Utah lawmakers weighing contentious bills as session ends
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah legislators will wrap up their 45-day annual session Thursday while trying to strike an agreement on controversial measures to delay ballot initiatives and ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Lawmakers have already passed more than 400 bills and are expected to churn through about 100 others before adjourning at midnight.
Here’s a look at where key issues landed as the Legislature wraps up its business:
A push to repeal the death penalty failed for the second time in recent years, despite the backing this year of the powerful House speaker. Republican Rep. Gage Froerer pulled his bill without putting it up for a vote in the House, saying the tally would have been close but he didn’t have enough support to debate it in the waning days of the session.
Lawmakers rejected a bill that would have allowed police to temporarily confiscate guns of those deemed to be a threat, a proposal that came after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that killed 17. Republican lawmakers defeated the so-called “red flag” bill in committee after raising concerns it went too far in violating a person’s constitutional rights without doing enough to address mental health issues. A gun-rights bill strengthening the state’s stand-your-ground self-defense law was awaiting a final vote Thursday. Republican Rep. Cory Maloy’s proposal says a person doesn’t need to back away before using deadly force.
Utah lawmakers passed a measure explicitly saying that parents aren’t breaking the law if they let allow kids to do things alone like travel to school, explore a playground or stay in the car, as long as they are mature enough to take on those things without hurting themselves. The measure doesn’t give specific ages, which lawmakers say would allow police and prosecutors to handle issues on a case-by-case basis.
Utah appears to the first state in the country to pass such a measure. Supporters like sponsor Republican Sen. Lincoln Fillmore say allowing kids to make their own way helps keep the joy in childhood and prepare them for the future.
Utah’s House of Representatives passed a proposal to ban reporters from the floor of the House before lawmakers meet there for floor sessions, but eventually softened it to require journalists to leave after conducting interviews. Journalists are still allowed to access the area after floor sessions.
A ban on abortions sought because a fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome was stalled in the Senate heading into Thursday. Lawmakers in the House passed the bill despite warnings from legislative lawyers that there’s a high likelihood that a court will find the measure unconstitutional if it’s challenged in court.
Lobbyists and journalists working at the Utah Capitol will be required to undergo annual anti-harassment training under two separate proposals that came amid a wave of sexual harassment allegations nationally. Officials say the bills weren’t prompted by any reports of problems with journalists or lobbyists but say it’s needed to cover the state’s legal liability. Lawmakers and staff already undergo similar training. The Senate on Thursday cast a final vote approving the training for journalists, but the lobbyist rule was stalled.
Facing the possibility that voters could change laws on medical marijuana and other hot-button issues, lawmakers are looking to give themselves the option to change any new measures before they go into effect. One bill would create a six-month delay after the passage of any ballot initiative, which legislators say will allow them to make practical tweaks. Opponents argue the bill, awaiting Senate approval, could undercut the will of the people.
Lawmakers backed away Wednesday from a proposal to rename a scenic highway after President Donald Trump. Several Republicans supported naming the southern Utah road that connects several well-known national parks after Trump to recognize his move to shrink two national monuments that were fiercely opposed by state leaders. Democrats pushing back against the idea suggested naming a ramp for porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
Senators on Thursday night gave final approval to a proposal giving teenagers who leave polygamous communities more legal protection from parents who could expose them to sexual abuse or forced marriage.
Supporters said the measure would help in cases where runaway-notification laws have allowed adults to take teenagers back home even if they didn’t want to go, though polygamists said they were concerned it could focus on a single religious group and have unintended consequences.
Lawmakers passed a plan to expand Medicaid in Utah even as backers of a bigger expansion gear up to put the question before voters. The legislative proposal would cover about 70,000 people living just under the poverty line. It would include a spending cap and work requirement. That hasn’t traditionally been allowed in Medicaid, but President Donald Trump’s administration has offered to be more flexible with states.
The ballot initiative in the works would likely expand coverage to about twice as many people.
Utah restaurant owners will likely be able to take down state-mandated signs near their doors clarifying their establishments are not bars. Lawmakers said the signs that were part of a massive liquor-reform bill last year didn’t seem to be make a difference. Restaurants are elated about the change, which was passed Thursday. Bars will still have to post signs saying people under 21 are not allowed in, but they will no longer need to declare they’re not restaurants.
Utah lawmakers have approved a proposal to fix gaps in a domestic violence law that was exposed after a man killed his ex-girlfriend and her son by opening fire on a car full of children after school.
Despite a previous stalking report, the woman could not have gotten a protective order because the couple had not been married or lived together. The measure allows victims in dating relationships to get the orders.
Utah lawmakers passed a bill that would allow them to call themselves into a special session, instead of relying on the governor, but voters still need to approve the idea. Rep. Brad Wilson’s proposal would allow lawmakers to meet in a session if two-thirds of the House and Senate feel it’s necessary because of “persistent fiscal crisis, war, natural disaster or emergency.” Lawmakers spoke about amending their power after the governor refused to call a special session last year to allow them to pass new rules for a for a special election to replace Republican Jason Chaffetz in Congress.