By Emily Larson
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY –Despite the time, effort, and passion put into each bill that goes through the Utah legislature, sometimes agreements can’t be made or amendments just aren’t enough. Here’s a recap of some of the noteworthy bills that did not pass the legislature during the 2015 session.
HB236 – Minimum wage for tipped workers
Sponsored by Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, the bill would have raised the base wages of tipped employees to the state minimum wage. The base wage of tipped employees currently stands at $2.13, falling significantly short of Utah’s minimum wage.
When addressing a committee, Miller said that many other states have matched the minimum tipped wage to match the state minimum wage, and that their restaurants are finding success.
Some currently employed as tipped workers expressed support for the bill because receiving tips can not always be guaranteed.
Miller also argued that because almost half of tipped-employee workers are receiving governmental help, raising the base pay would soften the burden of the state to provide public assistance.
The bill faced opposition from many who expressed concern that raising the required wages would hurt restaurant function. The committee agreed and failed the bill with an 8-4 vote.
SB259 — Medical Marijuana
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, sponsored SB259, a bill that would have allowed cannabis within the state for medicinal purposes. Madsen shared his personal experience with medical marijuana, which he used to alleviate pain.
The bill received significant opposition from many standpoints. Some were concerned about side effects of the drug, such as the creation of a competitive market if drug dealers offer marijuana at a lower cost, illegaly. Others were worried about enforcing the law.
The bill made it through a senate committee but failed in the Senate.
HB202 — Licensing midwives
This bill would have required unlicensed midwives to gain consent before delivering a baby. Rep. Carol Spakman Moss, D –Holladay, sponsor of the bill, explained in a committee hearing that families choose home birth because it offers control. She also said that because unlicensed midwives have higher risks of problems, they need to disclose the risks and obtain consent.
“I think this issue is a right to choose issue,” said Sen. Karen Duckworth, D-Magna. “Informed consent is the right way to go about this.”
The bill was failed during a House Committee meeting.
HB144 – Pay day loans
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Bradley M. Daw, R-Orem, had two significant goals. First, it would have mandated the creation of a database of those who are taking out payday loans and how much those loans are worth. Second, it would have established a cap on either the number of loans or the amount of money a person could have at one time.
The bill met support from those interested in helping people out of poverty. Because high interest rates are the main issue and capping those interest rates would destroy the business altogether, Daw felt that the creation of a database and a cap on borrowing was a good compromise to the situation.
Some in the payday lending industry felt this bill was unnecessary because they already perform background checks before lending.
Daw argued that lenders profit from bad investments and that creating a standard database would help consumers.
The bill was shut down in committee.
SB164 and HB446 — Healthy Utah
Healthcare was a hot topic in the Utah legislature this session. SB164, which would have expanded Medicaid and HB446, which would have extended primary care to patients were both shut down this session.
SB164 met opposition from house leadership, who were concerned that the federal government wouldn’t always be able to pay the portion of the bill that they have committed to. The bill would have raised the requirements of receiving Medicaid from 100 percent of the poverty line to 138 percent of the poverty line. Lawmakers were also concerned about being able to fund the unknown number of people who may qualify for Medicaid after raising the bar.
HB446, which would have extended primary care to patients who did not qualify for Medicaid, was scrutinized by those who believed that primary care wasn’t enough. Primary care does not cover hospital stays or emergency situations.
After a long stalemate, Gov. Gary Herbert named a blue-ribbon panel to resolve the issue by the end of July. The committee is comprised of.Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, House Speaker Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and competing bill sponsors Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, and Rep. James Dunningan, R-Taylorsville.
No Democrats were appointed the committee, but Herbert assured them that he would work with minority leadership on this issue.
“We are going to solve this problem together the Utah way,” Herbert said.
Prison relocation generated a lot of attention during the 2015 legislative session. The state prison currently sit on 7,000 acres in Draper – prime real estate surrounding by businesses and subdivisions. The prison is facing overcrowding and needs to expand.
Members of the community spoke out at public meetings. Some expressed concerns that moving the prison away from the Salt Lake area would diminish the efforts of many volunteers that currently serve at the prison. Others worried that moving the prison would remove prisoners from their support group of family and friends who are able to come and visit them because of the convenient location of the current prison.
Throughout the session, many voiced support for the prison relocation because it would allow the prison to help rehabilitate people, instead of simply holding them for the duration of their sentence. Others were simply concerned with overcrowding.
Five potential sites for the new prison were announced during this session, however the bill never moved forward because of a stalemate between Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper and Governor Gary Herbert. Hughes refused to hear Herbert’s Healthy Utah bill, while Herbert threatened to reconsider his past support for a prison relocation.
HB63 — Cell phone law amendment
HB63 was aimed to allow drivers to make and receive phone calls and use GPS navigation systems while in the car. Currently, law does not prohibit voice-activated cell phone usage. It was sponsored by Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi.
Many supported the bill because they believed that last year’s legislation has led to more dangerous driving habits as drivers attempt to hide phone usage while they drive.
Other people opposed Anderegg’s bill because they consider it a step back and place safety over the frustrations of ticketed drivers.
The bill was passed by the senate with amendments, but was circled at the end of the session by the House.