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Utah legislators zone in on campaign bills, among others

Utah legislators zone in on campaign bills, among others

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers on Utah's Capitol Hill focused on several bills dealing with campaign contributions this week. Other notable bills dealt with Utah lands, air and religion.

Here are the highlights from these stories:

Bill setting campaign contribution limits passes committee

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, won committee approval Tuesday for a bill setting campaign contribution limits in Utah for the first time.

HB60 was substituted to increase the amount of money a candidate can accept from an individual or corporation before it passed 5-3 out of the House Government Operations Committee. It now goes to the full House.

The changes to the bill increase the proposed limit on contributions to legislative candidates from $5,000 to $10,000 and the limit on contributions to candidates for governor and other statewide executive offices from $10,000 to $20,000.

The limits originally in the bill came from former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy and King said he was reluctant to move away from those recommendations.

Senate panel favors bill to ban anonymous political campaign donations

Lawmakers are advancing a bill to restrict anonymous campaign donations.

A Senate committee voted 4-1 to pass HB91 after bill sponsor Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, spoke of a time in recent years when the mayor of Bountiful received more than $10,000 from two nameless donations.

Powell said the mayor’s anonymous donations demonstrate a threat to campaign finance reporting transparency, and anonymous donations provide individuals with a “dangerous loophole” to circumvent the Legislature’s efforts to be transparent to voters.

“Under the law, that is a void right now,” Powell said.

HB91 would forbid political candidates from accepting gifts of more than $50 from nameless donors and mandate that candidates who do receive such a donation must give it to a nonprofit or nonpolitical government entity.

State moves forward on federal public lands bid

The Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands moved the needle forward on the state's commitment to wrest control of certain federal property within its borders, voting to approve a bid for outside legal analysis on the effort.

In the Monday vote, commission members agreed to allow the request for proposals to be issued by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel for legal services and relations for a two-year period.

Under the terms of the proposal, the selected law firm will research legal theories the state could use to obtain ownership and control of public lands, identify potential witnesses in support of that premise, have demonstrated experience or know of a firm that has brought an original action before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state has the option to cancel the contract with certain notice, and commission leadership agreed that quarterly reports will be given updating the progress of the selected law firm preparing the draft legal brief.

A vendor is slated to be selected by June after a review of the bids.

Clean air measure dies in Utah Senate

The Utah Democratic Party used Monday's defeat of a clean air measure as an opportunity to soundly denounce the GOP-dominated state Legislature for its lip service on addressing pollution.

"With all the crying about how Utah needs to create 'Utah solutions' to our issues rather than letting the feds dictate policy to us, our Republican Legislature failed to vote in favor of a bill that would allow Utah to do just that," Peter Corroon said in a prepared statement.

Corroon, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said SB87 would have allowed the state to create standards that are uniquely shaped to the Wasatch Front. Instead, it died Monday afternoon by a 12-16 vote.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, and was identical to a bill he ran in 2014 that repeals a law on the books since 1989 that prohibits Utah from passing rules "more stringent" than what the federal government has done.

"The decision today was that we don't need to do anything about our air. It is a real tragedy when we hate anything to do with the federal government and yet at the same time will accept their minimum standards for our Utah air. In the meantime, I don't see our air getting any cleaner," Davis said.

Bill would eliminate statute of limitations on civil actions related to child sexual abuse

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Monday to give a favorable recommendation to proposed legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on civil actions related to child sexual abuse.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, sponsor of HB277, told committee members that child sexual abuse is "heinous. It's murdering the spirit of the child."

When a child is molested, society and the victims themselves pay the price in terms of health care costs, mental health treatment, lost wages and productivity.

"In this case, we make sure that cost is borne by the perpetrator," he said.

Although Utah's criminal statutes have been changed to acknowledge that many victims of child sexual abuse are not equipped to face their accusers until an average of 20 years later, Utah's civil statute of limitations has lagged behind, Ivory said.

Under existing Utah law, a person who discovers childhood sexual abuse after age 18 has four years to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator.

Passage of HB277 would permit victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits at any time by eliminating the statute of limitations.

National service groups visit Utah Capitol to tout programs

Catherine Osborne has seen how serving others can change lives — for both the volunteers and those in need.

Osborne, of Provo, works at Grandfamilies of Utah County, a program that supports families in which grandparents or other relatives raise children because the biological parents are unable to do so.

While working to promote safety and permanency for children whose biological parents abused or neglected them, Osborne also recruits volunteers for the program as a member of AmeriCorps, a national service program that supports communities nationwide.

“I feel like there’s no such thing as altruism, which is giving service without getting anything back,” she said. “You can’t help but get something back because it makes you feel like you’re making a difference.”

More than 30 service organizations, including AmeriCorps, set up booths in the state Capitol rotunda Monday to educate legislators about the role and impact national service programs have on Utah communities.

“We have a lot of things happening within the state under the national service umbrella,” said LaDawn Stoddard, UServeUtah director. “And many people are aware of the different programs but don’t realize that it all connects, that it’s all part of national service.”

Utah has been ranked as the No. 1 state for voluntarism in the nation for nine years in a row, according to a UServeUtah publication.

Resolution designating 'Religious Freedom Day' passes House

A resolution designating Jan. 16 "Religious Freedom Day" in Utah was approved 72-0 Tuesday by the House.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, the sponsor of HCR2, said recognizing the day is especially important in a year when lawmakers are discussing religious liberty and anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns.

The resolution urges Utahns "to remember and honor the nation's first religious freedom law," the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson to protect the rights of individuals to choose "what they will or will not believe."

It was amended in committee to include references to the Utah Constitution, including the statement that "perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed."

Utah lawmakers show support for Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Utah House of Representatives passed a resolution Monday to express state support for the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Thousands of people from many nationalities and religions from around the world will gather in Salt Lake City for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in October. HCR4 expresses official support for the event from the Legislature and the governor.

“This resolution recognizes the importance of Parliament of the World's Religions as an international conference to find common ground between faiths,” said resolution sponsor Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City. "The state of Utah will be in the international spotlight as we host the Dalai Lama, several other Nobel Peace Prize winners, and religious dignitaries.”

Hollins said the convention is expected to attract more than 10,000 visitors to Utah and generate more than $14 million in tourist-related revenue.

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