- Derek Carlisle
Come hell, highwater or another—somehow larger—COVID surge, Utah's part-time Legislature is set to convene next week for its annual, 45-day lawmaking bonanza.
To tee up the issues that will soon be descending upon the state, City Weekly reached out to each of the state senators and representatives whose districts include any portion of Salt Lake City—from Davis County Republican Sen. Todd Weiler (Rose Park) to Murray Democratic Rep. Mark Wheatley (the Nibley Park Golf Course and ... that's it).
Each was asked to describe their personal legislative priorities and the topics they expect the Legislature, generally, to tackle this year. And Gov. Spencer Cox—with his statewide constituency and veto pen—was asked to chip in as well.
[Editor's Note: The following responses are written as told to the author and were edited for length and clarity. The 2022 Legislative session begins Jan. 18 and ends at midnight March 4.]
Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D)
Neighborhood: The Avenues
Her priorities: I'm working on improving access to health care and medical cannabis, enhancing support for people with disabilities, commissioning an air quality impact study, investing in opioid harm reduction and treatment for substance use disorders, expanding workforce support and development, increasing accountability in public trails development and decriminalizing end-of-life prescription options.
I anticipate the Legislature adopting tax cuts, and I hope for responsible decisions on taxation and state revenue, robust homelessness funding, better support for addiction prevention and treatment, funding the DSPD (Division of Services for People Wth Disabilities) wait list, increasing pay for critical public employees—like case workers in the Division of Child and Family Services and State Hospital employees—supporting child care needs for working families, air quality improvements, better management of water resources and a sensible focus on climate change.
Her favorite SLC restaurant: Cucina
Gov. Spencer Cox (R)
His priorities: Water conservation and infrastructure are top priorities for my administration, so we'd love to see the Legislature pass bills that incentivize homeowners to remove ornamental turf, that fund secondary water metering and agriculture water optimization, and that preserve and restore the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. We want to see investments in our people, including historic funding for K-12 and higher education, and retraining and upskilling our workers. We also want to improve the quality of life for all Utahns, so we hope to see funding tied to affordable housing, homeless services, air quality measures and transportation investments.
We anticipate and support returning money to taxpayers in the form of a grocery tax credit. This tax credit would provide much more benefit to those who need it most—low- and middle-income Utahns—than removing the food tax or cutting income taxes would. We hope the Legislature will give this serious consideration. We also urge lawmakers to increase mental health services for our children, support our local health departments and revolutionize value-based health care in Utah through the new Utah Sustainable Health Collaborative. This approach will improve health outcomes and save Utahns money.
His favorite SLC restaurant: Fenice Mediterranean Bistro
Sen. Todd Weiler (R)
City: Woods Cross
His priorities: I spent 2021 working on bail reform, but we got that done in the November special session. Bail reform is off limits for this session—that's an unwritten rule. I've turned my attention to Justice Reinvestment Initiative reform. In essence: There are good people who get caught up in the criminal justice system because they're addicts, and there are bad people who want to harm you and your family. We ought to treat the two differently, and the law aims to do that, but what the data is showing is we're now treating bad people—who happen to have a drug addiction—as if they were good people. It's going to be subject to some tweaks—hopefully, we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I've become the e-bike guy, and I'm doing some follow-up legislation. There are outdated rules in some cities that treat every e-bike as if it were a motorcycle—like saying you can't ride them on pedestrian paths, which is kind of silly. We're taking another shot at it because they're growing in popularity.
This will be my 11th session, and I think it will be the first time we're having a serious talk about the Great Salt Lake. And the old hits are not going away—affordable housing, clean air, education, transportation, homelessness.
His favorite SLC restaurant: Current Fish & Oyster
Rep. Stephanie Pitcher (D)
Neighborhood: Imperial Park-Sugar House
Her priorities: I'm mostly working on criminal justice-type legislation. One of my bills will create a program to assign fictitious addresses to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking—things like that. Their mail would be sent to a hub under CCJJ [the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice] and then routed to their actual, physical location.
I feel like cash-bail reform was a net-win, and a pause on that issue would probably be appropriate. The special session bill just passed in November, so I think we need time for the dust to settle and for all of the stakeholders to get a handle on how things are actually implemented. [Editor's note: Pitcher sponsored cash-bail legislation in 2019 that was adopted, but repealed in 2020 amid pushback.] I am happy with where we ended up. Hopefully, it's mostly resolved and the pre-trial process works better for everybody.
I'm not running the death penalty repeal bill myself, but I will be really interested to see what that debate looks like. And, obviously, COVID remains a huge issue for our state, but what that looks like in terms of legislation has yet to be seen. We need to continue to take the pandemic seriously.
Her favorite SLC restaurant: Eva
Sen. Gene Davis (D)
Neighborhood: Sugar House
His priorities: I'm working on a committee bill that will allow you to go online or to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) and order liquor that is not available in Utah—but for one or two bottles instead of having to go for a full case. Another bill is related to medical marijuana and creating a seed-to-sale commission that would alleviate having to go through [the Department of Agriculture and Food] and the Health department. Do I think it will pass this year? No. But I've alerted the folks who typically work on medical marijuana and told them what I'm going to do.
