Sen. Derrin Owens Report from the Legislature

Derrin Owens, Senator District 24

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, the world took a turn no one expected. It was encouraging to see that years of responsible planning allowed us to navigate the recent legislative session.
Budget 
It is our constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget. Early in the session, we pass bare-bones budgets to ensure our state continues running even if there is a breakdown during negotiations.
Near the end of the session, the Legislature passes what is referred to as the “Bill of Bills,” which supplements the base budgets based on revenue estimates shared mid-way through the session.
Our total state budget this year was a remarkable $23.4 billion, including both state and federal funding.
Education 
The budget provided historic levels of education funding, with over half of our state funds appropriated for public and higher education. This funding included $121 million for teacher and staff COVID-19 stipends, restoring a 6 percent increase in per student funding.
We allocated $127 million to fund public education enrollment growth as well as inflation. That means we have put aside nearly half a billion dollars for public education ongoing funds. That’s half a billion dollars each year, every year, from now on.
Infrastructure
The Legislature appropriated $1.1 billion to be spent over the next several years to fund transportation and infrastructure projects in every corner of the state. Investing in roads and transit over several years will help limit new debt.

Medicaid
The Legislature fully funded Medicaid growth and inflation and fixed a $56 million structural imbalance in Medicaid expansion.
Business
To help our Utah businesses, we passed the Regulatory Sandbox Program Amendments, a program where state regulations can be suspended for a limited period to help companies test new ideas.
This allows companies to see if their ideas work before complying with regulations. It is important to note that the measure does not suspend regulations pertaining to public health and safety.
Economic Development
H.B. 348, Economic Development Amendments, reworks the state economic development strategy by creating the Utah Economic Opportunity Commission.
A decade ago, the state’s sole priority was to attract jobs. The goal now is to shift focus to economic opportunity, which includes ensuring that Utah citizens can acquire housing, college graduates can find work, families can have financial stability and stay-at-home parents can reenter the workforce when they desire. The bill also creates a grant program to enhance broadband services in rural Utah.
S.B. 167, Utah Film Economic Incentives, provides tax credits for productions that film in Utah. The incentives are not disbursed the projects are finished. The film industry generated more than 7,600 jobs and $147 million in salaries in 2019.
Education
Utah is experiencing a shortage of teachers and counselors.
H.B. 381, Grow Your Own Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline Program, creates a grant program to assist paraprofessionals, school counselor assistants and school counselor interns to qualify for teaching and counseling licenses.
S.B. 107, In-person Instruction Prioritization, ensures that students have the opportunity to learn in the classroom once again. Parents will be able to determine what is best for their children, be it in-person or virtual learning.
S.B. 226,  Online Education Program Revisions, allows online course providers authorized by the Utah State Board of Education to offer classes through the Statewide Online Education Program. Utah has been recognized for giving students free access to online courses if online education meets their needs.
Health
The well-being of Utahns continues to be a priority for the Utah Legislature as we work to expand Medicaid and provide affordable healthcare.
Accessibility  
Utah has a shortage of doctors. The Legislature considered S.B. 27 Physician Assistant Act Amendments, which expands a PA’s range of practice and creates a pathway for PAs to operate without a supervising physician once they receive sufficient training.
Another bill, S.B. 28, Physician Assistant Mental Health Practice allows a PA who specializes in psychiatry to engage to offer mental health therapy if he or she meets specific requirements.
Mental Health
S.B. 155, Mental Health Crisis Assistance, helps Utah get ready for the new 988 hotline number. Under the new law, the state will apply for Medicaid waivers to help pay for treatment, set aside crisis response funds to pay for the call center, and develop mobile teams and follow-up treatment.
Youth Services
We passed H.B. 81, Mental Health Days for Students, adding mental health as a valid excuse for school absence. Other states that implemented this attendance policy have seen a decrease in youth suicide.
Additionally, we passed H.B. 93 Youth Suicide Prevention Program Amendments, which expands suicide-prevention education to elementary and secondary grades.
Pandemic
With the onset of COVID-19, the Emergency Management Act went into effect for an extended period for the first time in state history.
After listening to Utahns’ concerns, the Legislature worked with the Governor’s Office to limit broad executive emergency powers.
S.B. 195, Emergency Response Amendments, limits executive powers during long-term emergencies but does not change the executive branch’s ability to respond to short-term emergencies such as natural disasters.
H.B. 294, Pandemic Emergency Powers Amendments, provides for the termination of emergency powers and certain public health orders—including mask mandates—upon reaching certain positivity rates, vaccination rates and other criteria.
Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers often respond to 911 calls in which the someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, which police officers aren’t trained to resolve.
S.B. 53, Behavioral Emergency Services Amendments, makes mental health crisis training available for emergency service professionals. Agencies can create teams of appropriately trained professionals to respond to mental health emergencies. These professionals will be licensed to treat individuals who are in crisis.
Taxes
We passed legislation that will provide $100 million in tax cuts to families, veterans and the elderly.
S.B. 153, Utah Personal Exemption Amendments, restores part of the dependent tax exemption, which was reduced in the 2017 federal tax reform bill. In 2018, the Utah Legislature brought back a portion of the exemption and is now seeking to restore still more of the exemption.
S.B. 11, Retirement Income Tax Amendments, eliminating individual income tax on military retirement pay.
H.B. 86, Social Security Tax Amendments, eliminates income tax on some social security income, benefitting seniors living on a fixed income.
Transportation
While we ackknowledge we should signal when we merge into a lane, many don’t.
H.B. 69, Traffic Code Amendments, changes the traffic code to clarify that a driver must signal when merging into another lane.
The bill also prohibits a driver from operating a vehicle if there is an object, device or build-up on the windshield that obstructs the driver’s view.
We also updated the requirements for youth to receive their driver’s license. H.B. 18, Driver Education Amendments, extends the term of a learner permit from one year to 18 months.
Water
In the second driest state in the nation, water conservation and the Colorado River are priorities for Utah lawmakers. H.B. 297, Colorado River Amendments, is designed to preserve and conserve Utah’s legal share of the Colorado River as guaranteed in the Colorado River Compact nearly 100 years ago. Utah currently uses only 54 percent of what was allocated to the state in the Colorado River Compact.
Along with state management of big water projects, it is important for individuals to do what they can to conserve water.
S.B. 199, Water Amendments, creates a grant program to help small secondary-water providers install secondary water meters.
The measure also directs the Legislative Water Development Commission to support the development of a statewide water strategy to promote water conservation.

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