Lawmakers pass human trafficking, election reform bills

Lawmakers pass human trafficking, election reform bills

(Matt Gade, Deseret News, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers passed a human trafficking bill on Thursday that will provide protection to child victims involved in prostitution. They also passed two election reform bills spurred by the John Swallow investigations.

Gov. Gary Herbert spoke with lawmakers on Thursday and threatened to veto the controversial education technology initiative if the hefty $200 million price tag was not lowered to $30 million or below and an education committee advanced a bill that would penalize school districts if they entered into unauthorized federal education programs.

House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City also announced her decision to not seek reelection so she could focus on finishing her doctorate.

Lawmakers pass bill protecting child victims of human trafficking

A child involved in prostitution would be protected from prosecution and referred to state family services under a bill approved by Utah lawmakers.

HB254 provides that a child would not face a delinquency charge unless police have referred the child to the Division of Child and Family Services at least once before for alleged prostitution or sexual solicitation. It also allows victims to sue human traffickers and collect up to three times the cost of damages.

Utah's House minority leader not seeking reelection to further education

House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, the first woman to hold the minority party's top leadership spot in the House, announced Thursday she won't seek re-election.

Seelig said she wants time to write her dissertation for a doctorate in political science at the University of Utah about the ability of community-based organizations to empower women.

"I took on this role in part to show women of all backgrounds that political involvement is vital to support our communities," she said. "Women need not only to be engaged, but to lead, and every single one of us has that power within."

Senate committee advances bill allowing hemp oil extract for seizure treatment

A Senate committee unanimously recommended a bill that would legalize the use of hemp oil extract, a non-intoxicating cannabis oil taken from marijuana plants, for seizure treatment.

HB105 was refined and amended several times, including the addition of a July 2016 sunset date on the bill to give the Legislature an opportunity to review the issue after a trial period. The Utah Medical Association now supports the legislation.

Panel approves bill to create child sex abuse prevention program in schools

"He worked among you."

That was the message from Kristin Parry to lawmakers as she told the story of how her then-husband, Stephen J. Coleman, a budget analyst in the governor's office, was arrested on Capitol Hill three years ago and charged with sexually abusing the couple's two daughters.

The abuse had gone on for years, Parry said Thursday, but it wasn't until her daughters attended a sexual abuse awareness and prevention program at school that they broke their silence.

"My girls finally learned that what their father was doing to them was wrong and illegal and that they should tell someone they trusted," she said.

Parry's remarks came during a hearing of the Senate Education Committee in which she spoke in favor of HB286, a bill that would make the kind of information her daughters received commonplace in Utah's public schools, as well as provide training for educators to act as first responders.

Governor threatens to veto education initiative if price tag is not slashed

Gov. Gary Herbert threatened Thursday to veto a controversial education technology initiative from House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, unless the price tag is cut from $200 million to no more than $30 million.

"The governor would emphasize Utah is not Washington, D.C.," said Marty Carpenter, the governor's spokesman. "D.C.-style politics leads to D.C.-style outcomes, and this is not the Utah way."

Herbert believes the state "should not throw hundreds of millions of dollars at an initiative only to discover the lessons learned after the fact," Carpenter said.

The most that should be spent, he said, is $20 million to $30 million.

Committee approves bill to give full sovereignty to state for education

Local school officials who go behind the State School Board's back to partner with the federal government could face financial consequences if a bill that received committee approval Thursday becomes law.

HB425, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, would impede local schools from receiving more than $50,000 from the federal government without approval from the Utah Board of Education.

If a school violates that provision, the board would be empowered to reduce the amount of state funding appropriated to the local school district.

House approves two campaign reform bills spurred by Swallow investigation

The House passed two bills Thursday aimed at campaign reform in response to the scandal surrounding former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

Both HB394 and HB390 deal with transparency and accountability for candidates and officeholders.

"We have diligently tried to craft legislation that tries to get at some of the more open or perhaps egregious things that could be done without trying to just put so many more rules that we wouldn’t be able to function," said HB394 sponsor Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who led the special committee that investigated Swallow.

Committee stalls bill to set more stringent air pollution standards

A bill proposing to allow Utah to adopt air quality rules more stringent than the federal government died in committee Thursday on a tie vote.

The split opinion came after a twist in which one lawmaker wanted HB121, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, to allow those modifications to Utah's regulatory framework only if there were "evidence-based" reasons.

Although the amended language made it into the bill, the proposal then failed to advance.

Contributing: Madeleine Brown, Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Lisa Riley Roche, Dennis Romboy, Benjamin Wood

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