SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers took time during the third week of their annual legislative session to honor state and local health department workers for their efforts to keep the public informed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HCR6, passed unanimously in both the Senate and the House with a standing ovation for health officials in the gallery, honors the efforts of epidemiologists, health department directors, contact tracers, data analysts, web designers, communication specialists and public information officers.

“These guys, they had no manual and they’ve never dealt with this before, and we put a huge burden on their shoulders,” bill sponsor Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, said Wednesday.

Legislators have thus far passed 30 bills or resolutions, out of more than 470 filed for the session. A topic expected to generate substantial discussion in the coming weeks is police reform.

House Speaker Brad Wilson threw his support behind three proposals to address concerns brought about by last year’s protests locally and nationally on racial inequity in law enforcement:

  • HB162, which would require 16 of the 40 hours of training police officers are required to complete each year to be focused on de-escalation tactics and working with individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • HB84, which would require local law enforcement agencies to collect and submit data on use-of-force incidents to the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a state and federal database.
  • HB59, which would enact criminal penalties for police and prosecutors for misuse of evidence.

Earlier this week, HB62 stalled in a House committee. Considered a “tame” reform bill, it would add “conduct involving dishonesty or deception or violation of employer’s use-of-force policy” as grounds for revoking a police officer’s certification.

And on Thursday, two bills with broader checks and transparency for police hit roadblocks.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee held HB74, which would allow cities to create their own elected police oversight boards, and HB133, requiring release of body camera footage of incidents that result in death or bodily injury or whenever an officer fires a gun within 10 days.

But that same committee voted to favorably move to the full chamber several other more measured police reform bills, including SB38, which would require annual certification of police K-9s and their handlers, and HB59, which would criminally punish officers, prosecutors or others taking part of an investigation if they improperly share intimate images — a bill inspired by former University of Utah police officer who showed explicit photos of slain student Lauren McCluskey to fellow officers.

The House committee also endorsed a bill aimed at rioters. HB58 seeks to require a person arrested for rioting to appear before a magistrate before being released from jail. It would also require a judge to order the person pay restitution if convicted.

Other action of note during the Legislature’s third week:

Ellie Mae Davidson, right, is interviewed by members of the media as to why she and others are protesting outside of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn’s house in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Protesting outside an official’s home targeted

After anti-mask protesters targeted the homes of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, now-Gov. Spencer Cox, and former Gov. Gary Herbert last year, lawmakers are considering a statewide ban against those tactics

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, is sponsoring HB291, which would make “targeted residential picketing” — a protest “specifically directed or focused toward a residence” — a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or fines of up to $1,000.

HB291 explicitly exempts “general picketing that proceeds through residential neighborhoods or that proceeds past residences.”

The bill has yet to have a hearing in committee.

Utah Senate passes bill to drop concealed carry gun permits

After a heated debate on Thursday, the Utah Senate on Friday gave its final approval, 22-6, to a bill to drop the permit requirement for Utahns to carry a concealed firearm.

HB60 co-sponsor Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, emphasized that the concealed carry permit does not include extensive gun safety training, but simply requires someone to take a three-hour class, submit an application and pay a fee.

“Going from this to the constitutional carry provision is not going to increase or decrease safety one iota. This is going to, I think, restore quite literally what the Founding Fathers had originally intended,” Hinkins said.

The concealed carry permit program will remain available and will still be needed for those who wish to carry concealed firearms when they travel to other states, he noted.

During the floor debate Thursday, Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, introduced an amendment that would exclude counties with populations higher than 700,000 people from the bill, but that failed.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said the bill won’t allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon who can’t already carry a gun.

The bill already passed the House on Jan. 26. It must go back again to representatives for a final signoff on an amendment for using the funds from the program before it can go to the governor’s desk.

Jill McCluskey, mother of Lauren McCluskey, left, walks with Jenn Oxborrow on the two-year anniversary of Lauren’s death at the McCarthey Family Track and Field Complex in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Lauren McCluskey, a track athlete, was was shot and killed on campus near her dorm by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, after weeks of being stalked and harassed by Rowland. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Case of slain Utah athlete Lauren McCluskey prompts revenge porn bill

A lawmaker is proposing to change the state’s revenge porn law in the wake of the death of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey.

