First of all, I offer my sincere gratitude for allowing me the opportunity to represent you in the Utah State Senate. Serving in the legislature is one of the greatest honors of my life. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
Out of the thousands of votes I take, I will inevitably cast some with which you may disagree. But that’s not a bad thing. As the saying goes: if we agree with each other 100 percent of the time, one of us is not thinking. I appreciate those of you who have heard me out and even called me out. Learning your perspective not only makes me a better legislator, it makes me a better person. So thank you to each of you who care enough to make your voice heard.
The session ended at the stroke of midnight last Thursday. We grappled with some weighty issues, especially during the last two weeks. We also passed a balanced budget—the single most important thing we do each year.
A Few Highlights
Highlights of Bills I Sponsored
- SB247: Recognizes and begins to pay down the $86 million unfunded liability for vacation time accrued by state employees.
- SB193: Adds transparency to property tax notices, and prevents local governments from levying abusive, punitive or unfair fees and fines on taxpayers.
- SB227: Establishes a transparent process for a charter school to transfer its assets and charter to a high-performing charter or district school.
- SB169: Allows free markets to determine retail prices of contact lenses by prohibiting manufacturers from engaging in the anti-competitive practice of mandating price floors for contact lenses.
- HB361: (Rep. Roberts) Establishes a statewide protocol for investigating police officer use of force
- HB154: (Rep. McKell) Allows exemption from jury duty for breastfeeding mothers.
- 832 bills were introduced (332 Senate Bills, 500 House bills) (See them here)
- 528 bills were passed (232 Senate Bills, 296 House bills) (See them here)
- I introduced and passed 9 bills (See them here)
- I floor sponsored and passed 13 House bills (See them here)
I received lots of communication from constituents who were both for and against SB259, the bill to legalize medical marijuana. Last year I voted for a measure legalizing cannabis (marijuana) oil for a small number of children who suffer from debilitating seizures. That particular bill underwent months of significant input, scrutiny and change—being substituted nine times before passing unanimously in the Senate. I have a great deal of compassion for people who may benefit from medical marijuana. I don’t oppose taking responsible steps to expand what we did last year so more people can benefit.
Unfortunately, SB259 would have repealed last year’s law in order to implement an entirely new system to legalize the growing, processing, distributing, dispensing, and prescribing of not just cannabis oil, but also marijuana leaves and various edible products. The bill was a massive policy shift for the state of Utah, full conceptual and procedural flaws that ultimately prevented me from supporting it.
The bill was unveiled at the very end of the legislative session with little to no input from fellow legislators, law enforcement, doctors, and state agencies charged with prescribing the drug and implementing the program. It required cities to allow “dispensaries” to set up shop anywhere they wanted within commercial zoning. We don’t even allow such loose regulations for restaurants hoping to obtain a liquor license. For example: even an Olive Garden restaurant has to be a certain distance away from a school, playground, or library. Not so, according to this bill, for marijuana retailers. The bill prohibited people with violent or drug-related felony convictions from engaging in marijuana commerce, while oddly allowing people convicted of crimes like theft, fraud, embezzlement, burglary, counterfeiting, and DUI to grow and sell the drug. Furthermore, the list of “qualified illnesses” was so long and broad that almost anyone could be eligible under the definitions.
Of course, the overshadowing complication with legalizing medical marijuana in Utah is the fact that no matter what we say, it is still against federal law. That reality is tricky to navigate. In addition to installing a massive new regulatory bureaucracy, we would also have to implement an entire money-laundering scheme, because banks won’t touch “drug” money. There were simply too many complications and problems, and not enough time to fix them. It’s almost always a mistake to quickly shove huge policy changes like this through at the tail end of a legislative session. I expect the bill sponsor and supporters will work hard during the interim to bring new legislation to the table next session that will be more likely to merit wide support.