There was not a dry eye in the chamber as we said hello to Representative Jon Hawkins. He has been in the ICU battling COVID-19 and has been unable to participate in the legislative session. Watching Rep. Hawkins cast a few votes and speak to his colleagues was the most memorable and special moment of the entire session.
100 Years of Agriculture
This week, the Legislature passed HCR 21 recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Department of Agriculture and Food. Every living former commissioner joined us in the gallery as we read the resolution.
Salt Lake and Davis counties are moving to the moderate phase on the state’s transmission index. The index has three levels of transmission- high, moderate and low. According to the Utah Department of Health, the moderate transmission phase allows public gatherings such as live events, movie theaters, sporting events, weddings, recreation and entertainment with side-by-side seating as long as all patrons are wearing a mask and are free from COVID-19 symptoms.
Vaccines will now be available for anyone 50 and older. As well as those with diabetes, a BMI of 30 or higher and anyone with chronic kidney disease. The Governor also announced his hope in having vaccines available to all Utahns starting on April 1st. To learn more click here.
Executive Appropriations Committee
The Executive Appropriations Committee met Thursday evening to finalize the budget to present to the full bodies before session ends. Additional budget items included caucus approved fiscal note bills and HB 433 Amendments Related to Infrastructure Funding, which provides $834,600,000 for infrastructure projects throughout the state. This is the largest single one-time investment in infrastructure and an incredible investment into Utah’s future.
From funding state parks to double tracking Frontrunner, House Majority Whip Mike Schultz joins the podcast this week to talk about his bill that will be one of the largest infrastructure investments in Utah’s history. Listen here!
This week, legislative leaders and philanthropic representatives held a press conference to announce a public-private partnership in addressing affordable housing and homelessness.
To address these challenges, the Utah Legislature will use $50 million in state funds and through the support of the philanthropic community, amplify that investment to almost three-quarters of a billion dollars in impact. Read more here.
New Utah State Parks
The Legislature passed HB 257 Utah State Park Amendments which will create two new state parks: Utahraptor State Park and Lost Creek State Park.
Located in the Moab area, Utahraptor State Park will cover 6,500 acres with campgrounds, trails, and endless outdoor recreational opportunities. The park is named after the Utah State dinosaur and is near a huge deposit of dinosaur bones.
Another new state park, Lost Creek, 365 surface acre lake, is located in the mountains of Northern Utah and is popular for fishing, ice fishing and wakeless boating.
In addition to the state parks, the Legislature will appropriate millions of dollars to drastically assist the Division of Parks and Recreation in improving and expanding recreation access across the entire state, which will help alleviate the growing demand for outdoor recreation. The improvements will increase outdoor recreation in Utah and benefit local economies and park visitors. The funding will add approximately 500 campsites to the state’s overall campsite inventory and expand public parking by 10% which will add around 1,000 additional visitor parking spaces. When completed, these investments will mean we will be able to accommodate literally thousands of additional visitors each weekend at our state parks!
SB 195 Emergency Response Amendments aims to bring greater balance to power in emergency situations. It addresses limits in the length of time that health departments and the executive branch can put into place emergency mandates.
HB 294 Pandemic Emergency Powers Amendments allows for the termination of emergency powers and public health emergency powers related to COVID-19 upon reaching a certain threshold of vaccination and recovery.
The House Highlighted Me
Representative Kera Birkeland is one of our newer House members. She has lived in New York, Montana and is now serving the people of District 53 in Duchesne, Morgan, Rich, Summit and Uinta Counties. Representative Birkeland brings integrity and accountability to our state legislature. Her experience as a small business owner and a foster parent give her valuable insight into the importance of conservative policies at the state level. She knows firsthand how unnecessary regulations can strangle fledgling small businesses and has experienced how bureaucracy and budgeting decisions impact the success of state programs (such as the foster care system). Kera is a wife and mother of six. Her skills as a basketball referee are crucial for success in the Utah State House!
Representative Kera Birkeland
Utah House District 53