Abortion waiting period passed in House; Legal wine tasting moves forward

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Abortion waiting period passes in HouseWomen seeking abortions would have to a wait 72 hours under an amended bill the Utah House overwhelmingly passed with little discussion Monday.

HB461 would triple the current 24-hour waiting period. Utah would have one of the nation's longest waiting periods between the initial consultation and the procedure.

Opponents of the measure argued in a House a committee meeting that the change would place undue burdens on women, particularly those who live in remote areas with little access to an abortion clinic. The state's only abortion provider is in Salt Lake County.

"This is not a pro-choice bill or a pro-life bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. "Rather, it's a pro-consumer bill."

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake, was the only House member to speak against HB461. She said she's seen a number of abortion bills during her 12 years in the Legislature and they have to two things in common: the goal is to reduce the number of abortion and the measures are all run by men.

Comprehensive sex education in public schools would make a difference, Moss said. "But you know how that bill turned out in this body."

Senate kills airport lease bill

The Utah Senate soundly defeated a bill Monday evening that had been made public for a just few hours.

SB292, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, was intended to help protect businesses that have made considerable capital investments into the construction or improvement of airport hangars.

The bill, according to floor debate, was aimed at addressing a dispute between a lessee at Salt Lake City International Airport and Salt Lake City Corp.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike cried foul over the Senate taking on a bill that had not gone through the body's committee hearing process.

Legislature addresses rail crossing dangers

The Utah Senate approved a bill Monday intended to enhance safety around rail crossings.

Sen. Karen Mayne, sponsor of a substituted version of SB195, said the legislation is intended to curb the high number of motor-vehicle accidents with TRAX and FrontRunner trains.

In 2011 alone, there were 24 motor-vehicle crashes with TRAX trains, 10 of which involved drivers that attempted to go around safety devices at rail crossings.

The bill addresses vehicle and pedestrian movements around crossings. It also would restrict when vehicles may turn around in relationship to railroad tracks or railroad grade crossings.

The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 23-1. It moves to the Utah House for further consideration.

Concurrent enrollment bill moves forward

A bill that would charge high school students for concurrent enrollment credit came one step closer to becoming law Tuesday after being passed with amendments by the State Senate.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsored SB284, which would permit charging students up to $30 per credit hour for college credit earned through concurrent enrollment courses. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch would be exempt from the fee, as would credits earned from technology-intensive concurrent enrollment, or TICE, courses.

Urquhart introduced an additional amendment to the bill Tuesday that would require the per-credit fee established by the Board of Regents to be approved by the legislative executive appropriations committee. The amendment would also provide for a discounted fee for students that take multiple concurrent enrollment classes.

Senate votes to allow Utah to join Healthcare Compact

The Utah Senate passed a bill Monday that would allow Utah to join an interstate compact to opt out of federal health care reform laws.

SB208, which passed the Senate on a vote of 21-8, now goes to the House.

Under the Healthcare Compact, the state would assume the federal funding for and oversight of programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP under a block grant funding mechanism. Congress would have to give its approval to the states for the compact to take effect.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the state could do a better job of administering the programs and moving the programs closer to the people would save money that could be funneled into patient benefits and provider reimbursements.

Senate further regulates cosmetic surgeries

The Senate approved a bill Monday to further regulate cosmetic medical procedures and use of certain instruments to perform them.

Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, said SB40 was a "compromise" bill among "a lot of different people that provide a lot of different levels of health care in our state."

The intent of the bill is to clarify the types of procedures and uses of instruments that must be medically supervised. Hair removal could be conducted without direct physician oversight. Procedures that involve removing tissue below the skin do require an examination by physician, Knudson said. Requirements for training and education would also be increased under the bill.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said his law firm has handled the cases of people who were scarred by procedures performed in "medical spas."

Before the bill's final vote, Valentine pushed through an amendment that would require businesses that represent themselves as "medical spas" to have a physician, nurse practitioner or osteopathic physician on the premises.

Senate unanimously passes wine tasting bill

The Utah Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday that would permit managers of restaurants and high-end hotels to sample wine and spirits at events overseen by state alcohol regulators.

An amended version of SB119, sponsored by Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, moves to the Utah House for further consideration.

The bill requires industry representatives to pay the cost of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control staff who oversee the tastings. The tastings could occur at state liquor stores, state package agencies or trade shows.

The wine or spirits would be paired with food, Romero said. Tasters would "swish" the beverages as they sampled them, he said.

Some wine and spirits can cost more than $100 a bottle, so purchasers want good information about the products they buy, Romero explained.

Utah is one of two states that has not allowed sampling by businesses that purchase alcohol for resale.

