Hundreds of New Laws Take Effect Today

House of Reps352 laws took effect at the stroke of midnight last night. Yes, there is nearly one new law for each day of the coming year.

Unless otherwise noted in a particular piece of legislation, all bills passed during a legislative session take effect 60 days after the end of the session.

Two bills that will catch the eye of most citizens are related to how people move around the state.

SB 253 – Distracted Driver Amendments from Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George) updates the law to fully ban the use of a cell phone while driving for anything besides making a call or using a phone’s navigation system. Texting, sending emails, or reading the newspaper while driving are now grounds for a class C misdemeanor and a $100 fine or a class B misdemeanor if a driver happens to cause harm while using the electronic device. Such an offence can carry a maximum fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.

Drivers, however, will at least be able to deliver their messages faster in person. The appropriately named HB 80 from Jim Dunnigan (Republican –  Taylorsville) allows UDOT to increase speed limits to 80 miles per hour in any area it deems safe enough to do so. Though motorists generally supported the bill during the session, there were concerns that fatalities could increase on Utah roads, along with drops in fuel efficiency, ultimately increasing the emissions that contribute to the annual inversion.

On that note, several new incentives will take place for those who wish to reduce the muck. HB 31 from former Representative Ryan Wilcox redefines and clarifies the code surrounding tax incentives for purchasing industrial pollution controls. SB 99 from Senator Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City) requires that at least 50 percent of state owned vehicles use alternative fuels or are classified as highly efficient by 2018.

Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Salt Lake City) passed a suite of bills related to air pollution. –HB 19, 38, 61, and 154 are all expected to have a positive effect on Utah’s air.

HB 19 will make it far easier for electric vehicles to find and use charging stations; HB 38 allows the Department of Administrative Services to appoint a Sustainability Director to investigate inefficiencies in all state buildings; HB 61 makes it easier to grant loans from the Division of Air Quality to upgrade to more fuel efficient motors, while HB 154 funds public service announcements around the use of wood-burning stoves that alerts citizens to programs to convert their wood stoves to more modern systems.

On the education front, two major pieces of legislation were Representative Angela Romero’s (Democrat – Salt Lake City) HB 286 and Senator Aaron Osmond’s (Republican – South Jordan) SB 39.

After weeks of debate, Romero’s HB 286 was widely seen as a success by child abuse prevention advocates. The bill, known as “Erin’s Law,” provides age appropriate instruction on how to recognize and report child abuse. Debate focused on parental notification of the class and if the class itself should be one where parents either have to voluntarily opt-in or voluntarily opt-out of the program (the latter allowing far greater odds that a child will not participate in the class). A last minute maneuver by Senator John Valentine (Republican – Orem) linked a bill to existing code that may turn the program into an opt-in class.

Osmond’s SB 39 removes the requirement that home schooled children meet the same educational requirements as their public school counterparts. The bill would require parents to pay for any costs associated with bringing their child up to grade level if that parent wishes to allow their child to re-enter the public school system. Osmond argued that parents would be adequately focused on ensuring that their children would receive a quality education and would, therefore, test at or above education standards.

In all, the 2014 session passed 486 bills, down from an all time high of 524 in 2013.

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