SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert has signed 186 bills so far from the Utah Legislature’s recently completed session, including an expansion of telehealth services in the state, a repeal of straight-ticket voting and legislation providing more access to medical marijuana for qualifying patients.
The governor had signed 167 bills as of Tuesday and another 19 Wednesday, but has yet to tackle some of the most controversial legislation, such as a ban on abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. He has until April 1 to sign, veto or allow bills to take effect without his signature.
Lawmakers passed a total of 510 bills during the 45-day general session that ended at midnight on March 12.
Among the bills signed this week is HB313, intended to increase virtual doctor visits and ensure providers will receive reasonable reimbursement. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, is seen as vital in light of the new coronavirus pandemic.
The long-standing practice of allowing voters to check a single box to vote for all candidates of a political party will end under HB70, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek. Arent, who is not seeking reelection after many years in both the House and Senate, had been trying since 2013 to put a stop to straight-ticket voting.
Arent has called the bill, which had a Republican sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, “good public policy. It doesn’t matter who it helps or who it hurts. It’s what we ought to be doing in our democracy.” She said straight-party voters often overlook judicial retentions and nonpartisan races on the ballot.
Another bill that Herbert signed, HB425, sponsored by Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, lets qualifying patients who don’t have a state-issued medical cannabis card use a “recommendation letter” from their medical provider to buy medical marijuana through 2020.
After that, patients will need the card from the Utah Department of Health to buy medical cannabis.
The health department said only Utah residents can purchase medical cannabis with a recommendation letter, stating they have been diagnosed with a qualifying condition by a medical doctor, osteopathic physician, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant or other approved medical professional.
The letter has to be validated by the pharmacy, the health department said, and personal identification must be shown to make the purchase. Patients using a recommendation letter will also have to make all their purchases at the same pharmacy until they obtain a medical cannabis card.
The state’s first medical cannabis pharmacy, Dragonfly Wellness in Salt Lake City, opened at the beginning of March. Another 13 such pharmacies are set to open in the state by the end of the year.
Other legislation signed into law by the governor include HCR3, calling for a later start time for high schools; HB291, requiring those found guilty of sex trafficking to register as sex offenders; and HB318, establishing a new state license plate recognizing the work and life of the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Among the most recent bills signed was HB171, which spells out that threats made against a school, whether real or a hoax, carry misdemeanor penalties, The bill, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, was signed Wednesday and authorizes judges to seek restitution for losses and expenses incurred responding to the threat.