More than two years ago, McCluskey shared intimate photos with a university police officer to aid in the investigation of her eventual killer who was blackmailing her with the photos. A review found that officer showed them to others on his phone.

Utah laws provide no avenue to prosecute the officer because a victim must show emotional distress for charges to be filed, which couldn’t occur because McCluskey had died, noted HB147 sponsor Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, speaking at the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Originally written to remove the requirement that distress or harm be shown for charges to be filed, Hall offered an alternate version that would only remove the distress requirement in cases where the subject is deceased or incapacitated. That version was approved in committee.

The Salt Lake County Jail in South Salt Lake is pictured on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

House agrees contraceptives are a health need for female prisoners

The Utah House passed a bill that would require jails to give female inmates the contraceptive medication they received before their incarceration.

HB102 would prevent poor outcomes for mothers and children, as well as save the state money incurred by Medicaid for complicated deliveries, bill sponsor Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said.

Doctors prescribe contraceptives for a score of medical conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, anemia and heavy menstrual bleeding, she said.

Are contraceptives essential health care? Legislators debate bill to give inmates birth control

During a debate in the House ahead of the bill’s final vote, some lawmakers questioned the program’s necessity and its cost to the state, while some emphasized that contraceptives are a medical need for many.

“Current law is that all things that are medically necessary that an inmate is on should be continued when they go in the jail,” Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, a medical doctor, told members of the House ahead of the bill’s final vote.

On Friday, members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee had a lengthy debate on the program, but eventually recommended the legislation to be heard by the full Senate.

Palm trees flank an entrance to Dixie State University in St. George.
An entrance sign at Dixie State University is pictured in St. George on Sunday, Oct.11, 2020. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

Process to change Dixie State University’s name clears committee

Dixie State University took another step toward a name change Wednesday after the House Education Committee voted 12-2 in support of HB278.

Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, the bill would require the university’s trustees, in consultation with the Utah Board of Higher Education, to select and recommend a new name for the four-year institution in St. George.

It also would require the Legislature’s Education Interim Committee to prepare and consider legislation incorporating the new name for the institution in Utah Code, which suggests the process will not be finalized during the current session that ends March 5.

Postcard vehicle registration reminders may return

Last year’s switch from reminder postcards for upcoming car registration renewals to emailed notices has led to many forgetful Utahns driving on expired tags.

“We need to bring back postcard renewal,” Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, said. “It’s OK to move toward electronic, but we need to have a means to do that instead of just cold turkey, jerking the rug out from (under) everybody.”

His HB170, which passed the House Transportation Committee, reinstates postcard reminders from the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles — at an added fee for printing and postage costs — to vehicle owners who don’t want emailed notices.

The DMV allows vehicle owners to sign up at notification via email for upcoming registration deadlines, but Chew does not believe the system is working.

Should physician assistants work without physician supervision?

Two Utah bills that would broaden the scope of physician assistants passed their first legislative hurdle.

“During the pandemic we’ve seen a real challenge to health care accessibility because of limited traveling and distancing. ... And P.A.s have stepped up,” Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, told members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday.

Both sponsored by Bramble, SB27 would allow physician assistants to work without physician supervision, while SB28 would add them to the state’s Mental Health Professional Practice Act and allow them to independently offer mental health care if they receive certain training and experience.

Squaw Peak in Provo is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Effort to remove words like ‘squaw’ from Utah place names advances

Squaw Peak has been a contentious name for years, but state lawmakers, local community activists and Native American voices are joining to try and streamline the process to change geographic names like the one for the familiar peak above Brigham Young University.

SB10 would include the Utah Division of Indian Affairs in the process with the Utah Committee on Geographic Names to more easily submit a name change request of geographic areas that use American Indian related terms and any places that use the word “squaw.”

The bill singles out squaw for a specific reason.

“It was used to describe women who were offered as prostitutes during mountain man rendezvous and later just to describe women who worked in prostitution outside of military forts,” according to Shaina Snyder, a Diné Navajo and Southern Ute. The word, she said, has no relation to the languages, cultures or dialects of Utah tribes and was never used in relation to women of the tribes. The word came with westward expansion.

