Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Week 7 of our legislative session is finished. Many bills were passed and hundreds more didn’t make it through the process to becoming a law. That’s okay. Most good bills take years of work before they reach the Governor’s desk. Of course, the process doesn’t stop when a bill becomes a law. We consult with state agencies to find out if the law is working as it is intended. It can be a humbling experience to come back and change something we did the year before. Thankfully, I get lots of feedback and I’m always amazed at your knowledge and passion. Utah is the best run state in the nation because Utahns care about their communities and they hold us accountable for our actions. Stay involved in the process. We need your support and input. I appreciate this opportunity to serve.
Of all the work we do here every year, passing a balanced budget is the most important responsibility we face as a Legislature during the session. This week we passed our “Bill of Bills”, which is a nickname we use for our full budget bill. The actual title of the bill is “Appropriations Adjustments”. This year our budget came to roughly $23.5 billion for fiscal year 2022. With this healthy budget we allocated $100 million for tax cuts, appropriated historic levels of funding for education with nearly half a billion dollars in on-going money going to public education and replenished our Rainy-Day funds that were utilized during the pandemic. We also invested in roads and transit – to the tune of $1.1 billion spread over a number of years – while limiting new debt issuances so that overall debt will decline with time.
Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth
Access to education in prison can lower the odds of an individual committing additional offenses. H.B. 279 Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth, provides students in custody with concurrent enrollment credits through a virtual learning program administered by Dixie State University. These credits can help individuals obtain certificates, associates or bachelor’s degrees. Creating an educational pathway for incarcerated youth will help them succeed and reintegrate into society. Educational opportunities are proven to reduce the risk of re-offending and provide safer environments in juvenile facilities. H.B. 279 passed and will now be sent to the governor.
Religious Accommodations in Higher Education
S.B. 244 Student Religious Accommodations Amendments, allows the Utah System of Higher Education to provide religious accommodation policy to all institutions. For instance, if a student has a firmly held religious belief that conflicts with an exam or academic assignment, then a written notice will allow for the exam or assignment to be done before or after the original due date. The board will also be required to create a list of dates of religious holidays and ensure that the accommodation will not adversely affect students’ academic opportunities. S.B. 244 passed and will be sent to the governor for consideration.
The fight against suicide continues to be a priority in the Legislature as suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10-24. H.B. 336 Suicide Prevention Amendments, creates a reporting process for the Utah Medical Examiner to obtain youth suicide data for the Health and Human Services Interim Committee to study. The Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health will also be required to provide training to healthcare organizations. It also changes a coupon program to a rebate program that incentivizes individuals to obtain a biometric gun safe. Another bill, H.B. 93 Youth Suicide Prevention Programs Amendments, expands the education of suicide prevention to elementary and secondary grades and requires the language of the programs to reflect ages. Both bills will be sent to the governor for consideration.
Housing prices are rising at a rate of 12 percent annually, and economists estimate that Utah has a gap of over 53,000 affordable housing units for individuals with average or low incomes. This looming crisis has led the Housing Affordability Commission to try to stimulate growth in affordable housing without interfering with the free market. S.B. 164 Utah Housing Affordability Amendments, creates a program that permits political subdivisions to take an inventory of surplus government properties throughout the state that cities could grant for future affordable housing developments. The bill also provides funding and support for low-income renters who may be at risk of eviction.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune
Accessory Dwelling Units
Utah is known for having large families who live in homes designed to comfortably house six to eight people. Often, parents continue to live in these large homes even after their children leave home, resulting in available space that can be converted into apartments. Unfortunately, many cities have ordinances that restrict Utahns from renting out their vacant space. H.B. 82 Single-family Housing Modifications, removes some of the obstacles that keep homeowners from creating Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) within the walls of their owner-occupied homes. H.B. 82 also requires the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund to establish a 2-year pilot program to provide loan guarantees for some loans related to ADU’s.
In the News: Deseret News
Recently, there have been numerous accusations of censorship leveled against social media companies. It has become apparent that social media platforms are not transparent in the way they moderated content and more specifically, that the platforms are harsher in moderating certain political and religious beliefs. S.B. 228 Electronic Free Speech Amendments, requires social media companies to clearly state their moderation practices and policies, as well as give users advance notice of their policies before they limit speech. If the company removes a user’s content, they need to tell the user why it was removed and provide an opportunity for appeal. S.B. 228 also requires each social media company to have an independent review panel. The bill passed in the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his consideration.
In the News: Fox 13
Stakeholders involved in homelessness services in Utah have described the existing programs as inefficient and confusing and most recognize that the problem has eclipsed the current structure in place. H.B. 347 Homeless Services Amendments enhances coordination efforts between agencies by creating the Office of Homeless Services within the Department of Workforce Services and establishes the state homeless coordinator within the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. This coordinator will be an advisor to the governor on homelessness issues and will report to the Senate and House twice a year. H.B. 347 passed in both the House and Senate and will go to the governor for his consideration.
In the News: Salt Lake Tribune
Dixie State University Name Change Process
When a university chooses to undergo a name change, it must ultimately bring the decision to the Legislature for final approval. Over the last few months, Dixie State University (DSU) made steps toward changing the name to reflect their mission better. H.B. 278 Name Change Process for Dixie State University, establishes a timeline that includes local public input in the decision-making process. If the DSU Board of Trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education recommend a name change later this year, then $500,000 will be appropriated to the Heritage Committee to preserve the regional heritage, culture and history on DSU’s campus.
Last year, approximately 21,000 registered democrat voters switched their party affiliation just days before the Republican primary. While we support the freedom to switch party affiliation, this type of coordinated, temporary party switching to influence the outcome of a primary election is unfair to the members of that party. H.B. 197 Voter Affiliation Amendments, amends the rules of party affiliation. Those who are changing parties must do so by March 31 of even-numbered years to participate in the primary election. If an individual changes parties after March 31, the change will not become effective until after the primary election. This bill poses no restrictions on those who go from unaffiliated to affiliated. Unaffiliated voters may affiliate at any time and still participate in the primary. This bill passed in both the Senate and House and will be sent to the governor.
During the pandemic, several state agencies translated communications into languages other than English to communicate critical information to all Utahns. Much to our surprise, government agencies learned that sharing documentation in any language other than English is prohibited in our state code. S.B. 214 Official Language Amendments, preserves English as the official language of Utah and revises the law to allow governments to translate important communications into other languages. This bill passed in both chambers and will be sent to the governor.
Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline Program
Utah is currently experiencing a shortage of teachers and school counselors in public schools. Several school districts are working on innovative approaches to meet teacher needs. This week, the Senate passed H.B. 381 Grow Your Own Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline Program, which supports school districts by creating a three-year pilot program to provide scholarships for paraprofessionals working toward becoming licensed teachers or licensed school counselors. This allows school districts to work with individuals they already know will be excellent teachers and counselors to become licensed professionals. This bill passed in both the Senate and House and will go to the governor for his signature.
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. If you’d like to meet with me in person outside of interim or the legislative session, you can reach Jason Gould at email@example.com. He’ll help us get in touch.
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