County Mayor's MessageApr 17, 2015 06:34PM ● By Salt Lake County Mayor Ben Mc Adams
Wins and losses for Salt Lake County at the Utah Legislature
I’m happy to report that the just-concluded session of the Utah legislature had what I believe are some big “wins” for the residents of Salt Lake County, as well as what I see as one major “loss”. Here’s a recap:
1. With the passage of Community Preservation (SB 199), residents of the townships and unincorporated areas will vote in an historic election this November. Thanks to months of work by volunteers in the community, voters—depending on where they live—will be able to choose to become a metro township or city, or to remain unincorporated. It’s a resolution to decades of fighting—pitting neighbor against neighbor. When residents cast their ballots, they’ll ensure boundary protection for their communities, begin a chapter of greater local control and not be forced to sacrifice high-quality, cost-effective services from Salt Lake County. This legislative action is an example of grassroots democracy at its best and would not have been possible without the good will generated by all sides coming together on this consensus bill.
2. The sponsor of HB 348, Rep. Eric Hutchings, calls it an “epic shift” in the criminal justice system. His bill is the result of a great deal of work by the Utah Commission on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. The measure seeks to reduce the time drug addicts stay in prison by dropping some crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, while enhancing drug and mental health treatment. As the operator of both the jail and as the local mental health authority, Salt Lake County will be able to pursue policies that result in better treatment for those in our criminal system due to drug abuse, to enhance public safety and to use scarce taxpayer dollars more efficiently.
3. History-making legislation that expands anti-discrimination protections for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, along with religious-liberty protections, caps a seven-year effort in our state. SB 296 received overwhelming support in the Utah House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Herbert at a special ceremony.
4. Gov. Herbert’s proposal to expand Medicaid—“Healthy Utah”—passed the Utah Senate but did not pass the Utah House. Not only is this troubling news for tens of thousands of uninsured Utahns who fall within the Affordable Care Act’s “coverage gap”, it also affects the county’s ability to provide health care to the jail population and to serve thousands of county residents with mental health and substance use disorder needs. Utah’s state drug court coordinator says that 80 percent of people who come through the Utah court system “have some sort of behavioral health need.” While the governor has said he’ll continue to talk to legislative leaders in hopes of forging an agreement for a special legislative session, the ongoing lack of access to health insurance for so many in Salt Lake County will harm public health and strain our budget.
It’s a privilege for me to serve as Salt Lake County mayor. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] with any questions, concerns or ideas about how we build a safe, healthy and prosperous community.