Utah Lawmakers Weighing Contentious Bills As Session Ends
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah legislators will wrap up their 45-day annual session Thursday after passing two measures restricting abortion, reaching a deal to raise alcohol levels in beer and moving to restrict underage marriage.
Lawmakers have already passed more than 400 bills and were expected to churn through more before adjourning at midnight.
Here’s a look at where key issues stand as the Legislature enters its final day:
BEER ALCOHOL LEVELS
A compromise will raise the amount of alcohol available in beer sold at grocery and convenience stores to 4 percent, up from 3.2 percent. Supporters of the measure say a failure to raise the limit would lead to a lack of beers on the shelves because big brewers aren’t producing as many low-alcohol beers as the market shrinks. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counts most lawmakers as members, supports the compromise. The church opposed the original proposal that would have raised the alcohol percentage to 4.8 percent.
A measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Cheryl Acton would ban abortion once a fetus reaches 18 weeks gestational age, among the strictest in the country. Exceptions include if the pregnancy was a result of rape or is a detriment to the mother’s health. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has already said it will sue if the measure is signed into law.
Another measure to ban abortions sought only because a fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome has been sent to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk. It would only go into effect if a similar law is upheld elsewhere. Utah law currently prohibits abortion past the 22nd week.
An agreement was reached to raise the buying and smoking age for tobacco from 19 to 21. The American Cancer Society’s Action Network criticized sponsor Republican Rep. Steve Eliason’s proposal for targeting buyers instead of retailers, a response that befuddled Eliason. The group also opposes the measure’s phased-in approach that would be fully in place by January 2021. Two cities, Lehi and Cedar Hills, have already moved to raise the age to 21.
A measure strengthens the state’s “stand-your-ground” law by stating someone under attack doesn’t need to retreat.
A measure seeking to limit firearm deaths and suicides through safety education courses and gun-lock distribution is awaiting a final vote in the House. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Eliason, it is supported by gun-rights groups.
Meanwhile, a gun law proposal inspired by the killing of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey failed to make it out of committee after lawmakers disagreed on whether gun owners should be held civilly liable if they loan firearms used in a crime. Another proposal allowing police to temporarily confiscate guns of those deemed to be a threat, known as a red-flag law, died without a hearing.
Utah lawmakers passed a measure removing a provision in the state constitution that allows slavery to remain a viable punishment for crime. The measure was championed by the sole black member of the Legislature, Democratic Rep. Sandra Hollins. She has said the amendment was meant to address a labor shortage but is now outdated. The proposal will appear on the ballot before voters next year.
AID FOR PEOPLE LEAVING POLYGAMOUS GROUPS
Lawmakers passed a proposal to allow people escaping polygamy to receive money from a crime-victims fund. Anyone leaving a polygamous community is qualified to apply, but to receive the compensation they must make a report to law enforcement and cooperate with an investigation. Analysts are estimating the fund would pay out about $3,500 a year per victim starting in 2020.
Legislation is sitting on Herbert’s desk that bans marriage completely for those 15 and younger, and requires judicial and parental approval for 16 and 17-year-olds. It also outlaws marriages with age gaps larger than seven years. The proposal initially aimed to ban all underage marriage but was later amended by Democratic sponsor Rep. Angela Romero. Current state law says 15-year-olds can marry with judicial approval and 16 and 17-year-olds only need consent from a parent.
A call for a new Constitutional amendment advanced, adding Utah to several states that have passing similar measures. Republican sponsor Sen. Evan Vickers believes a convention is necessary to combat what he sees as federal overreach resulting in national debt and manipulation of federal mandates. It requires two-thirds of all states to approve similar resolutions.