2016 Key Issue Summary

Education

 

Funding for Utah’s school children and college students once more dominates the $14.5 billion budget for 2016. The total increase for both higher and public education was $445 million – over $20 million more than originally sought by the governor.

 

The legislature is appropriating $94 million to accommodate growth for a projected 9,700 new public school students this fall, as well as a nearly $74 million expenditure representing a 3% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, (WPU). Monies headed to public education also include $20.4 million in ongoing funding for Charter School equalization and almost $17 million, $10 million of that ongoing, targeted to improve technology in our schools.

 

Construction on Utah’s college and university campuses is another big-ticket budgetary item, including more than $113 million approved for new buildings at Utah State and Utah Valley Universities and the West Point campus of Salt Lake Community College.

 

In 2015, the Legislature took a major step toward equity in public education by bringing up districts with a lower property tax base in line with others around the state having a much higher property tax base, with the passage of  S.B. 97. This legislation sought to make the school funding formula more fair and provide greater opportunity for all children, wherever they might live throughout the State of Utah. Charter schools were left out of that.

 

Last year the Legislature established the Charter School Funding Task Force to look at this issue and investigate possible solutions. The task force was given the responsibility of studying charter school funding provisions and the method for determining their enrollment for funding purposes.

 

The culmination of the research and review of the task force has come in the form of S.B. 38, which includes a number of the task force recommendations including: continuation of grade-level weighting, changes to school district allocations for students enrolled in charter schools and the inclusion of recreational facilities in the local replacement formula for those schools.

 

The State of Utah is constitutionally mandated to provide a free education for all of its children, and it has chosen to do so through both traditional and charter schools. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to ensure that all of these students are given an equal opportunity for success.

 

Additional education-related bills include SB 101, High Quality School Readiness Program Expansion, which establishes a school readiness program for students deemed eligible for an Intergenerational Poverty program and creates the Intergenerational Poverty School Readiness Scholarship Program. HB 201, removes SAGE scores from teacher evaluations.

 

 

Medicaid / Homelessness / JRI

 

Homelessness, justice reform and Medicaid were all addressed this year in a comprehensive fashion with HB 436, HB 348, HB 437 and HB 328. This new structure will allow the state to more effectively assist those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, while also reforming our justice system.

 

This year’s Medicaid expansion (HB 437) will provide a program of coverage through an expansion of traditional Medicaid that will preserve services and benefits to the core group of over 300,000 current Medicaid recipients, including children and disabled adults.

 

Newly-covered populations will include the chronically homeless, individuals involved in the justice system and those in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment. A new data system will also be implemented to allow the state to align programs and track and share information to more efficiently use resources.

 

The 2016 budget also fully funds consensus Medicaid growth estimates for the traditional Medicaid population of over $40 million.

 

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants legal representation and Utah is one of only two states that leaves funding up to the counties. Some claim that this has led to ineffective legal representation.

 

A state task force has been studying the issue for four years and their recommendations are the basis for SB 155. It creates the Utah Indigent Defense Commission and gives the Commission authority to collect data to study the provision of indigent criminal defense services statewide. It also authorizes them to assist local jurisdictions to meet minimum standards of effective representation and establishes an account to provide financial assistance to indigent defense systems throughout the state that are underfunded and unable to adequately protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime.

 

 

Drug fraud prevention / treatment center reform

 

As the need for substance abuse and mental health treatment escalates, it is incumbent upon the state to ensure that limited dollars are being used appropriately and those seeking help are actually receiving it.

SB 123 and HB 259 will go a long way in helping to detect and weed out fraud and abuse surrounding these types of facilities. Those seeking services, as well as those paying for services, will have greater assurance that suitable treatments are being administered, and in an appropriate manner.

 

SB 123 permits a local government to request that the Office of Licensing for the Department of Human Services notify that local government of any new human services program license applications within their local jurisdiction. In doing this, a local governmental entity will be more aware of the programs administered within their community and thus, better able to monitor where necessary.

 

HB 259 requires that rules be made to define what constitutes an outpatient treatment program and to develop minimum standards for licensed providers of substance abuse and mental health services. In order to address existing problems, the bill also requires the establishment of a procedure for insurer access to licensee records regarding services or supplies billed to the insurer, and to set in place procedures for the investigation and processing of complaints against licensees.

