Dear Friends & Neighbors,
This last year, as the pandemic began to adversely affect Utah’s economy, it was hard to know how bad it was going to get. It also put us the legislature in a tough place. We had to carefully work to protect vulnerable Utahns without destroying everybody’s ability to make a living. That’s a tough balancing act. After a few months, one thing became very clear. The careful budgeting that Utah has done over the last few years put our state in a much better fiscal position than most other states. It’s always smart to plan for tough times ahead and that planning made Utah better prepared to provide services to people in a tough spot.
The Utah Legislature named week six “Utah Saves Week” to encourage Utahns to learn about saving strategies, build wealth and connect with free resources to achieve financial goals. One way to start saving is to search our state’s unclaimed property database, mycash.utah.gov, at least once a year for unclaimed property, as well as for property belonging to family, friends, deceased relatives and organizations you support. When a business owes money to an individual or organization and cannot locate them, the funds are remitted to the Utah Unclaimed Property Division of the Office of State Treasurer after three years. Each year, between $30 to $60 million in unclaimed property is turned over to the state. Read how to check if you have unclaimed property here.
Last week, we announced the state will provide approximately $100 million in tax relief to Utah citizens. Though Utah’s economy is in an advantageous position compared to other states, many Utahns are still struggling, and the Senate wants to provide tax relief to those who need it most. The tax relief package targets families, veterans and elderly Utahns and will be accomplished by three bills: S.B. 153, S.B. 11 and H.B. 86.
S.B. 153 Utah Personal Exemption Amendments, restores part of the dependent tax exemption, which was reduced in the 2017 federal tax reform, increasing taxes for many Utah families. In 2018, the Utah Legislature brought back a portion of the exemption and is now seeking to restore even more of the exemption to further reduce taxes for families in our great state.
S.B. 11 Retirement Income Tax Amendments, is for men and women who served in the armed forces by eliminating individual income tax on military retirement pay.
H.B. 86 Social Security Tax Amendments, eliminates income tax on some social security income, benefitting many Utah seniors living on a fixed income.
These tailor-made policies will provide a significant benefit to Utah families, veterans and senior citizens and will ensure that Utah continues to thrive.
Peace Officer Training Amendments
Over the last year, the state has had substantial conversations regarding police reform. One of the conversations has been about the importance of de-escalation training for law enforcement officers. H.B. 162 Peace Officer Training Amendments, requires 16 hours of additional training for law enforcement, including mental health, crisis intervention and de-escalation control courses. Providing officers with the latest resources and training will help them perform their job and build trust with individuals in their communities. Law enforcement and community members have been closely involved in the creation of this bill and have shown full support. H.B. 162 passed the Senate and House and will be sent to the governor.
Educational Deadline and Fiscal Responsibility
School districts across Utah worked tirelessly to respond to the needs and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. S.B. 178 Educational Deadline and Fiscal Responsibility, provides school districts with flexibility regarding deadlines and spending restrictions in response to the pandemic. For instance, any money originally meant to be spent during the pandemic will be extended for the following year to allow flexibility as more students return to the classroom and participate in extracurricular activities. S.B. 178 passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
Local Education Agency Policies Amendments
Last year, we heard that some schools with smaller student populations in rural communities did not have the same opportunity to provide input to find the best strategies for their students and district during the COVID-19 pandemic. S.B. 187 Local Education Agency Policies Amendments, gives local control back to schools and communities regarding public health orders. If this bill passes, the governor, Department of Health or the local health department agency would be required to consult with local school districts to understand and respond to needs during public health orders. This will not eliminate input from local health boards and is not meant to support or oppose any COVID-19 measure. S.B. 187 passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
988 Mental Health Crisis Assistance
When people experience a medical emergency, the default solution is to dial 911. For decades, that option has worked well for most people. However, for those experiencing a mental health crisis, that solution hasn’t been as effective. As well intentioned as our first responders are, they are not equipped to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis. For people who do reach the proper Utah mental health crisis line, 90 percent of the time, they are stabilized over the phone at the cost of about $40. This prevents police or EMS from being dispatched and eliminates potential hospital or ambulance bills for the individual in need.
Last year, Congress established 988 as the national mental health crisis hotline number. S.B. 155 988 Mental Health Crisis Assistance, helps Utah get ready for the launch of the new hotline number, which begins in July 2022. S.B. 155 does three things:
Applies for Medicaid waivers to help pay for treatment.
