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Jordan Allred, Deseret News, File

Battles brews over transmission line; Prison relocation commission approved

By | Posted - Mar 13th, 2014 @ 2:44pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Here's a look at everything that's happening on the Hill: Lawmakers passed a bill to help create a convention hotel in downtown Salt Lake City and a bill that would require DNA sampling when people are booked with felony charges.

Lawmakers also passed the hemp oil bill that would allow its use for epilepsy treatment and a bill that would provide funding for preschools for at-risk kids with private money.

Lawmakers also are in the middle of debating about the future of a huge electrical transmission line that's destined to cross Utah. The future of the $3 billion TransWest Express project rests on the actions lawmakers take — or don't take — by the end of the Legislative session.

Senate passes bill to create preschool for low-income children with private money

Both chambers of the Utah Legislature have now approved a bill that allows private firms to invest in the early education of at-risk children.

HB96, sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, was amended in the Senate and will require a final vote in the House. It is expected to succeed after clearing that chamber in a 49-24 vote last month.

The bill creates a unique funding structure in which public, private and home-based preschool programs can be funded through private loans. Those loans, managed by a school readiness board, are repaid only if students who would otherwise require costly special education in elementary school successfully avoid remediation.

Lawmakers approve convention hotel bill

A convention hotel in downtown Salt Lake City became closer to reality Wednesday after the Utah Legislature passed a substitute version of HB356.

Under the bill, the privately developed hotel would include public meeting space. The developer would be repaid for fronting the construction of the meeting space with sales tax rebates if the facility meets certain performance benchmarks.

The developer would receive tax rebates capped at $75 million over 20 years.

Battle brewing on Capitol Hill over transmission line

A fervent, last-minute pushing match has broken out on Capitol Hill over a huge electrical transmission line destined to cross Utah, if there is a "future need" for it in the state and who ought to be able to plug into it.

The future of the $3 billion TransWest Express project, most notably how it is envisioned to be constructed in the state with a possible "interconnection," rests on the action lawmakers take — or don't take — in the final hours of the 2014 Legislature.

"It really boils down to a question of policy," said Mike Swenson, a lobbyist representing the solar industry, "and if Utah should have a say about a transmission line that crosses this state."

HB44, sponsored by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton and carried in the Senate by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, has already gone through several iterations regarding in-state access to what would be the nation's second largest direct current transmission line.

Bill to create prison relocation commission passes House

The House passed a bill Wednesday creating a new commission to recommend where the Utah State Prison in Draper should be moved.

SB268, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, is part of a package of legislation this session dealing with relocating the aging prison, freeing up nearly 700 acres at Point of the Mountain for development.

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the new commission made up of lawmakers and a pair of corrections officials would be prohibited from "working on anything related to the ground in Draper."

House approves bill requiring health plans for kids on autism spectrum

Children ages 2 to 9 who have autism spectrum disorders would be covered by health benefit plans beginning Jan. 1, 2016, under a bill approved Wednesday night by the House.

SB57, sponsored by Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, requires health benefit plans in the individual market or large group market to provide coverage for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders.

Under the bill, treatment plans would have to be assessed every six months.

Bill providing funding for low-income students to take AP tests passes House

A bill to provide financial assistance to low-income students in Advanced Placement courses passed both chambers of the Legislature on Thursday.

SB140 was approved by a 65-4 vote of the House and a 28-0 vote of the Senate. The bill calls for a $100,000 appropriation to cover the costs of an AP test for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, said some students are dissuaded from taking AP tests — which award college credit to high school students — due to the cost, despite completing the rigorous coursework of an AP class.

Hemp oil for medical use bill just needs governor's signature

A bill allowing hemp oil extract in Utah for treatment of refractory seizures related to epilepsy is now on its way to the governor's office for consideration.

The House voted 58-9 Thursday to concur with changes made in the Senate and give final passage to HB105, which will be known as "Charlee's Law."

Bill sponsor Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Hunsville, said the bill would be named in honor of Charlee Nelson, who suffers from Batten Disease. The neurological disorder leads to mental impairment, seizures, loss of bodily control and eventually death.

Bill passes allowing DNA sampling for people booked on felony charges

State lawmakers have approved a law that would allow police in Utah to collect DNA samples from people booked into jail on any felony charge.

Elizabeth Smart was among several crime victims who testified in favor of HB212, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.

Contributing: Madeleine Brown, Marjorie Cortez, Lisa Riley Roche, Dennis Romboy, Benjamin Wood

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