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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers head into their final week of the legislative session trying to finalize a budget, as well as consider a major overhaul of liquor laws and a tax package that raises the sales tax on food but lowers the rate on all sales tax.
The 45-day session wraps up Thursday. But until the clock strikes midnight that day, expect legislators to put in long hours and power through hundreds of bills.
A look at where some key issues stand going into the final four days:
A proposal to let Utah's restaurants stop shielding diners from seeing alcoholic drinks being prepared is awaiting a debate in the Senate. The barriers, nicknamed "Zion Curtains" in a reference to the state's Mormon population, have been around in some form for decades. A small band of legislators have unsuccessfully tried to get them removed. A proposal this year from Republican Rep. Brad Wilson would allow restaurants to take down the barriers if they instead put in a child-free buffer zone: a 10-foot zone surrounding the bar or a 6 foot zone marked by a half-wall or railing. The proposal also raises the state markup on liquor by two percentage points, boosts alcohol abuse education programs, and allows alcohol to be served earlier on weekends and holidays, starting at 10:30 a.m. instead of 11:30 a.m.
Republican Rep. Keven Stratton of Orem is running legislation requiring doctors to tell women that a medication-induced abortion could be halted halfway through, though doctors' groups say there is no data to back up that claim. The idea behind the proposal, which a handful of other states have passed or are considering, is that a woman can take the hormone progesterone after taking the first of two medications taken for the abortion. That proposal is awaiting a final vote in Utah's Senate, and if approved, it heads to Gov. Gary Herbert. Another proposal, from Republican Rep. Ken Ivory, looked to ban doctors using telemedicine to remotely prescribe abortion-inducing drugs. Medication-induced abortion was the only procedure banned in the bill, which mainly addresses the way insurers reimburse doctors who provide telemedicine. Lawmakers stripped out the abortion ban, saying they didn't want to sideline legislation that aims to expand health access to rural residents.
Legislators are considering two bills this year that address concealed-carry permits for guns. One bill, awaiting passage by the full Senate, would lower the minimum age to obtain a concealed-carry permit to 18, down from 21 years old. If the Senate approves the proposal from Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, then it moves to the governor. Another proposal would allow those over 21 to carry concealed weapons without a permit, something the governor has vetoed in the past. That proposal, from Republican Rep. Lee Perry of Perry, was passed by the House, but it now appears dead. Perry says the decision came after the National Rifle Association criticized the bill for specifying that concealed weapons must be kept unloaded. He says the criticism would have likely resulted in a long Senate debate when there are a lot of important bills that still need to be considered, so it made more sense to step away from the bill and possibly introduce it next year.
Legislators are mulling a proposal to raise the sales tax on groceries, after dropping it a decade ago to 1.75 percent from 4.75 percent. The idea is to give Utah a more stable source of tax revenue because shopping and big purchases can drop off in a recession but people still buy groceries. Legislation addressing the proposal did not emerge by Friday, but lawmakers are looking at raising the sales tax on groceries while lowering the overall sales tax rate. Senate leaders said Friday that if a plan emerged, they want it to at least hold a committee hearing where the public can comment on the measure before legislators in the full chamber vote on it.
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