public records bill for private universities
We opined recently about why we believe Brigham Young University’s University Police should be decertified after many accounts and reports that at least one officer in the department used police databases to access records of students before turning said records in to the Honor Code and Title IX offices.
When questioned why this activity was continuing and after The Salt Lake Tribune attempted to request public records from the university, the university said that its police force belongs to BYU, which makes its records private.
We don’t have the room in this editorial to explain why they are unequivocally wrong, but the Legislature clearly agrees with us and with those asking for transparency from BYU after approving Senate Bill 197 with flying colors. We are supporters and advocates for transparency. We are elated that this bill, should it be made law by Gov. Gary Herbert, will require BYU police to be subject to public records laws, just like any other state-certified police department.
Post-disaster funding for cities and counties
Last year was disastrous for southern Utah County after the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires burned more than 120,000 acres combined. This year, residents of Elk Ridge, Woodland Hills, and other smaller communities along the ridges of the fire line now face danger again as the threat of mudslides and debris flows loom with increased spring rain and summer storms.
Those small cities could not even match the federal emergency funds to prevent further catastrophes. But thanks to House Bill 305, $300,000 per year, with a cap of $10 million, will be set aside for a post-disaster recovery and mitigation fund for smaller Utah cities to prevent more disasters from threatening their residents. We hope these funds help the citizens of these cities and Utah County as a whole feel safer should disaster follow disasters.
Hate crime legislation
After nearly stalling out, Senate Bill 103 passed on one of the last days of the session, creating stronger penalties for people convicted of targeting someone based on their sexual orientation, race, political expression or religion.
A Latino man was attacked in November by another man who said he wanted to “kill Mexicans,” but current state law could not be used to charge the man with a hate crime. SB 103 gives more teeth in prosecution of such acts.
After the devastating acts against the Muslim community in New Zealand, this is just another reminder that hateful acts should not be tolerated. It should not matter the color of one’s skin, where they worship, who they vote for or who they love — hating someone for such traits is vile and wrong. We are glad to see our lawmakers take up action and send a message that hateful, violent acts will not be tolerated in Utah.
Tobacco and alcohol measures
Again, we recently provided our impressions of local and state measures involving alcohol and tobacco laws. We wrote that we felt restricting beer to 3.2 percent alcohol by weight was akin to policing morality. Restricting sales of beer with higher alcohol content to the state liquor store restricted market entry and product availability while exacerbating consumer demand.
A sort of compromise was passed, allowing the alcohol limit to be raised from 3.2 to 4 percent by weight starting in November. This will likely bring more brews back to shelves and we believe it is a fair compromise between opposing viewpoints.
On the other hand, we concur with Lehi, Cedar Hills and now the Legislature in curbing teen vaping by raising the legal age of tobacco purchase to 21.
Smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable illnesses in the U.S., attributing to 480,000 deaths each year, according to the CDC. Raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products will hopefully curb early exposure to nicotine and to what can become a deadly habit.
Limited Medicaid expansion
What happened with the Medicaid expansion initiative, which was widely supported by Utah voters last November, is a flashpoint of how, despite their best attempts at attempting good governance for the people, Utah’s legislators can get it completely wrong and undermine our form of government.
Sweeping changes were made early in the legislative session to the Medicaid expansion plan. Rather than expanding Medicaid and providing health care services to about 150,000 fellow Utahns, only another 80,000 will receive the Medicaid expanded coverage, while 70,000 can buy heavily subsidized health care created under the Affordable Care Act.
We believe by doing so, Utah’s legislators went completely against voters’ desires and instead went with their own. That is contrary to the whole point of government by representation and we are disappointed in the legislators who concocted said plan.
There are many other bills that we may or may not have provided separate editorials on. We hope Utah legislators have the best intentions for this state as they prepare for the next legislative session and however else they may exercise good governance.