New laws address range of issues

byMolly Marcello
The Times-Independent
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The 2017 Utah legislative session ended March 9, and a variety of bills — from codifying short-term rental advertising to removing safety inspections for most vehicles — are now becoming law with Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature. Many of those laws will have direct impacts to residents throughout the state, including those who live in southeastern Utah. Municipal and county governments, as well as businesses, also will be affected by some new legislation.


 

Here’s a look at a few of the 535 bills passed by the Utah Legislature this year:

Short-term rental amendments

Individuals advertising short-term rentals on a website will now be protected by state code. With the passage of HB 253, municipalities cannot prohibit individuals from advertising a short-term rental on a website, nor punish those individuals for doing so.

Legislators were quick to say the bill does not restrict municipalities from enforcing local zoning codes related to short-term rentals after that language was removed from earlier versions of the bill. 

“Local municipalities [and] counties have the authority to actually decide whether a short-term rental is allowed or not within their community,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Davis County. “However ... it restricts the municipality from not letting them advertise.” 

Local officials questioned the intent of the bill. Individuals advertising short-term rentals outside of areas allowed in city and county zoning codes are now protected in their right to promote an illegal activity, said Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine. The bill also stipulates that a listing on a short-term rental website cannot be used as sole proof of a zoning violation. That means Grand County and Moab city must now compile more evidence to prove a zoning violation has occurred. 

Utah Rural Jobs Act

The state authorized up to $24 million in tax credits for small businesses that invest in rural areas across the state with passage of the Utah Rural Jobs Act. Proponents of the legislation said the bill would incentivize small businesses to locate in rural counties. 

Small businesses eligible for these tax credits include those with fewer than 150 employees, less than $10 million in net income, and which involve industries including energy and natural resources, life sciences, outdoor products and software development.

The Grand County Council formally lent its support for the bill, saying it could help curb high unemployment and poverty rates in rural areas. 

Outdoor Recreation Grant Program

Established as a pilot program last year, the Outdoor Recreation Grant Program will now be a permanent fixture for recreation infrastructure across Utah. The legislation imposes a 0.32 percent transient room tax specifically for the program, which funds outdoor infrastructure projects and youth programs. 

In Moab, the program allocated funding to the Lions Park boulder playground, as well as “YouthWorks in the Parks,” a program in concert with Friends of Arches and Canyonlands that brought inner city youth to the National Parks. 

Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who co-sponsored the bill, said a permanent funding stream for the program would mean a lot more outdoor related projects throughout the state. 

Utah Public Land Management Act amendments

This legislation was passed in preparation for the state potentially gaining control of federal lands. Under that scenario, amendments to the Utah Public Land Management Act would create a “Department of Land Management” that oversees public land exchanges and sales, while also establishing county sheriffs as the primary law enforcement authority over those lands. 

Co-sponsor Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab said the amendments are mainly meant to respond to critics who say that the state will sell off public lands if and when a land transfer occurs with the federal government. 

The bill stipulates rules and regulations for the exchange and sale of public land, and expressly notes that land exchanges “are preferred” to land sales.

Safety inspection amendments

Most drivers will no longer be required to obtain a safety inspection certificate to register their vehicles. 

“Fatalities due to vehicle malfunction ... [have] fallen dramatically over the past 40 years even while more and more states cancel their mandatory inspection programs,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork. 

Under the bill, $1 of a vehicle’s registration fee will be placed into the Motor Vehicle Safety Impact Restricted Account, a fund used to hire new Utah Highway Patrol troopers. 

The legislation does not apply to certain vehicles, including the first-time registration of off-highway vehicles, as well as commercial vehicles and ground transportation services. 

DUI amendments

Utah has become the first state in the nation to reduce the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for driving under the influence (DUI) to 0.05. Proponents of the bill said the measure aims to prevent the “negative behaviors” associated with drinking and driving. 

“Alcohol-related deaths fell when we went from 0.1 to 0.08. We know that it has that impact,” said Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo. “And it’s not because law enforcement is out there arresting more people. It’s because it changes the behavior of people who drink, [it] discourages them from driving after they drink. ...”

The bill sparked heavy debate in the Legislature, with some lawmakers arguing that lowering the BAC would not make a difference when it comes to law enforcement’s ability to detect intoxicated individuals. 

Others like Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, wondered if the legislation would contribute to a “horrendous spike in convictions.” 

But Sen. Stuart Adams argued that lowering the BAC limit could reduce alcohol-related deaths, which he said average approximately 63 per year in Utah. 

The bill passed with a delayed implementation date, officially going into effect on Dec. 30, 2018. 

Before that happens, however, Gov. Herbert plans to call a special session “to address the unintended and collateral consequences of this bill.”

Health education amendments

Utah lawmakers removed language that expressly prohibited the “advocacy of homosexuality” in health instruction in public schools. Lawmakers were threatened with a lawsuit from Equality Utah, which challenged state laws preventing positive portrayals of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in curricula. 

“We will be working now with the State Board of Education to insure that LGBTQ students in every school district are treated fairly,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. “We hope that the passage of [the bill] sends a message to LGBTQ students that they are valued and loved.” 

Although the bill removed language regarding homosexuality, the legislation re-affirmed the state’s stance on abstinence-only curricula. 

“It’s a balance for sustaining our current statute, which focuses on fidelity and abstinence and makes sure that it conforms to the current laws and updates to the statute,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams. 

Equality Utah considers the bill a victory, but Williams said that its reaffirmation of abstinence-only policies — including the prohibition of “advocacy or encouragement of contraceptive methods or devices” — reveal that their work is not over. 

Read more: Moab Times-Independent - New laws address range of issues

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