Utah Capitol 05

Every general session has its own history, of course.

But the 2019 Legislature will likely go down as one of the most important in recent history.

And depending on an arcane item known as an Article V convention of the states, it could be one of the most important in 100 years.

The House and Senate passed a resolution that puts Utah in the still-small group (18) of states that have approved of a convention of the states, which would take up U.S. constitutional amendments.

If the threshold of 34 states can be reached, then “delegates” from all the state legislatures will be sent to the convention. Utah’s resolution says our state can only discuss/pass proposed amendments dealing with a balanced budget and term limits for Congress.

Utah lawmakers also adopted a “hate crime” bill that can provide longer sentences for people who attack others physically or their property because the victims belong to a protected class, including LGBTQ.

For more than a decade conservative legislators have refused to pass a strong hate crime law.

And since 2014 legislators have been arguing over Medicaid expansion – and they finally agreed to a compromise measure this session.

While adopted in a December special session, over the last 45 days the state’ new medical marijuana law was tweaked, as well.

Here is a list of what lawmakers did and didn’t do in the 2019 Legislature:

DID:

  • Pass a Medicaid expansion bill, which will give federal-based health insurance to those whose incomes equal 100 percent of the federal poverty line.
    Private, subsidized insurance can be purchased for those 101 percent to 138 percent of poverty, putting more than 60,000 low-income Utahns into the government-aided health insurance pool.
  • Pass a resolution calling for a convention of the states to deal with U.S. constitutional amendments Congress will not consider.
  • A new “hate crimes” law will allow prosecutors to ask judges for an added sentence to criminals who harm their victims because of their characteristics, like being gay, or Mormon or their political beliefs.
  • New, tougher “stand your ground” law will allow someone to fight/shoot an attacker or someone who threatens you.
  • Passed a bill that allows beer with around 4 percent alcohol to be sold in retail stores. The current level is 3.2 percent, and a number of national brewers are saying they will stop selling that low alcohol beer. Ninety percent of beer makers will make 4 percent beer – and thus may be legally sold in Utah retail stores.
    An exhausted Senate budget chairman Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, sponsor of the measure, said either the bill was finished Thursday night or he was. He’s apparently still alive.
  • Passed a budget that gives more than $280 million more to public education, with a 4 percent Weighted Pupil Unit increase and cash coming into a number of other special programs – which would equal more than a 5 percent WPU.
    The 4 percent WPU hike is usually the base from which teachers negotiate pay raises in the state’s 41 individual school districts.
  • Gave 2.5 percent pay raise for state workers.
  • Passed a bill that limits abortions to 18 weeks, a violation of Roe v Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision.
    The Utah ACLU already say they will sue, and while the state will be defended by the Attorney General – no added cost – if the state loses it will have to pay plaintiff attorney fees, which could run $1.5 to $3 million in tax dollars.
  • Passed another abortion bill ending the practice in the case of a Down syndrome diagnosis.
  • The age for smoking tobacco or vaping will, over stages, move from 19 to 21. Excepted are active military personnel.
  • Passed a resolution calling for the end to daylight savings time. The resolution supports Rep. Rob Bishop's bill which ends the twice-per-year time change ritual.

DIDN’T:

  • Pass a tax cut, although one is coming, likely in the range of $75 million.
  • Failed to pass a “red flag” bill that would allow a judge, with request from a family member, to take guns away from possible suicide or violent person.
  • No universal background check on buying a weapon.
  • No strong provision outlawing “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth. With gay advocates resigning from state teen suicide prevention task force.
  • Removed from a special election law for U.S. House replacements the ability of a candidate to gather voter signatures to make a party primary ballot.
    Only party delegates will vote on those seeking to replace a U.S. House member mid-term.
    Gov. Gary Herbert doesn’t like the bill as passed, but it is unclear if he will veto it.
    SB123 passed the House with just over 50 votes, the two-thirds needed to override any gubernatorial veto.
  • Did not get rid of straight ticket voting. Many expected the Republicans to do away with the ability after they got drubbed by Democrats in Salt Lake County. That bill died on the last night of the session.
  • Didn’t put $24 million into a renewed affordable housing plan.
    Affordable housing was one of Herbert’s and GOP leaders supposed priorities at the start of the session, and with $1.3 billion in one-time and ongoing tax surpluses, big things were expected here. Now have to wait until the 2020 session.
  • Herbert wanted $100 million in new air quality spending. Much of that was cut, however.
    There will be $5 million for additional electric car charging stations. And $500,000 for an advertising campaign aimed at people out of their cars and taking mass transit or home-telecommuting in bad air days.