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Will Midvale homeless shelter have year-round operation?

SALT LAKE CITY — The Road Home’s new Midvale Center, an emergency homeless shelter for families that opened in November, could operate year-round under a bill endorsed late Tuesday by a House committee.

But the bill remained before the House Rules Committee Wednesday, which decides which bills move to the House for further consideration, with only a day remaining in the session.

SB169, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, would prohibit municipalities from adopting or enforcing ordinances or other regulation that prohibits a homeless shelter from operating year-round. While Midvale is not mentioned by name in the bill, it is the only city where an emergency shelter has opened in the past year that operates seasonally.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee, in a meeting that lasted well after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, voted 8-2 to send the bill to the House for its consideration.

Midvale opposes the legislation because it overrides local zoning decisions, said Dave Spatafore, a contract lobbyist for the city.

Midvale stepped up in the 1990s by permitting an overflow shelter to open in its city when the downtown homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City was filled to capacity.

There are some 250 cities and towns in Utah, and with the exception of Salt Lake City, “no other has done more than Midvale. We are proud of what we have done,” he said.

Perhaps this is matter of no good deed goes unpunished, Spatafore said.

“We’re opposed and will remain opposed. We don’t believe the overriding of local zoning ought to be done at the state level,” Spatafore said.

Weiler, who served four years on a city council and was a member of the Utah League of Cities and Towns board of directors, said he takes "city responsibility very, very seriously. If there was a way to solve homelessness without doing it this way I wouldn’t be running the bill this way."

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to strike language that says municipalities “may not adopt or enforce an ordinance or other regulation that prohibits a homeless shelter from operating year-round.”

Utah lawmakers balk at congressional or federal mandates on the states, he said.

“I don’t think we should be engaging in the same conduct. I think it’s important we strike that out,” he said.

But Weiler countered that cities and counties in Utah derive their power from the state as political subdivisions.

“This not the same as the federal government telling the states what to do,” he said.

Weiler said SB169 is part of a “three-bill deal” addressing homelessness this session.

“If were going to make an honest attempt at solving homelessness, this is one of the pieces of the puzzle,” he said.

Negotiations with Midvale are ongoing and amendments to “soften” the impact of the legislation may be introduced on the floor of the House, Weiler said.

Historically, the Road Home has operated the Midvale shelter until the end of March or into April, depending on weather conditions and "in compliance with our conditional use permit," said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the nonprofit organization.