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Lawmakers discuss Medicaid expansion, Internet filters on school devices

Lawmakers discuss Medicaid expansion, Internet filters on school devices

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers focused on protecting students from harmful Internet material this week. Additionally, the Legislature heard bills concerning Medicaid expansion and parental rights for biological fathers.

Also this week, domestic violence prevention groups rallied on the Hill for more funding.

Here are the highlights from those stories.

Domestic violence treatment and prevention groups rally for increased funding

Representatives from Utah's domestic violence organizations gathered Monday to ask lawmakers to support new and ongoing funding for domestic violence victim programs.

The coalition's first priority is to convert the state's one-time appropriation of $393,500 in 2014 to ongoing funding for Utah's 13 private domestic violence nonprofit organizations, said Liz Watson, interim executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Without the funding, Utah's victim services will be reduced by 3 percent next year, which would be the equivalent to losing more than 9,000 service hours and more than 3,000 shelter nights, according to the coalition.

"We need your help to ensure this funding does not go away this year," Watson said at the rally. "If it does, it will impact victims."

The coalition's second priority is to establish $728,624 in ongoing funding to implement a statewide lethality assessment protocol, which is an evidence-based program that would identify Utahns most at risk for domestic violence and help prevent violence before it's too late.

Lawmaker wants better Internet filtering on school devices

"My school is a very good school. We have good people teaching at this school," said mother Courtney Stratton. "But if we are going to have the technology there, and we are, it needs to go hand-in-hand with creating a safe technology and Internet environment."

Lawmakers unanimously recommended a bill Monday seeking to foster such an environment as more and more schools in Utah implement classroom technology programs.

HB213 would require local school community councils to ensure that adequate Internet filtering is in place for infrastructure at the school and for school-owned devices while they're on and off campus.

The bill also requires schools to provide guidance to students "on safe technology utilization and digital citizenship that empowers a student to make smart media and online choices; and a parent or guardian to know how to discuss safe technology use with the parent or guardian's child."

Bill sponsor Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said the initiative would help address a growing need for a secure online environment for students.

"This bill stems from some circumstances and a culture that we're experiencing as we see the rapidly changing technological landscape before us," Stratton said.

Stratton said the intent of the legislation is to provide additional resources for parents, not rules for them to follow.

"The intent of this legislation is to empower parents at the local level," he said.

States could share putative father registry information under bill approved by House committee

Utah took another step Monday toward becoming part of an interstate compact that would allow states to share information on putative father registries.

The Utah Legislature's House Business and Labor Committee gave unanimous approval to the latest version of SB10, sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.

"What the bill does is create a compact so we can invite other states to share information we currently have in our vital records," she said.

In Utah, unmarried men who believe they may have fathered a child and want to start the process of preserving their parental rights can file a Notice of Commencement of Paternity Proceeding with the state Office of Vital Records and Statistics within the Utah Department of Health.

Under SB10, other states could participate in a compact to share the information regarding putative fathers who are attempting to preserve their parental rights but may not know where the biological mother resides.

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, the House sponsor of the bill, said he has adopted two children. Any measure that can help ensure the finality of an adoption would be welcomed by adoptive parents, he said.

Lawmakers say feds may give state more flexibility on Medicaid expansion

It's going to be at least another week before lawmakers agree on a plan for Medicaid expansion, now that House Republicans have decided to hold off discussing the issue at their caucus meetings Tuesday and Thursday.

"We have gotten some information from the federal government that allows more latitude, more flexibility for the states than they told us even six months ago," said House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

GOP senators will still meet Tuesday in a closed caucus to talk about two Medicaid expansion bills sponsored by Sens. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, and Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights.

But Dunnigan said House GOP leaders want time to look at decisions made in the past few weeks by the Obama administration that allow other states to put limits on Medicaid expansion not in Gov. Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah plan.

Those limits include the ability to cap enrollment or expenditures, reject participants who don't pay their premiums and cover only the most medically vulnerable residents who earn below the federal poverty level, Dunnigan said.

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