Creates an account for crisis response funds to pay for the call center, mobile teams and follow-up treatment.
Adds additional members to existing commissions to assist in the rollout of 988.
S.B. 155 passed the Senate. Listen to the bill presentation here.
In-person Instruction Prioritization
The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator visited Utah in November and encouraged state leaders to resume in-person learning. Recent reports found that several schools throughout Utah have closed for 40 percent of the academic year, leading to a 600 percent increase in students failing all classes. After extensive conversations with the school board and the superintendent, parents who wanted their children in the classroom felt they had nowhere else to turn except the Legislature.
S.B. 107 In-person Instruction Prioritization, ensures students have the opportunity to learn in the classroom. With this bill, parents will once again have the ability to determine what is best for their child, whether that be in-person or virtual learning. As it stands, the bill has two objectives:
Keep all Utah schools open at least four days a week.
Implement the “test to stay” program for schools that reach the 2 percent positivity rate to prevent soft closures.
Parental permission is required for testing students under the age of 18. S.B. 107 passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House. Listen to the bill presentation on the Senate floor here.
In the News: Deseret News
Higher Education Speech
Currently, broad and ambiguous anti-harassment policies are one of the most common ways universities censor free speech. The federal law addressing this issue comes from a U.S. Supreme Court case that defines when speech crosses the line to criminal conduct. While higher education institutions are legally and morally responsible for addressing student harassment, they also have a constitutional obligation to do so without infringing on students' free speech rights. H.B. 159 Higher Education Speech, sets a standard for all state universities to ensure free speech is respected on campus. H.B. 159 passed in both the Senate and House and will now go to Governor Cox for his consideration. Listen to the bill presentation on the Senate floor here.
In the News: KCPW
Vehicle Registration Renewal Notices
Last year, the Utah Tax Commission discontinued postcard mailers reminding vehicle owners when their vehicle registration renewal is due. Since this practice was discontinued in September, Utahns have asked for these mailers to be sent again. H.B. 170 Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice Requirements, officially requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to resume the use of mailers to remind owners when their vehicles are due for registration renewal. This bill passed on second reading with unanimous support in the Senate.
Grant Program for Small Businesses
Many businesses felt the impact of COVID-19 this year. Small businesses in particular were hit hard by financial losses. S.B. 202 Grant Program for Small Businesses, creates a grant program that will be administered by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for small businesses that experienced significant loss due to the pandemic. The grant will open in phases to ensure businesses that experienced the greatest losses will have the first opportunity to apply for the grant. The grant covers three months of fixed costs, including payroll, rent, utilities and insurance. The first phase will open to businesses that experienced a 90 percent loss or greater in 2020. The grant will then open to businesses that experienced an 80 percent loss and continue in that pattern until the fund is fully utilized. This bill passed in the Senate and will now be considered in the House.
Budget Revenue Estimates
The Senate, House and Governor’s Office released updated revenue numbers for state fiscal years 2021 and 2022. The revenue estimates show the longstanding strength of Utah’s economy, despite unprecedented financial challenges due to COVID-19. The new consensus revenue estimates identify $112 million in additional ongoing money and $315 million in one-time money. This year, a historic $400 million increase will go toward public education, and a significant portion of ongoing funds will be dedicated to increased enrollment in Medicaid expansion. The Legislature will also give a significant tax cut to certain Utahns, including families, veterans and seniors. Read the full press release here.
Online Impersonation Prohibition
Last year, an individual created a fake account pretending to be the wife of a law enforcement official in Utah. The statements made on this fake account were inflammatory and resulted in the officer being placed on leave. Ultimately, he and his wife had to move after receiving threatening messages based on the fake account's statements. Law enforcement has since been able to identify the individual who created this fake account, however, no action could be taken as it was not illegal to impersonate an individual online. H.B. 239 Online Impersonation Prohibition, makes it a criminal offense to impersonate an individual online with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any individual. This bill passed with unanimous support in both the Senate and House and will now go to the governor.
Paycheck Protection Program Loan Update
The latest round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), further targeting small businesses impacted by the pandemic, is open until March 10. Learn more about the guidelines and how to apply by visiting the Small Business Administration here.
I Look Forward to Hearing From You!
I'll try to continually keep you informed about my work on the Hill – likewise, please keep in touch – I’d love to hear your insights and opinions. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m truly grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation – and thanks for paying attention.
Until next time,
Senator Dan McCay
Utah Senate District 11