The 2015 Utah Legislative Session by Bill Titles (Part 2): Alcohol, the Economy, and Crime & Prisons

utah capitol 2With the 2015 legislative session looming, Utah Political Capitol is taking a look at some of the early bill titles that have been released and discussed in order to provide you with a flavor of the upcoming session.

This is part two of a three part series. Yesterday, Utah Political Capitol took a look at upcoming bills surrounding civil liberties and marriage, the environment, and elections. Tomorrow, we will take a look at bills dealing with education, public health and safety, and taxes.

Alcohol 

With former Senator John Valentine (Republican – Orem) stepping down from elected office to take a job with the Utah State Tax Commission, there has been curiosity surrounding who will step up to the plate to take on alcohol policy in the Beehive State. Within the Senate, only Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan) has decided to stick his nose out with “Wine Club Purchase Modifications,” while Representatives Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber) and Curt Oda (Republican – Centerville) are taking on alcoholic beverage service laws and permit laws, respectively.

Powell’s bill may prove the most intriguing. The new legislation bears the same name as last year’s “Alcohol Beverage Service Amendments,” which simultaneously provided easier access to alcohol for adults, while upping protections and concealment to minors. Perhaps most notably, Powell’s legislation would have removed the infamous “intent to dine” law—that confuses both outsiders and residents alike—and has been a thorn in the side of the legislature. That bill was scuttled last session, but with the alcohol power vacuum left by Valentine’s departure, Powell may see greater success.

Economy

Though the state didn’t escape from the recession unscathed, the legislature was able to maintain its constitutionally-mandated balanced budget by making over $1,000,000,000 in cuts to state agencies. Now, with the U.S. economy back on track and the state’s budget expanding once again, lawmakers are looking at both short and long-term ideas to get the job market moving faster.

Senator Osmond  is proposing “Intergenerational Poverty Amendments,” and it is expected that he will be picking up where outgoing Senator Stuart Reid (Republican – Ogden) is leaving off. Reid successfully championed a series of studies to review intergenerational poverty—where Utahns born into low-income families are more likely to end up low-income themselves. Lawmakers have started to act on the issues outlined in these reports, and during the 2014 session passed Reid’s Intergenerational Poverty Interventions in Schools, allocating $1 million from the education fund to address issues associated with early education intervention, which has been proven to help prevent poverty over a long-term basis. It is unclear how Osmond’s bill will change the path Reid may have intended.

On the flip side of the budget issue, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has been under fire recently. During October’s monthly interim session, it was revealed that the office spent more than $600 million over the past eight years in an attempt to attract high-profile and high-paying jobs to the state. GOED self-reported that it created 13,000 jobs and $128 million in tax revenue during that time, and has projected that its initiatives will bring in $1.9 billion before the incentives end.

But all is not as rosy as it appears. GOED’s incentives are expected to total $1.3 billion in ten years and a recent audit found that the office’s criteria for businesses to receive the lucrative incentives were lowered, causing GOED to potentially get less bang for its taxpayer buck and possibly resulting in the office taking credit for jobs that it had nothing to do with creating or that already existed. Grumblings have also persisted that the government program creates winners and losers in the economy—running counter to the free-market principals of many of Utah’s elected officials.

The Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee has already given the green light to a bill titled “Governor’s Office of Economic Development Amendments.”  Though specifics have yet to be hashed out, and an official bill sponsor has yet to be identified, the general feeling of the committee is that GOED requires reform, and an approval from the interim committee means that legislation will generally have an easier time making its way through the legislative process.

Crime and Incarceration 

In recent months, questions have been raised about the relative civility of lethal injections. Botched executions by lethal injection in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio—which left condemned prisoners in agonizing pain for sometimes hours—have cast an even darker shadow on what was once perceived as the most humane way to execute a prisoner. In 2004, the state officially banned firing squads for new prisoners on death row, however those who had previously requested death by firing squad could still be killed in that manner. Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield) is concerned that lethal injections may be found unconstitutional and wants to ensure that firing squads could again be an option again with his bill “Death Penalty Procedure Amendments.”

The last time a prisoner was executed via firing squad in Utah was 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner requested that method for his death. Utah received a lot of national headlines for what many see as a gruesome way to die, and the state will no doubt receive similar attention as this legislation makes it way through the process.

Speaking of corrections, Ray’s “Jail Reimbursement Amendments” will actually be of importance for many counties. Currently, the state reimburses counties for housing convicted felons who, for various reasons, are not sent to the state penitentiary for more permanent housing. Counties have grumbled over the years that the state is not paying its fair share of the costs associated with housing felons, nor is it even paying the agreed upon amount. This has caused county budgets to become strained and has raised concerns that some convicted criminals are being released early because jails are being forced to house more violent offenders with limited resources. Ray’s reimbursement amendments could be an attempt to alleviate some of these issues.

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