Friday, February 12, 2016

Felons, Vaccinations & Hate Crimes

A recap of Week 3 of the 2016 legislative session

Posted By on February 12, 2016, 7:53 PM

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Another week of the fast-paced 2016 legislative session has come and gone. With a record number of bills filed this year, lawmakers are scurrying to consider each one. Here’s our recap of what happened this week.

With a 17-11 vote, the Senate approved a bill from Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, which pulls $40 million away from traditional public schools and gives it to charter schools – overriding objections from school districts that said they can’t afford to lose the money.

In other educational news, after a fierce debate, the House approved a bill that would create an all-day kindergarten program. Supporters cited that studies showing children do better when they have more time in school at young ages, but detractors like  Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, who owns several private day cares, argued the state shouldn’t be creating a program that competes with private business.

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The 2015 elections saw several races that were too close to call on election night, including the Salt Lake City mayoral race between Jackie Biskupski and Ralph Becker. This meant voters and candidates had to wait weeks to find out who had won while county clerks tallied absentee ballots. A bill from Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, has now been approved by the full Legislature that would allow clerks to release the daily updates to the total vote counts. This should cut down on the amount of time it takes to discover the final winner in closely contested races.

The raging debate that even had Gov. Herbert weighing in about a potential bill that would have allowed Utahns to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the state without a license turned out to be much ado about nothing. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, announced that he was withdrawing his bill because of “the optics” of the measure following the armed standoff between militia groups and law enforcement in Oregon. Hinkins did, however, hint that he may bring the bill back next year.

Public Lands
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, is trying to sidestep critics’ contention that even if Utah’s quest to gain control over public lands were to be successful, the state would have to sell off much of the land in order to be able to afford the management costs. HB 276 creates an outline of how the state expects to manage the lands if Utah gains control of them. The bill doesn’t go into all the details, but Noel has said that much of the land will fall under multiple uses – meaning the use of sportsmen, off-road vehicles and possibly developers. Also introduced is HB 287 from Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi. This bill would allow the Legislature to accept private donations, as well as state funding, to pay for the expected lawsuit Utah may launch to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to turn over control of national public lands to Utah.

click to enlarge Via Wiki Commons/Sgt. Christopher Jones.
  • Via Wiki Commons/Sgt. Christopher Jones.
In 2015, several unvaccinated Utah children contracted measles at Disneyland when they were exposed to other unvaccinated kids who had the disease. Experts have testified that Utah schools are “dangerously close” to dropping below herd-immunity—the percentage of children who need to be vaccinated in order to keep everyone safe. In those schools that have already fallen below the threshold, not enough kids are vaccinated to keep diseases that used to be virtually eradicated out of the student body. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, has introduced HB 221, which would require parents who have opted not to vaccinate their children to watch a 20 minute video every year that teaches them how to best protect their children without the vaccinations.

Illegal Immigration
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, has introduced a bill that would repeal the requirement for undocumented workers to go through an FBI background check to obtain a driver-privilege card. Bramble says that while lawmakers had instituted the background-check requirement several years ago in the hopes of detecting criminal activity or outstanding warrants, he is introducing SB 129 because federal law prohibits that information from being passed on to law enforcement anyway.

Hate Crimes
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, successfully passed SB 107 out of a Senate committee, which strengthens Utah’s hate crime laws. The bill allows prosecutors to enhance charges against defendants whose crimes are motivated by bias. For example, Urquhart told committee members, a criminal who paints a swastika on the side of Jewish synagogue. It also could apply to someone who physically attacks an LGBT person if the purpose of the attack was because the person is LGBT.

Citizen Referendums
The House rejected a proposal from Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, which would have made it slightly easier for citizens to start a referendum to overturn an unpopular law passed by the Legislature. While the bill received unanimous approval in committee, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, strongly opposed the bill, and other lawmakers argued that referendums should be more difficult because the U.S. founders “greatly feared direct democracy.” In the end, HB 11 was defeated by a vote of 32-38.

Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, pulled back on his proposal to criminalize the practice of “doxxing,” when someone posts personal information about someone else online, typically including their home address, social security number, date of birth and other personal information with the intent of causing that person financial or even physical harm. Concerns had been raised that the bill was written so broadly it could have impeded legitimate free speech. The new concern, however, is that without any language at all, doxxing is still technically legal in Utah.

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Felons and Jobs
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, is introducing a bill to “ban the box,” a national movement to prohibit employers from including the standard check-boxes on employment applications asking if prospective employees have ever been convicted of a crime, which Hollins says prevents past convicts from even getting job interviews and pushes them back into a life of crime. Hollins stresses that nothing in her bill prevents an employer from running background checks and/or refusing to hire someone because of a past conviction, but that allowing people to at least get an interview gives them the opportunity to explain what happened instead of being rejected out of hand.

In addition to covering state politics for City Weekly, Eric Ethington is communications director for Political Research Associates.

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