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Utah legislators approve bills raising gov pay, creating white-collar criminal registry

Utah legislators approve bills raising gov pay, creating white-collar criminal registry

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Estimated read time: 9-10 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature gave the OK to a pay raise for the governor, a white-collar criminal registry, improvements to the juvenile drug and alcohol correctional system and protections for nursing women.

Other bills considered involved eliminating the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases and the merger of environmental boards.

Here are the highlights from these stories:

Legislature passes pay raise for governor, state elected executives

Gov. Gary Herbert is in line for a big raise.

The Utah Legislature passed a bill that would pay the state's top executive $150,000 a year, a nearly 37 percent increase.

Under HB368, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, State Auditor John Dougall and State Treasurer Richard Ellis would also get a salary bump.

The attorney general will make 95 percent of the governor's pay or $142,500, and the state's other three elected executives get 90 percent or $135,000 a year.

Provided Herbert signs the bill, the pay increases would take effect in 2017, the year after he and the other four officials would be up for re-election. The raises would cost the state $250,000 a year. The salaries are based on recommendations from the Utah Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission.

Merger of environmental boards stokes concerns

The Utah Radiation Control Board voted unanimously to voice its opposition to the state Legislature's move to dismantle the organization, declaring the change is ill advised and members should have been consulted.

In an emergency vote on a "position statement" Wednesday, the five members present approved sending the document to all 104 members of the Legislature and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

The action is in response to SB244, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, which passed the Utah Senate on Wednesday and now awaits Herbert's signature.

Dayton's measure, which has the nod of Utah Department of Environmental Quality's executive director Amanda Smith, combines two divisions under Smith's purview — Radiation Control and Solid and Hazardous Waste.

The statement indicates the Radiation Control Board is not opposed to the merger, but points out marrying the two boards will significantly expand the scope of issues under the new board's scrutiny and result in longer meetings.

Smith said she feels the new board will be up to task.

"We have felt that those two boards are under-utilized," compared to the workloads handled by other boards such as air quality, drinking water or water quality, she said. "Both of those boards are operating at a much smaller capacity than those other three boards. They don't meet as often or pass as many rules."

Bill creates white-collar criminal registry in Utah

A bill creating a white-collar crime registry, comparable to a sex offender registry, flew through the Utah Legislature on Wednesday.

HB378 would allow the Utah Attorney General’s Office to create a website to help individuals more easily access a list of people who commit white-collar crimes.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the attorney general’s office considers the bill to be a “top priority” because Utah has a high level of vulnerability to affinity fraud.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes stated in a news release that “Utah’s unique personal interweavings and close relationships offer a rich environment for predatory behavior and financial crimes.”

“This tool will hopefully curtail some of the billions of dollars lost in Utah to investment fraud and other financial crimes,” Reyes stated in the release.

Legislature passes bill improving juvenile drug and alcohol correctional system

The Legislature passed a bill Wednesday to put more focus on treatment rather than punishment when minors violate drug and alcohol laws.

HB284 would require Utah courts to order a screening, risk assessment and educational class for substance abuse treatment if its found appropriate for a minor who commits a second violation of certain alcohol- or drug-related offenses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, would also authorize courts to reduce the driver’s license suspension period of a minor who commits drug offenses. Current state law only allows courts to do so for alcohol offenses.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said it's more proactive to put minors who have substance abuse problems in treatment early — and prevent addiction in their adult lives — than to simply punish them by taking away their driver’s licenses.

Bill removing statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases passes Legislature

The Utah Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that eliminates the statute of limitations for lawsuits against perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

Deondra Brown, co-founder of the nonprofit Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, watched from the Senate gallery as lawmakers engaged in a final debate before voting to pass HB277 and sending it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

“On behalf of victims across the state of Utah, we’re excited to know that we can kind of breathe, take our time in healing, and come forward and tackle that big legal case when and if we are every ready,” Brown said.

Brown has followed the progress of HB277 and testified in favor of the bill at committee meetings throughout the legislative process. Three Brown sisters, members of the 5 Browns piano quintet, were molested by their father, Keith Brown, as children. The sisters sought criminal charges in 2010 against their father, who had also been their professional manager.

Keith Brown was sentenced in March 2011 to 10 years to life for sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and one to 15 years each on two counts of sex abuse of a child, a second-degree felony. The crimes occurred when the girls were 13 years old or younger.

Current Utah law limits civil actions to four years after a victim’s 18th birthday. HB277 would remove those limitations and allow victims time to heal and muster the courage and maturity to take civil action and hold their abusers accountable, said bill sponsor Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.

“Someone that victimizes a child should never be able to hide behind time — ever,” Ivory said.

Protections for nursing women clear Utah Legislature

Two bills cleared the Utah Legislature on Wednesday that would set workplace protections for nursing women.

HB105 clarifies breastfeeding under the definition of pregnancy-related conditions that are currently protected under Utah’s Anti-discrimination Act; and HB242 would require public employers to adopt policies to provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding employees.

The bills’ Senate sponsor, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said the bills would ask employers to “adopt policies that create an atmosphere where women are welcomed and valued, and (that is) beneficial to the employer and the employee.”

Iwamoto said HB105 would provide lawful clarity for employers and employees, and would “potentially avoid unnecessary and costly litigation.”

“This is important for women in the workplace and is good public policy,” she said.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, spoke against SB242, saying she believes the bill tampers too much with “employer-employee relationships.”

“This is not a vote against nursing mothers,” Dayton said. “It’s against too much interference.”

Lawmakers advance bills to clarify parental rights in education

Lawmakers advanced two bills Wednesday that lawmakers say will strengthen parental rights in the education of their children.

SB204 would clarify parents' right to opt their children out of standardized testing and to excuse them from school. The bill clarifies legislation that was passed last year, allowing parents to excuse their children from "any summitive, interim or formative test that is not locally developed," as well as federally or state-mandated tests.

Students can be excused from school for family or medical reasons so long as the parent informs the school one day in advance and the student makes up the missed coursework, the bill states.

Parents' right to opt their children out of testing is already outlined in Utah State Board of Education policy.

Bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said the bill is required to clarify current statute that outlines parental rights with regard to the education of their children. But some worry it will encourage more parents to opt their kids out of testing, giving an inaccurate picture of school performance.

"As certain groups mobilize and encourage parents to opt their kids out of the standardized tests, it's going to skew the results of the school," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City.

Bills to improve school safety await governor's signature

The Legislature passed two bills Wednesday that seek to improve safety for students in the classroom.

A bill that would prevent convicted felony sex offenders from working with students in Utah passed the Senate without debate.

HB345 would permanently restrict convicted felony sex offenders from obtaining or renewing a teaching license in Utah. The bill also redefines the Utah State Board of Education as having the final say in teacher licensure.

Historically, the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission has handled cases of educator abuse. It was created as an advisory committee to the State School Board, but over time it was given rule-making authority that supersedes that of the board.

The bill would give that authority back to the State School Board and designate the commission as an advisory committee as was originally intended.

HB213 seeks to provide students with more safety in virtual learning environments. The bill requires local school community councils to have in place the adequate infrastructure for Internet filtering on school devices.

Lawmakers say the bill is backed by numerous constituents, many of whom are parents who say their children were exposed to pornographic material on school devices. The bill requires schools that use personal devices, such as iPads, to ensure the filtering system is in place no matter where the devices are used.

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