SALT LAKE CITY — It was the final hour of the 2018 Utah Legislature, and lawmakers in the House were racing through bills will little introduction and no debate.
As his bill came up, Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, stepped up to the mic and said, "It is a misdemeanor to hold a raccoon. This makes it an infraction." Then he sat down.
There was a little applause for shocking brevity of Robert's presentation, which lasted all of three seconds. There was no debate, and the bill passed with only one representative voting against it.
A bill reducing the penalty for holding a racoon or coyote in captivity was not the only quirky bill to make it through Legislature during the last moments in the session.
Over in the Senate, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, introduced a bill during the homestretch about brine shrimp. The proposal would lower the royalty rate on unprocessed brine shrimp harvested in the Great Salt Lake because the funds being raised therewith to "mitigate impacts on endangered species" had been met already, according to Hinkins.
There were other quirky bills early in the session, like one that sought to nullify Park City's plastic bag ban and preempt other municipalities from enacting similar ordinances.
In an odd role reversal, Democrats had the opportunity to criticize Republicans for supporting the bill by saying "local government is best government," while Republicans defended the virtue of uniformity that only centralized government can bring. The bill failed in the House with a 14-58 vote.
A bill sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, sought to criminalize the failure to assist in an emergency. Under the bill, everybody in the vicinity of an accident or some other emergency would potentially be imprisoned for six months and fined up to $1,000 if they can't prove in court they made an effort to assist.
There was some confusion whether the language of the bill made anybody driving by a car accident a criminal for not stopping. The law would have protected individuals acting in good faith under the Good Samaritan Act, but the House decided it was extreme and struck it down, 20-51.
Another bill would have created a new type of crime, originally called "drug-induced homicide" and later changed to "drug distribution induced homicide." Under the bill, every drug dealer with a customer who overdoses on his illicit drugs would be guilty of a first-degree felony, meaning imprisonment for five years to life and fines of up to $10,000.
HB309's sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said it was a strong motion against the opioid epidemic that is ravaging Utah communities. It passed in the House but narrowly failed in the Senate, 11-12.
Lawmakers passed another bill about license plates, something that has become a tradition in recent years. This year's new licence plate option is an all-black plate with white lettering resembling "retro" license plates from 1966 and 1968. The bill passed both houses; however, the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, confirmed to the Deseret News that a revision to the bill will delay the license plate until the Division of Motor Vehicles can find the right materials at a reasonable cost to make it black while meeting reflectorization requirements.
Fillmore said the state doesn't want to repeat mistakes made in California concerning dark reflectorization being too hard to see at night.
A bill passed both houses that eliminates the penalty for failure to carry registration paperwork in an automobile. Will Utah's children understand what cops in old movies mean by, "license and registration, please?"
Legislators made the Utahraptor the "state dinosaur." An amendment made ensures that the allosaurus remains the "state fossil." At the time that the allosaurus was chosen as the state fossil, "Jurssasic Park" was new, but there were no known raptors of the size depicted in the movie. The discovery of Utahraptor, which stood about 7 feet tall, changed that.
A bill that would have banned smoking and tobacco use on the Capitol grounds was snuffed out by the House. Smoking indoors and within 25 feet of entrances is already illegal per the Indoor Clean Air Act. But Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, thought the Legislature should send a message to Utah anwyay that smoking is still bad for them. The bill failed in the House, 27-43.
One bill giving bicylists the right of way to roll through stop signs and "proceed cautiously" through red lights failed in the Senate. But another one passed both houses that makes it illegal to operate a class 2 electric assisted bicycle with an open container of alcohol.