The 60th Utah Legislature adjourned March 13 with some of NFIB’s best victories coming from the defeat of bills detrimental to small business, reports State Director Candace Daly in her wrap-up report.
Approximately 780 pieces of legislation were drafted this year at the State Capitol with 456 bills passing. Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed only three bills and allowed 453 to become law, or clarifications to existing laws.
NFIB identified 39 bills as directly affecting small business, either negatively or positively. Of them 23 passed and seven were defeated.
With NFIB’s backing, House Bill 10, by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, passed, making it easier on both the employer and the employee for an injured employee to return to work.
First Substitute Senate Bill 44, by Sen. Karen Mayne, clarifies what can happen if an employee is injured on the job while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. With NFIB’s support, the bill states that if an employee is injured in an industrial accident and it is contributed to by the use of alcohol or drugs, the employee will lose all disability benefits.
Rules and Regulations
NFIB was instrumental in getting two important bills passed and signed into law:
- House Bill 14, by Rep. Curt Oda, requires state agencies to file their five-year reviews in a timely manner. If they do not get their review or extension filed on time then the rules will expire immediately and automatically. This legislation does allow an agency to file notice-of-review and statement-of-continuation as one filing. Divisions must also give reasonable notice of review when posting rule changes.
- Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, reauthorization the Administrative Rules Committee. This committee is responsible for reviewing and reauthorizing all state rules. If a concern about a rule is raised this committee meets to address those issues.
NFIB helped win passage of two bills beneficial for small business:
- Rep. Jim Dunnigan’s Second Substitute House Bill 24 clarifies the definition of small employer for health insurance purposes to one to fifty employees. If you have one employee besides the owner, you can apply for a business or group plan.
- Also sponsored by Dunnigan was House Bill 35, which reauthorizes the Utah Health Data Authority Act for another 10 years. The state of Utah believes the data collected by this authority will allow Utah to project risk adjustment for health insurance in Utah much better than the Federal Government can.
House Bill 25, by Rep. Lee Perry, updates old code language by removing telegraph companies and sugar beet processing plants from the language and allowing them to claim eminent domain. A private property owner may request a written advisory opinion from a neutral third party to determine if a condemning entity can condemn.
State Budget Forecasting
House Bill 311 Budgeting Amendments and 1st Substitute House Joint Resolution 10, both by Rep. Brad Wilson, asks staff to predict where the trend line will be moving in revenue sources. They will ensure that future legislatures will have data they need to make accurate and informed decisions. The resolution calls for the House speaker and the Senate president to hold a conference at least every other year to focus on long-term issues facing the state such as demographic and budgeting issues, taxation and revenue issues and anything else facing the state.
NFIB/Utah has been pushing for more and more government transparency and is pleased to report that Sen. Deidre Henderson has picked up the torch from Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. She sponsored several pieces of legislation that requires government to be more responsible to the citizens of Utah:
- Second Substitute Senate Bill 59 requires independent entities be subject to the transparency website. Exemptions do exist for delicate information.
- Senate Bill 70 is a product of the Transparency Advisory Board. Because the state has great websites for transparency, the advisory board wanted those websites brought together under the www.open.utah.gov site as a one-stop port of access to link to other state websites. It also includes a one-stop GRAMA (Government Records Access Management Act) portal.
- A third bill sponsored by Senator Henderson, Second Substitute Senate Bill 169, defines electronic information as information that is presented in an electronic format to a committee and needs to be part of public record. It must be given to the public body at the time of the presentation.
- The last bill in this set of transparency legislation sponsored by Senator Henderson is Senate Bill 61, which speeds up the budgetary process and requires a two-week notification to be publicly made before a general election, if there will be a tax increase in the government entity for the following year. If there is a tax increase, notice can be mailed on a separate piece of paper in the property tax bill each fall before the budgetary and truth-in-taxation meetings are held. This bill clarifies that the budget and the Truth in Taxation meeting can occur simultaneously.
Victories In Defeats
Rep. Lynn Hemmingway’s House Bill 73 would have increased the minimum-wage rate in Utah to $10.25 an hour and tied it to increases in the Consumer Price Index every year after. If the CPI went down, however, the minimum wage would stay the same. Another devastating part of this bill would have required the state Labor Commission to set the minimum wage for workers aged 16 and under. NFIB worked tirelessly to defeat HB 73, by showing legislators the devastation raising the minimum-wage rate would have on job growth, especially for teenagers entering the job market for the first time, and on people looking to make a little extra income from a job that is not their primary source of income. In the end HB 73 was defeated.
