At the UAC Annual Convention in November, the membership adopted a list of nine major legislative priorities for the 2016 Legislative Session. As we kick off several weeks of analysis of the 2016 session, we thought it might be a good idea to compare our priorities with actual outcomes.
Here, then, are the nine priorities we identified leading up to the Session and the ultimate outcome of each of them.
HB 300 is a consensus bill two years in the making. UAC worked closely with Representative McCay, Senator Thatcher, the League of Cities and Towns, law enforcement, the ACLU of Utah, and the media to draft legislation that sets minimum standards for the use of police body-worn cameras as well as the availability of the recordings of such cameras to the public. There were a lot of twists and turns with this legislation, and we’ve probably written too much about it already, but the legislation that came out of all the meetings and compromises should help clarify the use and availability of an exciting, new law enforcement tool.
Indigent Defense Services
SB 155 finally makes the state a partner in Utah’s indigent defense system. Given that prior to its passage, Utah was one of only two states in the country not contributing to indigent defense, it was long overdue. The bill creates an advisory Indigent Defense Commission as well as provides $1.5 million in grant funding to assist counties’ efforts to provide defense to the poor. As the commission meets and makes further recommendations, you can be sure that we will continue to see indigent defense reform in the years to come.
With input from UAC, the sponsors of SB 151 pulled back from some of their more ambitious changes to the redevelopment agency code and we ended up with a helpful bill that cleans up the code regarding tax increment financing and the processes used to approve it.
Newspaper Notice of Elections
SB 26 removes a costly and ineffective method to notice the public of elections and polling places through newspaper notices. The law now allows for the county clerk’s office to choose between a mailed notice and a newspaper notice (where previously they were paying the newspapers tens of thousands of dollars to do both).
Property Tax New Growth
HB 25 addresses a growing issue of concern to a number of vocal legislators regarding the formula previously used to calculate property tax new growth. With the passage of HB 25, taxing entities are substituting large new growth values based on fluctuating centrally assessed and personal property values for guaranteed gains every year from real property new growth. Additionally, HB 25 should insulate taxing entities from legislative assaults upon the new growth formula in the future.
Justice Reinvestment Initiative
In 2015, the legislature passed sweeping changes to the criminal justice system. These changes moved much of the responsibility of the statewide justice system from the state to the counties. At the time, UAC committed to work with the legislature in its efforts to reduce recidivism and improve treatment of drug offenders. 2016 saw much needed funds to assist counties in their new responsibilities. A $1.5 million appropriation was supplemented with another $2 million appropriation to better coordinate data and departments in these efforts. This is another issue that will need attention for many more years.
Behavioral Health Treatment and Funding
2016 finally saw the passage of Medicaid expansion. HB 437 will result in roughly $100 million in new federal and state moneys for behavioral health. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: we owe a great debt of gratitude to the legislature, and particularly Representative Dunnigan, for vision and courage to fund HB 437.
After effort for a number of years, SB 122 brings the state, counties, and cities to the table when discussing and dealing with wildland fire suppression. Additionally, SB 212 also appropriates $2 million towards suppression. Big thanks to Senator Vickers for his leadership on this issue.
County Resource Management Plans
HB 219 continues efforts began in 2015 to assist counties with county resource management plans. HB 219 further refines procedures to enhance resource management and planning at the local level.
Reviewing our priorities, county officials should be proud that we were able to successfully address each and every one of them. What’s more, we say concrete improvements for each issue. This is another sign that the counties really had a successful 2016 Legislative Session.