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Utah’s legislative session continues this week. Here’s what to watch

You can follow along with any committee hearings or floor debates by turning in to le.utah.gov.

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Utah National Guard troops are stationed at the Capitol in Salt Lake City during the first day of the Utah Legislature’s 2021 general session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

There’s a cadence to the annual legislative session on Utah’s Capitol Hill. It starts slow and crescendos to frenetic by the end. Unlike the federal government and some states, the Utah Legislature does not meet all year. Instead, the lawmakers meet for 45 days and have a hard stop at midnight on the 45th day. 

In that time, they will request somewhere around 1,200 bills, begin the process of hearing around 800 bills, will pass some 500 bills — and, they’ll balance the budget. 

We are 11 days into the 2021 legislative session and most of the “easy” bills have been passed out of one body, at least. Those are typically bills that have been discussed during the interim between sessions and this year, include some of the following:

  • Rep. Candice Pierucci says HB43, brought forward in response to no-bid contracts last spring, would allow “the executive branch to be both nimble and responsive while also putting guardrails and checkpoints into place to encourage transparency, accountability and ultimately the competitive bid process.” The bill stipulates that a no-bid emergency contract could last not longer than 30 days, except in the case of a natural disaster, and then they would be limited to 60 days. A pandemic does not meet the definition of “natural disaster.” After the emergency contracts expire, the state would go through the standard procurement process. After a debate and almost-certain passage in the House, the bill now goes to the Senate side, where Sen. Day McCay will be the sponsor.
  • It passed earlier in the session than most years and it’s a big deal: the state education budget. Because voters approved of Amendment G in November, it gave legislators more flexibility in funding education. Legislators approved $400 million to the base budget, which includes  increasing the weighted pupil unit (WPU) by 6% and allocated an additional $121 million in one-time money for teacher bonuses of $1,500 and staff bonuses of $1,000. 
  • Rep. Jeff Stenquist has a bill that would restrict the use of nicknames on ballots when filing as a candidate for political office. HB152 would limit the names to first, middle and last, a common abbreviation (like Joe, instead of Joseph), initials, or an “acquired” name that has been used longer than five years and for which there is documentation. Names that have been used on ballots include “Booger,” “Chicken Commander” and “None of the Above.” They would no longer be permitted. The “Frugal” in John ‘Frugal’ Dougall is questionable. The bill passed out of committee 6-2 and heads to the House floor for debate. 

What you can watch for next week:

  • Rep. Pierucci has a bill, HB 266, that would exempt practitioners in “blow dry bars” (or at home) from needing a cosmetology license. If someone only “dries, styles, arranges, dresses, curls, hot irons, shampoos or conditions hair,” receives a safety permit and displays it where they work, then they don’t need a license. This bill is another one that removes unnecessary regulatory barriers and will allow more practitioners, predominantly women, an opportunity to earn income. But cosmetology licensing is a controversial topic, so watch for fireworks in committee hearings. It should be assigned to a committee shortly.
  • Sen. Curt Bramble is running SB49, which sets up a pilot project to explore mobile voting. It allows a municipality to choose to offer electronic means of voting as long as the municipality’s election officer approves it. Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner said this bill will help expand access for voters and she looks forward to exploring all opportunities that allow citizens to safely cast their votes. You can check out our conversation here. The bill should be heard in the Senate Government Operations Committee Monday next week. 
  • The pace of legislative hearings and floor debates will begin to quicken as we head into the middle of the session. Some bills have passed, but there are some big ones waiting in the wings, including a slew of police reform bills, abortion bills and once again, the Equal Rights Amendment. Legislators need to stay vigilant to make sure that their key priorities don’t get buried or glossed over, just because the pace picks up. 

You can follow along with any committee hearings or floor debates by turning in to le.utah.gov. If you want to comment during a committee meeting, you may do so via Zoom — no fighting over parking spots required. 

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy Daily and a Deseret News columnist.