Legislature wraps: Public lands, air quality, medical and crisis options

Background photo shows the rotunda ceiling of the Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 27, 2012 | Photo by Andrew Smith via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License; gavel image by Anastasia_New / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A healthy stack of  resolutions and bills relating to Utah’s public lands, environment and air quality as well as options and remedies for individuals related to health and crisis were among many things the Legislature considered during its 2017 general session now come and gone. This report is the third in a four-part series on the session’s highlights.

The general session ended at midnight Thursday and Utah lawmakers are no longer being held hostage at the State Capitol. These elected officials who willingly endure such captivity on behalf of their constituents passed 535 bills out of a proposed 1,279 during this year’s session. While there was nothing passed in the way of tax reform – a subject that was batted around during the session – it will likely be a big issue next year.

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File photo: In this file photo:, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell looks at the “Moonhouse” in McLoyd Canyon, near Blanding, Utah, during a tour to meet with proponents and opponents to the “Bears Ears” monument proposal. President Barack Obama designated two national monuments Wednesday, Dec. 28, at sites in Utah and Nevada that have become key flashpoints over use of public land in the U.S. West, Blanding, Utah, July 15, 2016 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File, St. George News

Public lands and environment

In a legislative move that held no power, Utah lawmakers signed away 50,000 visitors, an annual $45 million and two decades of an ongoing relationship with the Outdoor Retailer convention when they signed off on two nonbinding joint resolutions designated as HCR 11 and HCR 12.

HCR 11, Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation, calls on President Donald Trump to rescind the monument created by former President Barack Obama in his final days in office. Read more here.

HCR 12, Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, asks congress to reduce the size of the monument created in 1996 under then President Bill Clinton. Read more here.

The resolutions passed the Legislature in both chambers and all of Southern Utah’s legislators voted in favor of both. Gov. Gary Herbert immediately signed the resolutions following their passage.

But the move came with a price as the annual Outdoor Retailer Convention took a hike in protest over Utah’s public land policies.

In another measure designated HCR 1, the Legislature passed its Concurrent Resolution to Secure the Perpetual Health and Vitality of Utah’s Public Lands and its Status as a Premier Public Lands State. The House passed the resolution 24-4 and the Senate passed it 58-11. All Southern Utah legislators voted to approve the resolution seeking to give the state greater control over public lands and its resources.

The resolution also scales back the threat of suing the federal government for ownership of the public lands and instead calls on Utah’s congressional delegation and state leadership to work with the new Trump administration on this issue. Read more here.

Air quality

Following is an excerpt from a legislative wrap provided by Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, regarding air quality legislation considered during the general session:

The Legislature just passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation for clean air in years. With SB 197 (Refinery Sales and Use Tax Exemption Amendments), refineries in the state are incentivized to switch over to the production of Tier 3 fuels which have a lower sulfur content and provide for much cleaner burning.

If everyone in the state were to use Tier 3 fuels and cars, it would be the equivalent of removing four of every five vehicles on the road. The investment of producers to change from Tier 2 to Tier 3 fuels will be significant, in the tens of millions of dollars, and this bill provides a sales tax exemption on certain products that are needed for that transition.

City of St. George air quality monitoring machine, St. George, Utah, Aug. 15, 2013 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

Westwood noted other clean air bills passed this session, including the following:

  • HCR 5, Concurrent Resolution on Clean Fuel School Buses. This was a concurrent resolution of both the House and Senate supporting dedication of a portion of the state funds from the Volkswagen settlement to replace a portion of Utah’s dirty diesel school buses with clean fuel buses.
  • HB 96, Petroleum Vapor Recovery Amendments. This legislation creates a requirement for operators of gasoline cargo trucks to prevent the release of petroleum vapors into the air.
  • HB 104, Motor Vehicle Emission. This law allows counties to use revenue from emissions fees to maintain a national ambient air quality standard.
  • SB 24, Heavy Duty Tax Credit Amendents. This legislation extends the heavy duty vehicle tax credit to include heavy duty vehicles with hydrogen-electric and electric drivetrains.

The Legislature also appropriated an additional $1.65 million for air quality research and air monitoring.

Stock image, St. George News

Health

Lawmakers passed legislation requiring doctors to tell women medically-induced abortions can be halted. Critics of the bill questioned the validity of such claims, adding they are not scientifically proven.

Proposed legislation that would make it easier for patients to obtain costly medication without having to try less expensive alternatives first failed to pass the Legislature. The measure would have prohibited the use of “step therapy” – prescribing a recognized safe and cost-effective drug before approving a more complex, costlier or riskier drug or drug combination – unless certain conditions are met and would have required health insurance companies to authorize more costly drugs if deemed medically necessary. Read more here.

A new law passed requires that someone disclose their HIV, AIDS, or Hepatitis B or C status before engaging in sexual activity or face a criminal offense.

Physician-assisted suicide

In her third consecutive attempt, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, brought the issue of physician-assisted suicide to the Utah Legislature. The bill proposed a mentally competent adult resident of Utah with an irreversible, incurable disease and less than six months to live has a lawful choice to seek a lethal dose of drugs to end their life. After yet another year of passionate debate, the bill once again died in the Health and Human Services Committee before it could be debated on the House floor. Read more here.

Stock image | St. George News

Suicide and mental crisis prevention

The Legislature approved the creation of a statewide mental health crisis hotline. Sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, the Statewide Crisis Line legislation, designated SB 37, enacts provisions related to the creation of a single statewide crisis line that will allow individuals to contact and interact with a qualified mental or behavioral health professional 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Read more here.

In this report, the presumption of bills passed becoming new laws is dependent upon the governor not vetoing the legislation. Gov. Gary Herbert has until March 29 to sign or not sign (in either case, the bills passed become law) or to veto a bill. If he vetoes a bill, it returns to the Legislature for possible override consideration.

St. George News assistant editors Paul Dail and reporters Kimberly Scott, Cody Blowers, Julie Applegate, Joseph Witham and Tracie Sullivan contributed to this series of articles.

Resources

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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