Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week we celebrated Juneteenth. For those of you who don’t know, this holiday commemorates the emancipation of the last remaining African American slaves in the Confederacy. Considering events of the last few weeks, it made this year’s Juneteenth a little more poignant. As part of our special legislative session, a citation was read on the Senate floor recognizing the importance of the holiday and that “the observance of Juneteenth is more important than ever and provides an opportunity for people from all races, religions, nationalities, and backgrounds to unite in order to protect the constitutional rights of all people”. You can read the citation here.
On Tuesday, June 23th the Utah Department of Health reported 302,276 total tests administered, 18,300 total positive cases, 10,057 estimated recovered cases, 1,226 total hospitalizations, and 163 total fatalities.
Utah County Dept Health
Total Cases: 3,263
Total Tested: 54,535
Estimated Recovered: 2,000
During the June 2020 special session, the Legislature passed 27 pieces of legislation on a range of issues, including racial equality and public safety, the budget and COVID-19 pandemic response.
Racial Equality and Public Safety
The Utah Legislature took the first of many anticipated steps to unify Utahns over racial inequalities. It passed H.B. 5007 Peace Officer Amendments, which prohibit a peace officer from kneeling on a neck and ensure peace officer training standards do not include training on chokeholds. While Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), and many law enforcement departments in Utah already exclude chokeholds from training, this brings uniformity in state statute. Legislators, stakeholders and community leaders are identifying other needed policy changes on this important issue.
The Legislature passed six pieces of legislation that relate directly to the budget, and despite facing an $850 million deficit due to the COVID-19 health crisis, the Legislature passed H.B. 5012 Public Education Budget Amendments, and actually increased funding for public education by more than $110 million, or 2.2 percent. On top of that, S.B. 5001 Budget Balancing and Coronavirus Relief Appropriations, gave public education an additional $125 million of federal funds to improve connectivity and technology in schools. The Legislature also demonstrated its ongoing commitment to fund public education through H.B. 5011, Weighted Pupil Unit Value Increase Guarantee, which ensures the Legislature can make good on its commitment to provide a 6 percent increase in the WPU.
The Legislature also increased its commitment to social services with a 5.4 percent increase in funding in S.B. 5001. In addition, S.B. 5001 increased social services commitments with a 5.4 percent increase and avoided substantial reductions in vital, state-provided services by utilizing an estimated $680 million in rainy day and reserve funds. These moves made it so the budget only needed a 1.7 percent cut to balance. Legislators cut their own pay by an even larger 2.5 percent through H.J.R. 502 Joint Resolution on Legislative Compensation.
Because these bills affected virtually every item in the budget in some way, S.B. 5012 made required changes to the law in order to eliminate defunded programs and conform with other budget changes.
The Legislature passed 14 pieces of legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. H.J.R. 504 again extended the governor's declared state of emergency until August 20, when the Legislature will reconsider the extension. Notwithstanding that extension, the Legislature is concerned about transparency in the expenditure of taxpayer dollars during this emergency. It therefore passed H.B. 5009 Emergency Management Act Procurement Process Amendments, to increase transparency by requiring the governor to report to the Legislature at least 24 hours before expending more than $2 million of federal funds under emergency powers.
As the economy reopens and stabilizes, the Legislature passed legislation to speed recovery. H.B. 5010 COVID-19 Economic Recovery Program, distributed $62 million through several different programs to help unemployed individuals, businesses and all Utahns:
COVID-19 Impacted Business Grant Program – This program provides $25 million in grants to businesses devastated by COVID-19 to provide discounts to consumers. For example, a restaurant might use the grant to offer a buy-one-get-one special to attract customers. Businesses must use at least 50 percent of the grant funds directly on the discounts. Businesses may receive grants up to the amount of revenue the business lost between March and June this year. 75 percent of funds will be distributed to small businesses. Minority-owned and women-owned businesses are encouraged to apply for grant funds.
COVID-19 Cultural Assistance Grant Program – This program is similar to the COVID-19 Impacted Business Grant Program, but applies to botanical, cultural, recreational and zoological organizations. The program provides $9 million in grants to these organizations to provide programs and services to attract consumers. At least half of the granted funds must be used directly to provide activities for others. To qualify, an organization must have an annual operating budget of at least $5 million.
COVID-19 PPE Support Grant Program – This program provides $5 million for grants to businesses to provide personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing supplies, signage or other equipment or processes needed to comply with COVID-19 public health guidelines related to employees. Businesses may qualify for up to $100 per full-time-equivalent employee. 75 percent of grant funds are distributed to small businesses.
Workplace Training Program – This program provides $9 million to state colleges and universities to provide training to furloughed and laid off workers. The program aims to help workers earn certificates or other credentials needed to increase their mobility and find jobs in other areas in the economy.
Public Outreach and Education Program – Public health has been negatively impacted not only because of coronavirus, but because people are deferring needed medical care. This program provides $1 million for a public information campaign to educate the public on public health guidelines and measures health care providers are taking to protect against COVID-19. The program also encourages Utahns to not defer urgent medical care, preventative care or vaccinations.
The Legislature amended economic aid programs it created in its last legislative special session. S.B. 5005 Rent and Mortgage Assistance Amendments, which allows the state to begin distributing residential rental assistance more quickly and increases the number and types of businesses that qualify for existing state rental assistance programs.
S.B. 5006 Public Safety Worker Protection Amendments, allows a public safety worker to seek a warrant to compel an individual to be tested for COVID-19 if that individual exposes the public safety worker to potential infection from that virus.
H.B. 5006 COVID-19 Workers' Compensation Modifications, makes technical changes to a law passed by the Legislature in its last special session that extended workers compensation to first responders.
S.B. 5007 Unemployment Insurance Rates Amendments, places a ceiling on the amount an employer is required to pay into the state's unemployment insurance fund.
S.B. 5003 COVID-19 Immunity Provisions, makes minor adjustments to certain legal immunity the state extended to business during the previous special session.
Government Operation under COVID-19
H.B. 5002 Open and Public Meetings Act Amendments, extends previously granted exceptions to the Open and Public Meetings Act to accommodate electronic meetings.
As school districts face substantial budget uncertainties, they need additional flexibility. H.B. 5003 School District Use of Property Tax Revenue, allows school districts to use certain capital expense funds on operations.
S.B. 5009 Martha Hughes Cannon Statue Amendments, extends the Martha Hughes Cannon Statue Oversight Committee for another year to give the committee time to complete its work, which has been delayed because of the pandemic and removes a timing requirement for the unveiling of the statue.
I’m sure most of you know a member of the 2020 graduating class. This year’s seniors experienced a very different rite of passage than those who came before them. A Senate resolution, S.C.R. 501 Concurrent Resolution Honoring the Graduating Class of 2020 was read on the Senate floor and honors all 2020 high school or college graduates who had to forgo regular celebrations and ceremonies because of the pandemic.
I hope that all of you stay safe and healthy over the coming months. Opening up our economy was an extremely important step to take, but it also requires that we do more to protect our friends and families. Please listen to the recommendations of medical professionals and protect those around us with compromised immune systems.
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. You’re also welcome to join me at the Capitol and 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