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HB63, Distracted Driver Amendments was uncircled and amended before ultimately being passed out of the House floor. This bill in its original form, loosened the current distracted driver laws as it relates to the usage of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. SB162, Distracted Driver Revisions was going in a different direction. The representative and senator merged their bills together to come up with a consensus bill. This is a fine example of how the proverbial sausage is made. The final bill ultimately clarifies the law, allowing for hands-free talking and listening while operating a moving motor vehicle, or to activate, deactivate, or initiate a voice controlled function on your phone. Visit the link to HB63 to view the details and to listen to the debate.
HJR14, Joint Resolution Calling for a Convention to Amend the Constitution of the United States and HJR7 Joint Resolution Calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are joint resolutions that would allow Utah to join other states in the effort to amend the United States Constitution to incorporate some narrowly defined topics. HJR14 limited the topics to fiscal restraints and limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, as well as addressing term limits. HJR7 limited the topics to only a balanced budget amendment. At the last minute, an amendment was added to allow Utah to withdraw if scope creep became an issue. I ultimately voted yes for these bills because I felt comfortable with the layers, steps, and protections that would prevent things from going rogue. I also felt that it would be more responsible for me to do something than it would for me to do nothing. In the end, HJR14 failed while HJR7 passed.
A few breast feeding-friendly bills were introduced this session (HB105, HB242, HB154), making it easier for nursing mothers who need to breastfeed or express milk (pump), a bodily function that comes with giving birth to a child. I supported all of those bills and here's why.
HB105 added breastfeeding as a pregnancy-related condition. When a women chooses to breastfeed upon returning to work, it is not an easy commitment. You have to pump regularly at work in order to keep production sufficient for your baby. In the beginning stages of motherhood, there are physical reactions that your body has and if you ignore them, your production diminishes. It takes tremendous dedication and commitment to do this and not all women have the choice of whether or not, or when to return to work. In fact, a lot of women return to work after two to three months (see page 21) after giving birth. The need to express milk (pump) is in fact a pregnancy-related condition and it makes sense to call it what it is.
HB242 requires an public employer to provide reasonable breaks and a sanitary space for nursing mothers, where possible. Nursing mothers are pumping in unsanitary restrooms because there is no where else to go. Many women do not have an alternative option and do not bother to raise it as an issue. The Health Department would never approve of food handling or food preparation in restrooms for a reason. A sanitary space for women who need to pump should be made available if possible. With just under half of our workforce made up of women, it makes sense to incorporate these changes. It will not only make these employers more attractive as a family-friendly employer, but it's the right thing to do.
HB154 allows a court to excuse someone from jury duty if they are breastfeeding a child. There are a lot of variables involved for a women in bringing a baby into the world, as well as a for a baby who is developing into the next stage in life. Balancing these variables with today's societal demands is not always cut and dry or black and white. The decision to breastfeed, formula feed, or bottle feed (formula/breast milk) are driven by many factors like ability, health of mother/baby, nature of employment of either the mother or the father, child care, etc (click examples 1 , 2 and 3). The developmental stage of your child makes a difference as well. It makes sense to allow courts to take this into consideration so that we don't unintentionally make criminals out of nursing mothers.
As for the Senate side...
The bill that provides an extension for the implementation of last year's SB54, the agreement reached between the County My Vote group and current caucus supporters, is SB43, Changes to Election Law. This bill was killed in the Senate 9:19:1, thereby honoring the agreement made last year (listen to the debate here).
SOPHIA'S BILLS (Summary)
HB218, Nurse Practice Act Amendments - This bill crossed the finish line and passed unanimously out of the House as well as in the Senate. The other two have had some random delays and are trying to catch up.
HB312, Reporting and Expenditure of Public Funds Amendments - This bill was on the agenda to be heard on Wednesday but it didn't get heard because I was presenting my other bill which took longer than anticipated. It was rescheduled for Monday, March 2nd. I face the same dilemma on Monday and hope to get one finished in time to present the other.
HB324, Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Amendments - This bill was heard on Wednesday and the committee had some fundamental questions about whether or not the program would need to be treated as insurance. The bill was subsequently held in committee and moved to the following agenda. We were able to obtain clarity from the Attorney General's Office and the Insurance Department and are ready for round two on Monday, March 2nd.
We are starting to see more bills come through my assigned committees. For the most part, they have been non controversial bills. The committees have been good about holding bills with issues until they can be improved. Most issues get resolved collaboratively by the time they ultimately get passed out of our committees. Examples of this are the HB296, Government Use of Unmanned Arial Vehicles and HB216, Workplace Abusive Conduct to Promote a Healthy Workplace. Both bills were held for further improvement and both were collaboratively enhanced by concerned stakeholders before being passed out of committee.
