It's one of UAC's top priorities to keep our members informed on what happens at the Capitol and to lobby for our members' interests. Below is a recap of the relevant discussions that happened during the September Interim Session.
LUTF Annexation Update
The Land Use Task Force has been working on issues created by 2020 HB 359 and its repeal with SB 5004. Rep. Steve Waldrip and Sen. Dan McCay have led the effort legislatively as part of the LUTF and in various working groups. Within annexation, the task force has focused on: cross-county boundary annexations; notice for annexations and incorporations; incorporation boundary protection; islands and peninsulas; potentially pausing annexations; and recodifying state code.
Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment
Senator Sandall discussed the need for the State to provide criteria to county governments regarding CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and how to balance production agriculture with local land use. The Iowa model may be worth consideration. UAC’s Lincoln Shurtz spoke in favor of working with the Legislature to develop objective criteria for permitting CAFOs across the State, while still empowering local land use decision making. The Committee voted to open a bill file for a legislative solution.
Sensitive Species List
Utah DWR announced that they are re-evaluating the process for listing species on the Sensitive Species List and that they are withdrawing the list of species proposed for formal listing pending review of procedures. Committee members expressed support for DWR’s conservation work, while many members also expressed concerns that the use of a Sensitive Species List provided fodder for certain environmental groups to litigate and impede meaningful conservation.
The next day, September 16, Utah DWR announced to the Utah Wildlife Board that they formally recommend that the Board eliminate the Utah Sensitive Species List (as well as the Sensitive Species Advisory Committee). DWR stated that the Sensitive Species List has become redundant due to the existence of a Wildlife Action Plan and that the List may be misused by Federal agencies and advocacy groups. DWR stated that the elimination of the Sensitive Species List will not impair ability to receive federal funds for conservation. The Wildlife Board did not take action on DWR’s recommendations, but may do so at their October 1 Board meeting.
Business and Labor Committee
Vehicle Emissions and Noise Inspections
The committee discussed allowing counties to adopt a "noise modification" inspection to the standard emission/safety inspection on vehicles. The concerns, raised by Taylorsville and Granite Township, were that cars and motorcycles are modifying exhaust systems at a greater rate than previously and the modifications clearly violate local noise ordinances; however, there is no way to measure the decibel levels on a road-side evaluation. The committee was lukewarm on the proposal, but a suggestion was offered by Sen. Bramble that policymakers look at requiring an owner that gets a ticket to have the burden to demonstrate that the exhaust is compliant, whereas now the burden is on the officer to determine the decibel level. The presumption shift would be done as an alternative to a broad inspection proposal that was brought to the committee. Rep. Dunnigan will be working on this topic and we should expect something in this vein during the 2021 session.
Government Operations Committee
Review of Local Emergency Powers/Authority
The committee heard a very brief overview of the law surrounding state and local emergency declarations. The committee staff provided a brief explanation on the history of the authority that has been granted to the Governor and counties/cities. Due to time constraints, the committee did not take any public input or provide any direction on potential changes to the current law. It is likely that this topic will be reconsidered in the October interim meetings as well.
Presentation Link: https://le.utah.gov/interim/2020/pdf/00003708.pdf
Health and Human Services
The meeting focused largely on telehealth, a healthcare delivery system that connects a patient to a healthcare professional through video chat or phone call. Because of coronavirus, telehealth has advanced decades in the past few months. Experts presented data on the availability of telehealth in Utah, how telehealth has affected the wellness landscape of Utah, and what the future might bring. 70% of medical encounters in April were done through telehealth, which is an 8000% increase from last year. However, that doesn’t mean that traditional, face-to-face services are obsolete; some medical services must be provided in-person, and some members of the community do not have access to the technology to use telehealth.
While Utah has a robust telehealth infrastructure, gaps and barriers still exist, and experts recommended increased broadband access, payment parity, quality measures, and workforce education in order to make telehealth a viable long-term option.
The Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health gave a report on their Telehealth Mental Health Pilot Program. Local mental health authorities joined with schools in two regions (Box Elder, Cache, and Rich Counties; and Alpine, Nebo, and Provo School Districts) to learn how to use telehealth to increase access for services and reduce costs for providing mental health services to youth. It was found that collaboration between LMHAs and LEAs was absolutely necessary to make services run smoothly and effectively and that the telehealth technology allowed many to get the services they needed. Additionally, the pilot showed significant cost savings: in 2019, the average cost for youth mental health services was over $3,400, and in this pilot, the average cost for telehealth youth mental health services was just above $2,000.
As this was a Sunset Hearing, the Subcommittee passed a motion to continue the pilot program language, and they have the option of continuing the funding for the program in the future.