 

 

Other Social Services

 

HB 149, Death Reporting and Investigation Information Regarding Controlled Substances, requires the medical examiner to provide a report to the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) when it is determined that a death was as a result of poisoning or overdose involving a controlled substance. Each practitioner who may have written a prescription for that controlled substance will then be notified.

 

HB 245, Local Health Department Amendments, allows for the option within a county to combine the local health department with the mental health and the substance abuse authorities. It also permits multiple counties to join together to form a multicounty united health department.

 

 

Law Enforcement / National Guard

 

The long-awaited body camera bill finally came to fruition with the passage of HB 300. It establishes minimum guidelines for the activation or use of cameras and makes most recordings public record. It protects as private those recordings that take place inside a home or residence except for those that depict the commission of a crime, record an encounter that results in death or injury or is the subject of a complaint or legal proceeding. It also requires the officer, when entering a private residence, to give notice of the use of the camera.

 

HB 98, National Guard Death Benefit Amendments, provides for a $100,000 death benefit for the next-of-kin of a National Guard member who dies while on state active duty.

 

 

Water / Infrastructure

 

The Legislature took action this year to look ahead and plan for future needs with the passage of SB 80. It provides appropriations from the Transportation Fund to be deposited into the Transportation Investment Fund and the Water Infrastructure Restricted Account to pay for future water needs. According to UDOT no currently programmed projects will be impacted, and current funding for the Transportation Fund will be maintained.

 

SB 251 funds the establishment of criteria for better water data and reporting to allow for the creation of new water conservation targets. As our desert state continues to expand, along with our water needs, we must prepare for the future as we look for solutions that allow us to sustain our present trajectory of growth and prosperity.

 

SB246, a controversial bill in the media, would allow for investment in a port from which to export clean coal to China. The money for the port ultimately will be paid from the Permanent Community Impact Board (CIB) with money from mineral royalties, not from state tax dollars.

 

China’s coal is notoriously dirty, while Utah’s is unusually clean. Though there is a push in much of the developed world to move away from the use of coal in the generation of power, many countries still rely heavily on it. With this dependence comes pollution and the cleaner the coal, obviously, the less it pollutes. China is interested in our cleaner coal and there should be little controversy surrounding this port as the fact exists that if our state were able to meet all the demand for coal in China, that country could reduce their power-plant emissions by half.

 

We must also remember that many rural Utahns work in the energy industry and despite demands from environmentalists that we abandon them and the clean coal they produce, the state recognizes the benefit we derive from them. We all enjoy lower electricity rates because of the role of coal in our own economy and our state as a whole benefits from the jobs and tax dollars that industry provides, not to mention that the more of our coal the Chinese have and use, the cleaner the air.

 

 

 

 

 

Air Quality

 

HB 237, Income Tax Contribution for Clean Air, allows anyone filing an income tax return in Utah to designate a contribution to the newly-established Clean Air Fund.

 

HB 244 allows solar energy companies to sell power directly to a residential customer who participates in a net metering program. This reduces the upfront costs to customers who have, in the past, needed to either purchase or lease equipment. The solar company and customer enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), whereby the consumer agrees to purchase power directly from the solar company.

 

There were also additional resources invested in clean air projects and initiatives with $6 million appropriated for the construction of a technical support center for the Department of Environmental Quality, a $1 million appropriation for air quality monitoring and $400,000 for air quality research and awareness.

 

 

Additional Legislation

 

HB 251, Post-Employment Restrictions Amendments, which would place reasonable restrictions on the use of non-compete agreements, passed with 27 House Co-sponsors. Non-compete agreements have been shown to limit entrepreneurship and impede innovation, restricting the free flow of labor and reducing the need of companies to stay competitive and treat their employees well. This bill should help reduce abuses surrounding the use of non-compete agreements and add to the vibrant and growing economy found in Utah today.

 

HJR 20 – gives approval for the construction and operation of a new commercial, nonhazardous landfill – Promontory Point Landfill. The landfill is still subject to the approval of Box Elder County, the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control and the Governor.

 

HB 67 eliminates the prohibition of lawfully carrying a firearm on a bus.

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