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House Transportation Standing Committee
House Retirement and Independent Entities Standing Committee
House Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee
Other Standing Committees: State School Board Elections
Another big issue surfaced out of the House Education Standing Committee this week -- school board elections. Last September U.S. District Court Judge Waddoups struck down Utah's state school board elections process and the State found itself needing to come up with viable alternatives. This week the House Education Committee heard several bills that attempt to solve this problem and ensure a fair and constitutional path to the state school board. Three bills were advanced for consideration:
SB104, Education Elections and Reporting Amendments: This bill eliminates the nominating committee and requires candidates for state and local school boards to participate in a partisan school board election.
HJR16, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution - Governance of Public Education: This resolution would amend the constitution to require that all state school board seats be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
HB186, State School Board Membership and Election Amendments: This bill creates a direct nonpartisan election for the state school board, requiring candidates to gather signatures from residents in their area in order to appear on the ballot.
These three bills will be debated on the House floor this session. Constituents of District 31 have spoken loud and clear that they want non partisan elections. Now that we have three proposals headed to the floor from which to choose, that is the position I will be taking.
The next Executive Appropriations Committee has not yet been scheduled. In the meantime, you can check out these videos [1, 2 and 3]to get a review of the budgeting process. You can also catch a glimpse of our State's fiscal health by monitoring the Fiscal Health Dashboard.
This week, I had the opportunity to attend the Labor caucus. It was good to get an update from this group on the issues they are following. Here are some highlights of the big topics covered in some of the other caucuses.
Criminal Justice Reinvestment and the Prison Move:
Earlier this week in the Republican House Caucus, we heard an overview of the Criminal Justice Reinvestment activities and how the prison move ties into the reform efforts. There are a lot of prisoners returning to prison and the current structure itself presents some serious challenges with addressing recidivism. A new design would would help facilitate some of the goals outlined in the Justice Reinvestment Report. HB348, Criminal Justice Programs and Amendments, incorporates the recommendations made by the Utah Commission for Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). You will continue to hear about this initiative going forward.
Click here to view all of the reports, studies, and other materials related to the Prison Relocation Commission. Click here for the most recent presentation from the last meeting.
Transportation Funding: (101 video tutorial and Presentation)
The Rural caucus heard an update on the transportation options being discussed. So far, the two that continue to be on the table are SB160, Transportation Funding Amendments that adds 10 cents to the existing motor fuel tax, and HB362, Transportation Infrastructure Funding, that provides a more comprehensive approach to the issue.
The update from last week? SB160 seems to be staying steady with what was proposed last week, while HB362 has potential to incorporate some modifications to strengthen the proposed formula change. The Republican Caucus will hear a full update and review of these Transportation funding options early next week.
In the House Republican Caucus, we talked more about Medicaid expansion options. Some of it played out in the press and this topic will certainly take up a lot more energy next week. Healthy Utah (Listen to the Senate debate on SB164) does not have the support it would need in the House to pass. The alternative option, Utah Cares, was killed in the Senate (Listen to the Senate debate on SB153). What does this mean? It means we are left with nothing if there isn't a compromise. From dissonance comes harmony and I am hopeful that together, all parties will come up with a tune that will work for Utah.
OTHER RELATED CAP HAPS
This week we welcomed the Utah Girl Scouts to the Capitol for the Girls Scouts Cookie Delivery Day on the Hill. I was thrilled to be inducted into the Honorary Troop 1920, an honorary Girl Scout troop of women legislators.
We're working hard to finally give recognition to the girl scouts who earn their Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards. The hard work and dedication to improving their communities that those talented girls show deserves proper recognition.
We also enjoyed a visit from Cat in the Hat who was there to promote reading in our K-12 schools.
On a more serious note, we were honored to recognize on the House Floor the families of our fallen service members. There were many tears amid a silent House floor and I felt honored to be part of that reverent moment. We were humbled by the opportunity to thank them for their sacrifices. These are the kinds of moments that keep you grounded.
As we approach the final two weeks, we will continue to see more activity rise before us at an even quicker pace. We've had four town hall meetings and have had some great discussions on the issues we are faced with this session. I am continuing to collect responses from my 2015 Legislative Survey and intend to post results either next week or early in the last week. I have been leaning heavily on the feedback I've received from my constituents and I genuinely appreciate the feedback and input. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you.