It’s easy to pick on Utah lawmakers.
They pass goofy laws, take embarrassing stands and, when they aren’t doing those things, they’re producing perhaps the most ridiculous rap video in the history of the world.
But, look, bullying is never OK, no matter how deserved it might be. And there are times — perhaps not as often as we would like — that these people make a real difference. So as the 2018 session draws to a close, here are a few things they got right, a few they got wildly wrong and a couple where the jury is still out.
Suicide prevention • Utah experienced a spike in suicides in 2016, and Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, and Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, deserve credit for addressing the problem.
The duo got about $5 million to expand the statewide mental health crisis line, increase the use of mobile crisis outreach teams, give grants for suicide prevention training and beef up the SafeUT suicide prevention phone app — which, by the way, was recently downloaded more than 10,000 times in a week.
And Eliason and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, passed House Bill 139, which would allow Medicaid to pay for teleconferenced psychiatric counseling, ensuring that people in rural Utah can access such services.
The bills were the culmination of a yearlong task force aimed at trying to expand suicide prevention programs and would ultimately save lives.
UTA reform • It was years overdue, but the Legislature finally blew up the Utah Transit Authority and rebuilt it into something that hopefully will be more responsive, accountable and effective.
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, and Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, navigated the competing interests and put together a plan that probably isn’t perfect, but it should be better than what exists now. What’s more, it infuses state money into the mass transit options we’ll need to keep pace with a growing population.
Climate resolution • Most of the resolutions approved by the Legislature are pointless. And while House Concurrent Resolution 7, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, isn’t likely to change the world, it might be a first step toward changing Utah.
With this resolution, the conservative Legislature is recognizing that the climate is changing, that we need to conserve and be good stewards of our resources, and that sound science should drive decisions when it comes to our environment.
The bill passed the House by a convincing margin, despite opposition from the predictable naysayers, and it is expected to get through the Senate.
The Tesla bill • Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, has been trying to change the law after the state in 2015 denied Tesla Motors a license to sell cars here, a decision that was litigated and ultimately upheld by the Utah Supreme Court.
Every time Coleman tried, she got run over by the car dealerships and their lobbying group.
This year, however, the New Car Dealers of Utah put a compromise on the table that passed the House unanimously and looks certain to make it through the Senate. House Bill 369 would let Tesla and other makers of electricity- or hydrogen-powered cars get a new type of license so manufacturers can sell directly to consumers, without franchising with a car dealership.
Ideally, this wouldn’t have taken years to accomplish, but it would ultimately benefit consumers, and it proves that persistence pays.
Not screwing things up • A big part of succeeding is in not failing, and the Legislature avoided some opportunities to mess things up in a big way.
Rep. Mike Noel’s bill to name a network of highways connecting southern Utah’s national parks for President Donald Trump appears to be stuck in the House. The Kanab Republican’s bill to strip Salt Lake City of its authority to protect Wasatch canyons’ watershed got voted down. And Orem Republican Rep. Keven Stratton’s needless bill to create a superpowered investigatory committee, which would let the Legislature go poking around pretty much anywhere it wants, looks like it’s not going anywhere.
Some other wins • Schultz’s bill to get rid of noncompete clauses for much of the broadcast world; several good clean-air bills, including a diesel testing measure; Senate President and Sandy Republican Wayne Niederhauser’s bill to facilitate toll roads in the Cottonwood canyons; Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Angela Romero’s bill expanding domestic violence protections.
Don’t hate; litigate • It feels like Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, is itching for a fight, and we get to pay for it. His Senate Bill 171 would require state courts to let the Legislature intervene in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of new laws.
The attorney general’s office, as you might imagine, has some objections, since its only job is to represent the state and defend the Legislature’s laws. Adams can’t really point to cases where the Legislature wasn’t adequately represented, but he got $700,000 to hire outside lawyers to represent the Legislature in future cases.
Attorneys from the A.G.’s office testified against the bill, saying it may violate the constitutional separation of powers, which means the law about who represents the Legislature in court ... could end up in court.
More secrecy • I guess we’ve gotten used to the Senate conducting its real debates in closed caucuses. But this session, the House Republicans — who had traditionally opened most of their meetings — shut down their discussions as well.
What we’re left with is a legislative process that is strictly for show, at least when it comes to controversial legislation. We only get to see a real debate if lawmakers allow the public to weigh in on bills, and that doesn’t even happen all of the time.
Missed opportunities • The Legislature missed its chance to fix its unenforceable 0.05 DUI law, although Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, did make it OK for someone who is legally drunk to have a gun. The Legislature also punted on trying to enact a workable hate crimes bill, despite pleas from cities and counties across the state, and a bill to repeal the death penalty once again failed to get a vote on the House floor.
The ‘Let’s See’
Our Schools Now compromise • It’s got a ways to go, but the Legislature looks like it may put a gas tax increase on the ballot that would supplant the Our Schools Now initiative and could give voters a chance to raise their taxes to support public education. There are plenty of what-ifs, like what if voters reject the ballot measure in November? But the concept is good and we’ll see where it ends up.
School governance shakeup • On his way to retirement, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, dropped a doozy of a bill that would amend the Utah Constitution and get rid of the elected state Board of Education, giving more authority to the governor. It was Dabakis, so a lot of people didn’t expect it to pass, then it ended up getting a lot of support.
Turns out the school board is pretty dysfunctional. Most people don’t know who their school board member is, which means they’re mostly unaccountable, and those who do know are the people who are really, really passionate about things like getting rid of Common Core and keeping the United Nations out of classrooms. This is, however, a huge change, and it will take a long time for the dust to settle, if it happens at all.
No answers for gun violence • After the mass shooting in Florida last month, you might think the Legislature would take action to address the more than one Utahn who dies from a gunshot every single day. You might think the same after Las Vegas, or Orlando or Sandy Hook. And you’d be wrong.
The one proposal that was brought forward to deal with gun violence, an attempt to make it easier for a court to take away the guns of those whose mental state make them dangerous to themselves or others, was defeated.
Legislative leaders have said they want to address this issue in the coming months. It will be up to all of us to make sure they do.