Hughes: Don’t expect special session to address homeless issues


Rumors of a legislative special session to give more money or laws concerning the homeless and lawlessness in downtown Salt Lake City are premature, House Speaker Greg Hughes tells UtahPolicy.

“A special session would slow me – us – down,” Hughes said Tuesday night.

“If I’m waiting for a special session for a month or two, I’m not moving on this. And we are all moving on this.”

A week ago Gov. Gary Herbert called legislative leaders together, along with Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and County Mayor Ben McAdams, among others, to say that Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox would be the homeless “point man” for the state.

Hughes, who has had a number of meetings since, told UtahPolicy that with Cox’s help – and the mayors’ – things are moving.

“The governor’s office is all in; Spencer is all in. The city is all in.” As are county officials, he added.

Next week some time – just one example – Hughes expects Utah Highway Patrol officers, or some other law enforcement group – to start ticketing/arresting the panhandlers who stand at freeway on/off ramps and at major street intersections.

“We passed that law last session,” said Hughes, his voice rising. “Why aren’t we enforcing it?”

 The answer: We will.

But that is just one area in the complex, multifaceted fight that is coming. And coming soon, Hughes pledges.

Last session, Hughes said that 300 jail beds must be found statewide for criminals who are preying on the homeless.

Hughes thought Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, had found them. “Hey, Mike went jail to jail, he counted the empty beds.”

But now, Hughes said he’s told, there may be only as many as 30 or so. That’s because the state Department of Corrections has been putting more and more prison inmates into county jails this spring.

The solution? Open up current (but vacant) pods in the little-used Salt Lake County Oxbow jail.

“There is money out there,” said Hughes. And a special session would likely be seen by others as just a means to get the state to appropriate more funds.

But that’s not needed. Not now, said Hughes.

Example: Over a year ago the Legislature allocated $2 million for the state technical services to come up with special cards/passes to give to homeless folks so they can access various services – from healthcare to drug addiction treatment.

But only $1 million has been spent and not all of the 2,100 folks who may use the cards have them.

“And we need some kind of fingerprint technology or something in addition. Why? Because those cards will be stolen or lost quickly, we need a fingerprint so we can I.D. these folks – that is one very important way to detected the needy from the criminals.”

“Listen,” said Hughes. “We either all succeed in this or we all fail.”

No public official will be able to walk away from his or her responsibilities, or point the finger at someone else, Hughes believes.

And if things don’t start to visibly improve in the Rio Grande/Pioneer Park area of Salt Lake City soon – like within weeks – “Then we can all be called the biggest windbags in Utah,” said Hughes.

Stay tuned, he adds.

Soon there will be visible signs of success, says Hughes. Failure, apparently, is not an option.