Many proposals were put forward during the 2014 session to increase funding for transportation in Utah, with legislators claiming that funding for improvements is lower than ever due to more fuel efficient vehicles on the road and thus fewer gallons on gas being purchased. Several of the proposals included increasing taxes. While not opposing increasing transportation funding, NFIB/Utah did fight –and win – against the funding coming from increased taxes. House Bill 240 and House Bill 266, sponsored by Rep. Jim Nielson, and Senate Bill 60, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine, were examples of legislation attempting to increase transportation funding using increased taxes. NFIB helped stop these bills from passing, but they are expected to resurface next year.
In a regulation in search of a reason for which there is no problem, House Concurrent Resolution 6, sponsored by Rep. Marie Poulson, would have encouraged employers to adopt flexible work schedules in order for parents or guardians to leave their employment for one day per child to attend parent-teacher conferences, or for use in case of emergencies.
Small businesses in Utah do not need legislation to require this. Small-business owners are responsible and have shown they are willing to work with their employees for these exact purposes — without being told they have to. Members of the House Business and Labor Committee were all reached by NFIB and encouraged to vote ‘No,’ if it were put on the agenda, which it never was.
Legislation requiring an employer to provide patrons and prospective employees with a written disclosure if the employer retains or collects any portion of a service charge or gratuity was introduced by Sen. Karen Mayne. Her Senate Bill 102 struggled to get out of Legislative Research and General Counsel and assigned to a committee. All committees where this legislation could possibly have been sent for review were lobbied thoroughly by NFIB for defeat in case it ever started moving.
Mandatory Meal Times
It was only meant for public employees, but NFIB quickly assessed it at as a classic camel’s-nose-under-the-tent bill that would eventually, if unopposed, include private employers as well. First Substitute Senate Bill 163, sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, would have required all public employers to provide a designated employee meal period and require public employers to develop a complaint process.
NFIB/Utah worked diligently to make sure this bill did not pass. In the end the committee voted to return it to the Rules Committee where it died on the last day of the session.
Still To Do
Balanced Federal Budget
The United State Constitution allows states to take action when Congress is unable to act, and nowhere is its dereliction of duty more in evidence than in its inability to balance the nation’s budget. Thirty-eight states are needed to call a constitutional convention, and Utah almost became one.
To prevent any straying from the intended purpose of an Article V Constitutional Convention, First Substitute House Bill 392, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, prohibits a state delegate from supporting or approving any proposal of an unauthorized amendment or change of the United States Constitution other than for a balanced federal budget. This prohibition helped garner a little more support for the Article V Constitutional Convention. This bill passed both the House and the Senate.
But First Substitute House Joint Resolution 8, also by Powell, Utah’s proposal to join the 38-state requirement to call an Article V Constitutional Convention stalled. It passed the House Committee but failed on the floor of the House with 32 in favor, 41 opposed, and two absent. As it did this session, NFIB will support the call for an Article V Constitutional Convention when it comes up again.
Tangible Personal Property Tax
Eliminating the tangible personal property tax has been a goal of NFIB for the past few sessions, and although it has helped chip away at it by winning reductions, the tax’s complete end remains to be achieved.
Rep. Jim Nielson sponsored two bills that would have reduced the tax burden: House Joint Resolution 2 proposed an amendment to the Utah Constitution to include business personal property owned by a business to be listed as exempt from property taxes, and an accompanying measure, First Substitute House Bill 391 were thoroughly debated in the House Business and Labor Committee, before being recommended for further study during the legislative interim.
Legislation requiring coverage for autism passed the Legislature this year. It was an emotional train going down a track that was not going to stop. NFIB/Utah opposes health-care insurance mandates, but this one was so emotional, the insurance carriers backed off any opposition.
NFIB along with the rest of the business community expressed opposition to the legislation but nothing was going to stop it.
House Bill 88, by Rep. Ronda Menlove, extends a pilot program that showed results and a positive impact on autistic children. The bill is funded by $1.8 million from the General Fund, and will pull down $4.4 million from federal funds per year beginning in Fiscal Year 2015.
Also, Sen. Brian Shiozawa sponsored 1st Substitute Senate Bill 57. This bill requires a health benefit plan offered or renewed in the individual market on or after January 1, 2016 to provide coverage for the treatment of autism. It is estimated that 18,000 children in Utah are currently affected by autism. There is an evidence-based, cost-effective way to treat autism, as proved by the pilot program mentioned in House Bill 88. The insurance companies recognized this and are willing to help. This bill will sunset in 2019.