Several Native American representatives spoke in support of the bill in Wednesday’s Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee meeting.

“There’s over 50 different locations in Utah that have a reference to squaw. As a Native American, the word squaw to me is very offensive and derogatory. And not only to me, but to all Native Americans,” said Ed Naranjo, administrator of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation.

The bill passed unanimously out of committee for debate by the full Senate.

Utah hopes to clear path so people can help homeless youth find temporary housing

One of the first bills introduced in the 2021 Legislature to bolster the state’s ongoing efforts to help its unsheltered population earned the support of a House committee.

Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, is sponsoring HB212, which would allow those who help homeless youth to direct them to temporary or permanent housing.

Report says Utah isn’t meeting goals to care for the homeless. Can that be changed?

Current state law allows people who offer shelter or care to homeless minors to refer them to “safe permanent housing,” a limited resource in the state’s homeless system.

Weight’s bill would modify the law to clarify that people can refer teens to temporary housing, employment resources and medical or dental providers as well.

Utah bill to break barriers for basement apartments sparks local control debate

A Utah bill seeking to remove barriers for mother-in-law apartments has the weight of legislative leaders behind it, but it may be watered down before it can clear its first hurdle.

Rep. Ray Ward’s HB82 would prohibit Utah cities and towns from setting what Ray called too many “roadblocks” in the way of Utahns wanting to rent out their own basements.

The bill is only looking to deal with internal accessory dwelling units, or apartments that would exist inside the existing footprint of a single family home, such as a basement. It wouldn’t touch cities’ regulations on detached dwellings or home additions.

The bill would permit these internal accessory dwelling units anywhere cities currently allow them.

The bill was held in a House committee to work through some proposed changes that would allow cities to regulate certain aspects of these basement apartments, such as limiting the number of bedrooms to two, a parking space requirement and more.

A mock-up of a potential Utah Dark Sky license plate that was under consideration by Utah legislators. | Eliza Hawkins

Lights go out for plan to issue a Dark Skies license plate in Utah

The Utah House of Representatives dimmed the lights on one lawmaker’s efforts to promote the state’s star-filled skies.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, sponsored HB198 that would create a Utah Dark Sky license plate. Though it passed through a committee last week, on Thursday it failed to gain the needed 38 votes for House approval, failing on a 36-35 vote.

Handy said he wanted to find “something unique about our state; a story we can tell, celebrate and promote,” and when he found out about “astro-tourism” where people travel places to see the night sky, his idea came to light.

But then some clouds rolled into the Capitol as lawmakers worried the plates may be harder for police to read or that they promote environmental activism. What ultimately killed the bill was the money.

The fiscal note estimated $175,000 in one-time costs, including for the production of 25,000 license plates. The Dark Sky license plate would sell for $7 each, but it was noted that “the total quantity demanded is unknown.”

Handy and Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, said the plate would increase outside tourism and more than return the $175,000 investment.

But the doubters were too many.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said “although I can see that this could be a really cool idea, I don’t think that it merits the $175,000 out of this year’s budget.”

Lawmaker seeks to clamp down on ‘party raiding’ before partisan primary elections

To clamp down on what its supporters called “gamesmanship” and “party raiding” in partisan elections, a Utah lawmaker is driving a bill to cut off the ability to switch party affiliation months before primary elections.

But its critics argue the bill would do more to disenfranchise voters than it would to prevent any type of nefarious activity.

HB197’s sponsor, Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, told the House Government Operations Committee on Friday that over 79,000 Utahns switched their party affiliation to vote in last year’s Republican primary.

Teuscher said there “may have been some Democrats jumping in the race in order to vote for a more moderate candidate.”

HB197 would have originally blocked Utah voters from changing their party affiliation from Jan. 1 of a primary election year all the way up until the primary. But Teuscher put forth a change on Friday to reduce that window of time to start on March 31. That time frame is after party caucuses, but before the primaries, giving parties a chance to “recruit, to motivate their base, and gives general voters more notice,” he said.

The House Government Operations Committee voted to endorse the bill on a 7-3, party line vote. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

Contributing: Katie McKellar, Ashley Imlay, Hannah Petersen, Marjorie Cortez, Mitch Wilkinson