Saturday, February 6, 2016

Guns, Sex-Ed and Breast-Feeding

Week 2 Legislature recap

Posted By on February 6, 2016, 9:11 PM

Week two of the 2016 legislative session has concluded, and some bills have advanced, while others have died. Here’s our recap of what happened:

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, proposed a bill that would have made it easier for citizens to overturn laws passed by the legislature. HB 11 received unanimous support in committee, but it was soundly defeated on the House floor. Cox has made some adjustments to the bill however, and it has been reintroduced. It remains to be seen what the changes are and whether the House will favor it when it is reconsidered.

click to enlarge Via Wikimedia Commons/Leon Brooks
  • Via Wikimedia Commons/Leon Brooks
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, has proposed a bill that would give terminally ill Utahns the chance to obtain life-ending drugs. The End of Life Options Act is based on similar laws in Oregon and California, and would require that the patient go through a mental health screening and have a prognosis of six months or less to live—which would have to be verified by two physicians before the prescription for the drugs can be obtained. The bill also requires that the drugs must be self-administered. Chavez-Houck faces an uphill battle with the bill, which has not yet been assigned to a committee for consideration.

The so-called "Constitutional Carry" bill is back on the hill, this time from Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville. The bill, which would allow Utahns to carry a concealed gun anywhere in the state without a permit, was first proposed during the 2013 session but was vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert. During his weekly meeting with reporters, Herbert was reluctant to say whether or not he would veto the bill this time around, but he did mention that he has spoken with National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre "several times," and LaPierre told him that the NRA is already satisfied with Utah's current gun laws.

Hundreds of grade school children from the Madeliene Choir School, the Salt Lake Arts Academy, Bonneville Elementary and other schools joined Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski to march on the capitol to protest poor air quality along the Wasatch Front. Waiving signs and chanting "clean air now," the tiny protesters said that Utah's notoriously bad air in January is the most damaging to them and the elderly and sick, and demanded that lawmakers do more to regulate pollution. 

On a related note, one of the bills favored by Biskupski and the clean air protesters, SB 102 from Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, passed out of committee unanimously and is now waiting to be heard by the full Senate. The bill offers heavy tax breaks to oil refineries if they upgrade their facilities to use "Tier 3" fuels, which supporters of the bill say burn cleaner and could reduce air pollution.

click to enlarge Via Wikimedia Commons/Ken Hammond
  • Via Wikimedia Commons/Ken Hammond
A bill that would add pregnancy and breastfeeding to Utah's antidiscimination and workplace accommodation laws successfully passed the Senate. SB 59, from Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, would require employers to provide "reasonable" accommodations to pregnant and nursing mothers, such as an additional short break or a private place to nurse or express milk. Although the bill passed by a margin of 18 to 9, more than a few eyebrows were raised when former majority leader Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, referred to women pumping breast milk as "milking." The bill now heads to the House for its consideration.

Utah's sex-education laws are once again causing battles among lawmakers. House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, has proposed HB 246, which would change Utah from "abstinence-only" sex-ed programs to a more comprehensive approach. Proponents of the bill point to research saying that not allowing teachers to comprehensively address questions about sex and STDs is one of the primary factors behind Utah's growing rates of STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. But opponents of the bill, like Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka, point to Utah's low teen pregnancy and abortion rates and say that comprehensive sex-ed is akin to encouraging teens to have sex. 

Two different medical marijuana bills passed out of senate committees this week. The first, SB 89 from Sen. Alan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, is a much more limited approach, only providing for the use of non-THC cannibidiol to patients with certain diseases. The other bill, SB 73 from Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, is more comprehensive and would allow a much wider range of sick patients to use more of the marijuana plant when prescribed by doctors. Madsen, who says he has used medicinal marijuana himself for chronic back pain, argues that allowing more of the plant to be prescribed by doctors would help curb Utah's growing rate of opioid addiction and overdoses, as marijuana is more effective, is non-addictive, and doesn't have the negative side effects that many pharmaceutical pills do. Vickers' bill may have the edge over Madsen's, however, after news broke on Friday that the Mormon Church's lobbyists have been meeting with legislative leadership to oppose Madsen's proposed law. Both bills will now be heard by the full senate.

click to enlarge Via Wikimedia Commons/Gran
  • Via Wikimedia Commons/Gran
A bill that would eliminate safety inspections and regulations on local producers of poultry and dairy when sold directly to consumers received a hearing on Friday. Supporters of the Food Freedom Act, proposed by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, say that it could help encourage more Utahns to buy locally, but detractors argue that eliminating safety inspections could lead to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses that have been nearly eradicated. Although dozens of people spoke passionately on both sides of the bill during its hearing, it was held back without a vote because Rep. Roberts did not show up to the hearing.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is trying to roll back Utah's controversial drug-testing of applicants for welfare benefits. In the three years since Utah began the mandatory testing, the state has spent $93,000 to test 13,799 people, but less than half of one percent have actually tested positive. Romero argues that requiring the automatic drug-testing shames and stereotypes people at the lowest moments of their lives and her bill, HB 172, would postpone testing until after people are approved for benefits, and even then would only apply to those who are determined to have a high probability of drug use. The bill was opposed by the Utah Eagle Forum, but it still received a unanimous vote from the committee and is headed to the full House for consideration.

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