You’ve heard us talk about the importance of local elections. But civic engagement doesn’t stop there. When it comes to the issues impacting the day-to-day lives of rural Utahns, this year we’re also looking local on our legislation.
The Utah Legislative session is 45 days long, and it can include thousands of pieces of legislation. If you’ve had a hard time keeping tabs in the past – you’re not alone. As an electoral organization, in prior years our focus has been on candidate recruitment and elections. Increasingly, we’re noting how some of the issues we’ve encountered in the field, and the issues that our neighbors are voting on, are addressed in this rapid-fire legislative session.
That’s why, for the first time, we’re putting on our policy hats. We’re laying out our rural roundup of bills moving this year through the Utah Legislature that are either positive or detrimental to our communities. You can see our priority legislation and action steps below. When in doubt, use this tool to find your legislators.
HB0203, Mail in Ballot Amendments
Representative Brian King
Sparknotes: This bill changes the postmark deadline to Election Day instead of the day before Election Day.
Our Take: With the limited availability of local postmarks and long drive times to ballot boxes, rural voters are greatly impacted by this legislation. In 2020, at least 2,000 ballots were rejected for being past deadline. This number may sound small, but in a rural context, the population of Wayne County is ~2,600.
Action Step: Contact members of the House Rules Committee and pressure them to assign this bill to a standing committee for consideration. Here’s our toolkit with more details.
S.B. 176, Mineral Lease Funds Amendments
Senator Ronald Winterton
Sparknotes: This bill makes it a whole lot easier for a department of the State called the Community Impact Board to subsidize fossil fuel extraction with public funds that are meant to offset the impact of fossil fuel development on rural communities. Right now, state law requires that a portion of royalties generated from oil, gas, and coal mining be used for “the alleviation of social, economic, and public finance impacts resulting from the development of natural resources in this state.” Sounds good, right? This bill strikes that language and even explicitly states that these funds can be spent in a way that INCREASES “natural resource development”—the exact opposite of what the “Community Impact Board” was created to do.
Our Take: Counties are already financially-burdened by the detrimental impacts of fossil fuel extraction. This bill would prioritize short-sighted energy development over the development of community resources that the Community Impact Board was founded to invest in: emergency services, infrastructure projects, and community improvement projects.
Action Step: Contact members of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee and tell them to just say no to this bill! You can find members of the committee here.
HB297, Colorado River Amendments
Representative Brad R. Wilson
Sparknotes: At first glance, HB 297 creates a new body to “protect, conserve, use, and develop Utah’s waters of the Colorado River System.” This new body would be exempt from public meetings and record requirements. In addition to having major implications for government transparency, this legislation gives said body the authority to create a new management plan to ensure Utah can “develop the Colorado River System.”
Our Take: This bill is dangerous legislation for the over 36 million people who rely on the colorado river, the West’s most precious and vulnerable resource. This bill gives the legislature, River Commissioner, and this new body the authority to develop as much of the Colorado River as possible outside of public view. The bill doesn’t include guaranteed representation from impacted rural counties including Daggett, Garfield, Grand, San Juan, and Wayne Counties.
Action Step: Call your Utah legislators and tell them this bill, HB 297 “Colorado River Amendments,” is bad business. Find your legislators here.
SB 61 Outdoor Advertising Amendments & SB0144 Billboard Restrictions Amendments
Senator Scott Sandall and Senator David Hinkins
Sparknotes: These bills limit how counties and municipalities can regulate billboards and give outdoor advertising companies the right to convert every billboard on state roads to a digital billboard.
Our Take: This bill prevents local government from regulating the intense and illuminated addition of billboards on state roads, and reduces existing local control to preserve the viewshed of some of Utah’s most scenic landscapes and our vulnerable dark sky regions. There’s no good reason legislators in Salt Lake should tell city and county governments how to regulate nuisance billboards in their own communities.
Action Step: To oppose SB61, call your Senator and tell them to vote no. You can find your legislators here. To oppose SB144, call the members of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee and tell them to vote no. You can find the Committee members here.
HB0070, Ballot Tracking Amendments
Representative Dan Johnson
Sparknotes: This bill creates a system for tracking ballots that are mailed or deposited in ballot drop boxes and allows voters to sign-up for text and email updates regarding their ballot status.
Our Take: Some politicians have made it their mission to undermine confidence in our democracy. This bill works to restore faith by giving voters certainty that their ballot was counted. If we can track our takeout in real time, why not use the same technology for our ballots?
Action Step: This bill is waiting for action in the Senate. Take a quick second and email members of the Senate Rules Committee and urge them to assign this good bill to a standing committee. Find members of the committee here.
HB0197, Voter Affiliation Amendments
Representative Jordan Teuscher
Sparknotes: This bill restricts voters from changing their party affiliation until after the primary in an election year—making it much harder for unaffiliated voters to participate in closed primaries.
Our Take: Political affiliations are not black and white, and we need to stop treating them as such. Allowing voters to switch their party in a major (or minor) election year allows us all a voice in important elections, including primaries, and to choose candidates that best represent our communities.
Action Step: Email members of the Senate and let them know how you feel about this awful bill! Find your legislators here.
HCR 12, Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Cooperative Action Regarding National Monuments
Representative Carl R. Albrecht
Sparknotes: At first glance, this resolution encourages the President to work “cooperatively” with the Utah delegation. A closer read of the bill shows that it in fact expresses particular lawmaker’s lack of support for Utah’s historic National Monuments, and falsely proclaims National Monuments as imposing on the state’s ability to manage land health issues such as grazing and plant control.
Our Take: Regardless of where Utahns fall on the debate of our National Monuments, the facts in this legislation are false. This bill incorrectly paints the National Monuments as being locally unsupported and damaging to local economies. We, like many of our rural neighbors, support Utah’s National Monuments. Steps need to be taken for responsible and collaborative management, but this bill only further divides and paints falsehoods.
Action Step: Contact members of the Senate and let them know that they should oppose this bad resolution. Find your legislators here.
Radiation Exposure Compensation Act
Letter of Support to Utah Congressional Delegation
Context: The San Juan County Commission will consider passing a letter of support for the extension and expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. This letter encourages the Utah State Legislature to pass a resolution introduced by Rep. Doug Owens (D-Salt Lake City) and for State officials to join the San Juan County Commission in lobbying the Utah Congressional Delegation to support extension of RECA.
Sparknotes: Originally passed in 1990 and most recently amended in 2000, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (aka “RECA”) provides one-time benefit payments to individuals who may have developed cancer or other specified diseases after being exposed to radiation from atomic weapons testing or uranium mining, milling, or transporting. Without congressional action, RECA and the Trust Fund from which benefit payments are made will expire next year.
Our Take: RECA extension is a small way that the US Government can work to right its wrongs and awful history of exploiting our land, our natural resources, and our families. The harms from radiation exposure and the uranium industry are on-going and extending RECA is an important step in mitigating the impacts. We have a lot of work yet to do. We appreciate that San Juan County Commissioners are considering this letter and urge the County to use all its influence with the State and members of Congress to see that RECA is extended and expanded as the letter outlines.
Action Step: Contact your legislators and let them know you support this resolution! Find your legislators here.