The 2022 general session of the Utah state legislature began on Jan. 18, and state elected officials have already made headlines in passing a joint resolution that terminated mask mandates issued by health departments and county governing bodies in Salt Lake and Summit counties. The legislature has hundreds of numbered bills on the docket and just a few weeks—until March 4—to debate them. Many of those bills have the potential to directly affect Grand County. The Grand County League of Women Voters maintains a list of those bills of greatest local interest and updates their progress through the legislature.
The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 and is a nation-wide, nonpartisan, grassroots organization that promotes informed voter participation in government. Bo Kolb is co-president of the GCLWV; She explained that a small committee of local members (who are all volunteers) track the bills and determine which are most likely to affect local residents. As of Jan. 25, there were 22 items on the GCLWV’s list of bills with special local interest.
Several bills under consideration have to do with water conservation. House Bill 37 would amend state water policy to include the recharge of aquifers in the state’s efforts to promote conservation practices and the efficient and optimal use of water resources. During a senate committee hearing, Steve Erickson of the Great Basin Water Network spoke, describing aquifer recharge as a “worthwhile endeavor under the right circumstances.”
“It’s not 100% always the right thing to do—it depends entirely upon the individual circumstances, which is often the case in water policy and law and practice.”
House Bill 115 would require water providers to track and report on how much water is lost in their delivery systems.
“We’ve asked the citizens of Utah to do a lot of things to save water and conserve in the way they use water,” said Todd Stonely, Assistant Director for the Utah Division of Water Resources, during a discussion of the bill. “A water system is also responsible for the efficiency of their delivery system.” Grand County’s water providers are Moab City Public Works and Grand Water & Sewer Service.
The LWV supports HB 115. The Salt Lake City chapter of the LWV uses research to determine which bills the organization supports or opposes; often, the organization will decline to take a stance. The local chapter of the LWV can offer input on the organization’s stance, but does not determine which bills the league supports or opposes. HB 115 is currently being held in committee.
Another bill would require the Division of Water Resources to establish water conservation goals and plans, and would require retail water suppliers to price culinary water in such a way that higher water users would pay a higher rate. The LWV also supports this bill.
Several bills deal with regulations on vehicles, specifically off-highway vehicles. House Bill 72 would require inspections of noise suppression equipment on vehicles before they could be registered. Vehicles are already required to be equipped, maintained and operated to prevent excessive noise; this bill would add an inspection to help ensure compliance.
House Bill 180 would require off-highway vehicle drivers to complete a safety and education course and require dealers and rental businesses to confirm that the course has been completed by a customer before renting or selling an off-highway vehicle. The bill is sponsored by Carl Albrecht (R, District 70), who represents part of Grand County. The local motorized use community has promoted education as a critical part of reducing noise issues in the Moab area.
Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Senator David Hinkins (R, District 27), would change the definition of an all-terrain type II vehicle from a limit of 2,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds. Hinkins represents Grand County. In a committee hearing, Hinkins said the move accommodates electric recreational vehicles and vehicles with more safety features, such as roll bars, that increase the weight of the vehicle. The bill was sent from committee to the senate.
Public lands and recreation
Senate Bill 66 would allow people with certain disabilities, such as reduced mobility, to apply for a “trail accessibility card” that would allow them to use e-bikes on trails open to traditional bikes. The bill would also limit e-bikes used on dirt trails to 250 watts. The use of e-bikes on singletrack trails around Moab has created tensions among some trail users in recent years.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 encourages cooperation between Utah and federal governments in managing public lands and natural resources. The resolution lists many programs, techniques and approaches related to land management used by state agencies and characterizes them as more successful than approaches taken by federal agencies on federal lands within Utah, and says that federal designation of monuments and wilderness areas can impair the state’s ability to achieve conservation and stewardship goals. The resolution passed in the senate, with Hinkins voting in favor.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 is not on the LWV list of bills of local interest. However, the resolution highlights that Utah has a significant natural store of valuable minerals. Some of the minerals mentioned, such as uranium and rare earth elements, are present in Southeast Utah, and developing those resources has been suggested as a path to economic diversification in rural Utah. The resolution passed in the senate. It is sponsored by Hinkins and Albrecht.
House Bill 125, sponsored by Albrecht, would remove the scheduled repeal of the State Transient Room Tax Act and other funds and programs, including the Hotel Mitigation Fund, the Hospitality and Tourism Management Career Education Pilot Program, and the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Grant program. Grand County receives a substantial amount of money through the transient room tax. The county received $150,000 through the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Grant program to help fund the completion of the bike path along the Colorado River.
Two other bills would remove sales and use and state taxes on food and food ingredients. The fiscal note attached to the sales and use tax bill projects that it could reduce state sales tax revenue by about $133 million in 2023, and $159 million in future years. Most states do not currently impose a sales tax on food items. The LWV supports this bill.
House Bill 182 would exempt state employees and state properties, including the capitol hill, from any orders of constraint issued by local health departments. It would prohibit municipal executives from exercising emergency powers in response to a pandemic or public health emergency.
Two other bills suspend and modify “test-to-stay’ programs in public schools. The protocols were developed to determine when a COVID-19 outbreak should prompt a school shut-down. Lawmakers argue the omicron variant warrants different protocols. The house bill passed with Albrecht and Representative Christine Watkins (R, District 69), who represents part of Grand County, voting in favor.
Senate Joint Resolution 3 was passed by both the house and senate, with Albrecht, Hinkins and Watkins voting in favor. The resolution terminated mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties.
Among non-covid related education bills, House Bill 193 would require local school boards to provide the option of full-day kindergarten. This could offer some relief to Grand County parents in need of child care—there isn’t enough child care in the county to meet the demand.
A proposed amendment to the state constitution would change positions on the state Board of Education from elected to appointed. If the resolution passes, the lieutenant governor will submit the proposed amendment to voters during the next general election. Joint resolutions, according to the legislature website, must be passed by both the house and senate, and are used to propose changes to the state constitution, as well as for other matters of internal concern to both houses.
To follow the GCLWV list of significant legislation, visit the organization’s website at www.moablwv.com. At the Jan. 18 County Commission meeting, County Attorney Christina Sloan encouraged citizens to contact commissioners if they have bills they’re concerned about. Sloan will give updates on bills of local concern at commission meetings throughout the general session. Grand County currently does not have a lobbyist at the state capitol; Strategic Development Director Chris Baird is in contact with several possible candidates to serve in that role.