The wage structure for a lot of our state employees is way below what it should be. I want to take a look at that, and I started last year with a bill raising DABC wages. Before we cut taxes, I think we need to take care of what's going on. That's the other thing I'm going to be watching— tax cuts, what they are and where they're doing it.
A topic of great interest to me is the Great Salt Lake and how we can save it. Is it time to give the Great Salt Lake a water right? We've overallocated a lot of our water to various entities. We've never allotted the lake a certain amount of water to use, or set a water level we think it's safe to keep the lake at.
His favorite SLC restaurants: Market Street Grill/Somi Vietnamese Bistro/Sapa Sushi Bar and Asian Grill
Rep. Doug Owens (D)
His priorities: I am working on air-quality issues. One bill is going to be helping the Great Salt Lake, keeping water in there and working to keep air emissions—dust from the dry lakebed—down by not letting ATVs go and break the crust. If the crust gets broken, it allows much more dust to be blown by wind. Another approach is air filters in schools. That's relatively inexpensive, and it would not only help with air quality and better school performance but also would be antiviral.
I'm working on some wildlife-crossing issues. We've got lots of money to leverage now from the federal infrastructure bill and can protect people and wildlife from interacting in unwanted ways with automobiles. There are some less expensive propositions than [wildlife] bridges, although bridges may end up being necessary. But we need local funding to get organized, take advantage of federal matching funds and do more to prevent interactions that kill people and animals.
There seems to be a strong effort to increase secondary water metering, which could really help the long-term health of the Great Salt Lake. It is just a huge issue for all of us on the Wasatch Front and for people who care about the heritage of the state and its wildlife. And I should mention Sen. Kirk Cullimore's (R-Draper) omnibus air-quality bill. That's a tremendous bill that's going to require support from the majority party, and I'm excited to see leadership coming from them on that.
His favorite SLC restaurants: Provisions/Tosh's Ramen
Sen. Derek Kitchen (D)
His priorities: This year I'm continuing to focus on my legislation to expand birth-control access for low-income women in Utah. I will also bring back the CROWN Act bill from last year, which will protect our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) neighbors from discrimination in housing and employment based on their hairstyles. New this session is a carbon-tax bill that will fund initiatives to clean our air, protect the Great Salt Lake and eliminate the tax on grocery items.
One big focus for the Legislature this year must be protecting the Great Salt Lake. Our drying lake has so many long-term implications, from air quality to annual snowpack—aka water—for our residents. This has to be our No. 1 priority. Furthermore, I have continued to focus my committee work on affordable housing and addressing the dire need for childcare in our state.
And finally, with our historic budget surplus, we need to hold members of the Utah Legislature accountable to meaningful investments in homelessness, mental healthcare and transit/transportation for our growing region.
His favorite SLC restaurant: Takashi
Rep. Brian King (D)
His priorities: I'm sponsoring HB 65, a bill to preserve forensic biological evidence for the time a case is being actively investigated, or until an individual convicted of a felony is in prison. This will help with investigating cold cases and allow for more definitive results when dealing with claims of wrongful conviction.
I also want to eliminate the mental-health disparity in the Public Employees Health Program (PEHP) long-term disability benefit framework. Under current law, if you are disabled based on mental conditions, you only have two years of disability benefits. To receive disability benefits until you are 65, you have to be disabled purely from objective physical causes. This bill would eliminate that difference.
I want to make it illegal to post a video of a felony occurring without first reporting the felony to the appropriate public safety officials. I'm also looking to require the Department of Public Safety and other relevant state agencies to produce an annual report identifying the source of firearms obtained by restricted persons and to expand background checks for the purchase of firearms.
His favorite SLC restaurants: Current Fish & Oyster/Lucky 13
Rep. Angela Romero (D)
Her priorities: I'm going to continue my work on sexual assault and domestic violence. In particular, I'm running a bill on affirmative consent and looking at creating another felony when it comes to sexual assault. I want to give victims hope that, eventually, they'll be able to bring their perpetrator to justice. Another bill that I'm working on, with the Humane Society, is looking at protective orders and what happens with pets. How do we make sure that we're protecting them as well?
I'm going to be asking for funding, like I did last year, for preventative education on sexual assault and violence. And I'm also asking for funding for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Task Force. I want to hire a researcher who can go into our tribal communities to do more in-depth conversations, so we can put a plan forward of what things we need to do after the task force no longer exists.
A main concern of mine is health care and, when we're talking about children, making sure that all children have access. Especially in the Glendale area, there are kids who qualify for health care but because they're from a mixed-status family, they're not able to receive certain services. My other big concern is the whole narrative around Critical Race Theory. I'm just hoping that isn't an issue this upcoming session.
