By Representative Christine Watkins, District 67
The legislature took off and we have been busy in committee meetings, listening to bills and voting for or against them. The two bills, HB 257, Sex Based Designations for Privacy, Anti-Bullying, and Women’s Opportunities, and HB 261, Equal Opportunities Initiatives, both passed in the House and are on their way to the Senate. They had a long committee meeting with many speaking for and against. To understand the whole intent, you really need to read the bills thoroughly.
The majority caucus prepares for the upcoming session by identifying our key policy priorities. This year, we identified four key areas of focus: People, Resources, Accountable Government, and the Future. There are going to be number of bills changing policies and helping to make government easier. I tell students when they visit the Capitol that we work for now, but we always look to their future to make Utah a great place to live and work.
We passed H.B.14 School Threat Penalty Amendments to increase criminal penalties for those who make threats against our students and schools. Last year, we had a person from out of the United States call many of our schools saying there was an active shooter. All the schools took the threats seriously and learned a lot in the process, but this bill will make the penalties much more severe for those who want to create this kind of hoax.
I have two bills on the House Board, and they will be voted on this week. One is a “committee” bill. The Health Department needed the statute dealing with fatality reviews updated. A fatality review is done when someone in the care of the state dies. This can be someone at the State Hospital, or children in the care of the Division of Child and Family Services. They also wanted more time to review the death, from two weeks to 60 days. The department also needed authority to send information electronically.
The other bill, H.B. 116, will help developers of biofuel projects throughout the state finance their projects by providing access to an additional source of private capital. Currently, they do not have access to Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy funding. This will be a great help for manufacturing in rural Utah.
I am presenting a bill in committee Monday that might have a tough time. The bill stops Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) from being allowed to collect child support when they remove a child or children from a home. There is a provision for very limited income families to not pay child support, but mid-income parents who are already struggling for many reasons need every bit of money that they must make it through all of the requirements that the courts and DCFS impose on them. The struggle will be the fiscal note on the bill.
DCFS relies on this funding to operate, and it will require about $1.5 million to compensate the program. The last few years, the state has had over $3 billion extra because of federal COVID funding. That money is now gone. In this session, we have $267 million for one-time spending and $7 million for ongoing spending. That is a huge difference; we have gone from boom spending to normal spending. The State of Utah is continually being recognized as the best fiscally managed state in the nation. One of our main roles as legislators is to help budget our revenues.
I have received a lot of calls about the bill that would require the Ten Commandments to be on display in all our schools. I think the Ten Commandments are nice, but as a state, we have many other religions that have their own beliefs and others who do not subscribe to any religion. I personally believe this is a stretch and, of course, there is the Separation of Church and State issue. If this bill makes it to the floor for debate and vote, I will not support it.
I have had several wonderful schools visit this week, including Castle Dale Elementary (where I taught for many years) and Duchesne Elementary. I love speaking to school-aged children and make every effort to welcome them. Thanks again for your texts, calls and emails.
Cell: (435) 650-1969
Facebook: Representative Christine Watkins