Two Democratic lawmakers will retire

Two longtime Democratic lawmakers announced Monday they will not be returning to the Legislature.

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, and Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, have decided not seek re-election.

Morgan was first elected to the House in 1998 where she served for 10 years before being elected to the Senate in 2008.

Litvack was first elected to the House in 2000, and has served in Democratic leadership the past four years.

Counties may get a vote-by-mail option

Voters in some Utah counties may be able to vote by mail rather than going to ballot box.

The House approved a bill Monday that would allow counties the option of vote-by-mail. Voting in person would also remain as an option. The lieutenant governor's office would study the practice to determine whether to take it statewide.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, sponsor of HB172, said it would boost voter turnout in Utah, which consistently ranks among the lowest in the country.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said vote-by-mail is not a panacea for low voter turnout and has "real potential for monkey business."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

House votes to give fight over rural roads $1M

A fund for fighting the federal government over control of thousands of roads on public lands could get a $1 million boost.

The Utah House voted unanimously Monday to transfer the money into the state's Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office. Utah recently declared intent to file a federal lawsuit over access to 19,000 rural roads known as RS2477 roads.

"We feel like we're going to win these cases," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, sponsor of HB467. "I promise these funds will be well spent."

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, said he's concerned about the state "getting sucked into a trap that's going to be extraordinarily expensive" without taking stock of what it's getting into.

Aid to war veterans

State lawmakers may study how to help war veterans reintegrate into civilian life.

The Utah House unanimously passed a bill that would create a 15-member task force to address employment, personal finances, suicide prevention and other issues. It would also create a plan to help transitioning veterans.

Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, said he doesn't want retuning veterans to experience what they did after Vietnam.

HB162 now goes to the Senate.

Transparency in charter school funding

The Utah House voted unanimously Monday to advance a bill that would add greater transparency to public funding for charter schools.

HB392, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, would require property tax notices to state the amount of an individual's property taxes that is being distributed to charter schools.

"People should know where their tax dollars are going," Sandstrom said.

Sandstrom said he was concerned that many property owners in Utah do not understand that charter schools are publicly funded or the amount of their taxes that go toward those schools. He said the bill would also serve local school boards, which bear the brunt of public response when higher taxes are levied, in demonstrating how funds are being distributed.

He emphasized before the House that the bill would not change the rate, or amount, of taxes collected in any way.

Niece of MLK weighs in on license plate debate

Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece weighed in on a proposal to create a Utah license plate honoring her uncle.

Alveda C. King's comments in a letter to Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, led to an amendment to HB506 that removed controversy over the bill that erupted in a House committee meeting last week.

Funds collected through the sale of the special plates could be used to promote "inalienable rights" but not "human rights" as the bill originally stated. Daw objected to the earlier language after Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Foundation chairman Roderic Land testified in committee that he supports abortion rights. The foundation would be among groups who could receive proceeds from license plate sales.

It intends to use the money for scholarships and civil rights awareness, said bill sponsor Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake.

King, a Christian minister and pro-life activist, wrote that she was "deeply disturbed" over anything connecting her uncle to abortion.

She urged lawmakers to amend HB506 "so that it is clear that not a single dollar raised by any legislation can be used to promote abortion. … Let Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy be used to promote things for which he stood — equal rights under the law for all ethnicities, brotherhood, and strengthening of the family."

The House passed the amended bill 61-10. It now moves to the Senate.

Senate passes amendments to factual innocence statute

The Utah Senate granted final passage Friday March 2 to a bill that amends the state's factual innocence statute.

The 2008 law is intended to give people who maintain they were wrongfully incarcerated an opportunity to petition a court to prove "under the facts, there is no way you could have been guilty," explained Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. Weiler, who is an attorney, was Senate sponsor of HB307.

A factual innocence hearing is a form of post conviction relief different than an appeal of a criminal conviction.

The statute was used recently on behalf of Debra Brown, who was freed from prison last year after spending 17 years behind bars for a 1993 murder in Logan.

HB307 sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, would set a standard for a court's determination of factual innocence.

Under the bill's language, the court must determine by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioner did not commit the offenses of which they were convicted and that determination is based on newly discovered material evidence.

Senate rejects urban/rural classification bill dies to clutter

On a vote of 6-23, the Utah Senate killed a bill Friday March 2 that says the Utah Legislature should study whether to introduce legislation to classify counties as urban or rural.

Senate Assistant Majority Whip Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, said the point of the study is to bring consistency to the state code.

HB220, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, contemplates an issue worthy of study, said Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem.

"I don't think it's worthy of putting into code that we're having a study," she said.

Contributing: Benjamin Wood, Marjorie Cortez, Dennis Romboy

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