Her favorite SLC restaurant: La Hacienda
Rep. Joel K. Briscoe (D)
Neighborhood: Douglas-East Central
His priorities: I am sponsoring legislation to allow people over 21 to order beer online and have it delivered to their home. I am proposing a bill to create the Utah Clean Energy Fund, which will issue low-interest loans to homes and small businesses to be more efficient and adopt cleaner energy.
My Right to Charge bill will allow electric vehicle owners who live in multi-unit housing to install EV charging in their parking if they pay the cost of installation and electricity. And I have other clean-air legislation under development.
I will continue to push back against the Big Lie that the 2020 election was illegitimate—I will fight against efforts to take away vote-by-mail in Utah or to enact other voting restrictions. And we cannot save the Great Salt Lake and also build dams on the Bear River, its most important tributary. Our water conservation goals are weak and need to be strengthened.
On clean air, the incremental steps we have accomplished are good and have helped our air, but they are not enough—we need stronger commitments and more action.
His favorite SLC restaurants: Desert Edge Brewery/Dolcetti Gelato
Sen. Jani Iwamoto (D)
Her priorities: I have a bill amending local elections. For instance, in Holladay City, when the mayor was uncontested, because of our state law, you have to send out a ballot to the whole city. This bill allows you to not hold an election if it's uncontested. It saves taxpayer money, and we're getting statistics on how many voters even return the ballot. Then, I have a bill on driver speeding amendments, which is basically making it "wanton or willful conduct," instead of just a citation when you drive over 100 mph or are involved in car racing.
I have a resolution encouraging support for the Adoptee Citizenship Act. That's a federal bill we're pushing Congress to pass because there's currently a technical glitch that can allow people who are adopted from other countries—like a lot from South Korea—to not be properly naturalized and not have the rights of citizenship.
I'm running water conservation bills, and one deals with the flow rate of plumbing fixtures—toilets, urinals, shower heads, faucets—in new builds or remodels. This year is all hands on deck for water conservation. A couple years ago, I sponsored a water banking bill. There are ways to use that effort to get water and shepherd it down to the Great Salt Lake.
Her favorite SLC restaurants: Koyo/The Bayou
Sen. Luz Escamilla (D)
Neighborhood: Rose Park
Her priorities: I'm bringing back my bill to remove all barriers for children to access Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), meaning it will only be based on income. We're currently ranked 46th in the nation when it comes to children with health-care coverage and No. 50 when it comes to Latino kiddos. It's my No. 1 priority bill, and it's a big lift—it costs about $5 million.
I'm running an emissions-reduction bill following legislation that Texas adopted that focuses on incentivizing best practices. I'm excited for this, especially for my district—we have the inland port and reducing emissions is critical to get us to a place where we're going to be able to live with the increased traffic that we're going to see in our area.
And, of course, I'm running a huge medical-cannabis bill. Every year, we run one to two big bills—I'm carrying one of those bills this year again. It's mostly cleaning up some of the things that we've learned in this past year and a half of implementing the program.
The budget is going to be huge this year. We have an interesting surplus that came out of the federal stimulus money and other funding related to the pandemic. It creates a challenge because it's really a one-time issue.
How do you distribute those funds in a responsible way without creating expectations that we won't be able to keep? It's going to be a big challenge.
Her favorite SLC restaurant: Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill
Rep. Sandra Hollins (D)
Her priorities: A couple years ago, I ran a bill that made Juneteenth a state holiday here in Utah. In light of the fact that the federal government has declared it a federal holiday, I want legislation to bring us in line with that federal recognition.
I am also working on bills around Izzy Tichenor—the young lady in Davis County who died by suicide—and trying to insure that is not happening to any of our kids.
We're looking at our education system and what is taught around history in our schools. We want to celebrate our heroes and teach everyone's contributions toward America. And we're looking at how we keep our kids safe in the school system, so bullying is not happening, racism is not happening, and it's not ending up with kids being traumatized.
I'm sure some people may perceive this as [Critical Race Theory], but that's not what this is. Bottom line is everyone's history and their contributions to the country should be taught.
Her favorite SLC restaurants: Red Iguana/Chubby's Mexican Restaurant
Rep. Mark Wheatley (D)
His priorities: I'm bringing back a noise pollution bill that constituents brought to my attention. It addresses modified mufflers—the ones that are really loud.
Under my bill, when you take your car to get the emissions inspected, the technician would look to see if you have a modified muffler and if you did, you'd fail to pass emissions.
Another bill creates a kidney-disease task force composed of medical professionals and individuals who have lost or received a kidney. Kidney disease affects one in three people, and we need to start looking at policy to address long-term issues around that type of disease. I myself had cancer about five years ago, and they removed my kidney.
Then, I have another piece of legislation that gives police departments 90 days to release video of individuals who have been shot. I presented this last session, and it was knocked down, but I've increased the time period to 90 days.
We're the second driest state in the nation, and we're either the fastest or second-fastest growing state. We need to address those issues. And there's always concerns about voting. Is the other side of the aisle going to restrict voting? And how are we going to use the surplus funds? We need more housing, we need to address the homelessness issue. We need other cities to step up.
His favorite SLC restaurant: Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill