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Tone of session mostly civil
by Becky Ginos
Mar 17, 2017 | 754 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print

SALT LAKE CITY—After 45 days of work, another legislative session is history but what was the result?

“It was a great session,” said Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “We got almost $230 million for education. In anyone’s book that’s great. Especially in our book that’s not bad.”

“We had issues come up that we haven’t heard about for 30 years, like ERA,” said Senate President, Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, during a news conference the last day of the session. “I’ve never seen the House work so well with the Senate and Governor’s Office. There was not a lot of complaining or angst. It’s a better process when everyone is getting along well.”

The tone seemed better than in some previous sessions, however, there was still plenty of debate over issues such as homelessness, alcohol laws, taxes and sex education.

“We created a better policy and atmosphere for children but it’s also tourist friendly,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, of the bill that removed the so-called Zion Curtain. “Within the next six months I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of restaurants remodeling because of this bill. If you want to get a drink here you can. There are 50 states with 50 different alcohol policies across the country. I think people who travel are pretty used to those and won’t be surprised here.”

Regarding a bill that changed the legal blood alcohol limit to .05 percent, Adams said anything that helps keep people safe is worth it.

“You can’t test anybody until they show impairment,” he said. “Statistics show it (limit) has a real deterrent effect in making the decision to get into a car impaired. I think we’re all in agreement that there are too many deaths on our highways. It’s staggering. Whatever we can do (while recognizing people’s freedoms) to reduce those fatalities we need to do.”

Sex education is always a hot-button issue and there was some discussion on what could be addressed in schools. 

“We were trying to respond to a lawsuit that our statute was discriminatory toward some groups,” Adams said. “The Lt. Governor’s Office told us we would lose the lawsuit and that could make it possible for the government or courts to change our policies. Our sex education laws are the best in the country. We focus on abstinence and fidelity. We found a balance. Parents still have to opt in to have their child taught and they have to approve the curriculum. They can choose not to have their child be a part of it. This bill just makes sure that it is taught equally to everyone and not in a discriminatory manner. It’s in the best interest of the state to take care of all our children equally. Some of our protections may have been lost if it had gone to court. It’s better to let the legislature make those decisions – not the court.”

Law enforcement agencies were also watching some 115 bills this session that could have impacted them. 

“There’s been a lot of work being done in public safety,” said Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who is also President of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. “SB198 was dealing with the 911 system. The biggest thing was an aging infrastructure. This will allow us to replace that with some equity on who is paying for it. It’s been a four-year process and It’s been a long time in coming.”

Ross said another bill, SB87; on civil asset forfeiture had also received a lot of attention. “It would provide ways for an innocent owner to get his property back,” he said. “As law enforcement, we don’t want to take property from an innocent owner and allow a criminal to profit from ill gotten gains. This bill strikes a good balance. Overall, we’re feeling pretty good about this session. We appreciate that lawmakers have listened to us. We’re just looking out for the best interests of our communities.”

For now, this session is in the books and legislators can take a deep breath – until a few months from now when they have to start all over again.

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