County watchful as Legislature enters final days of session
‘Crazy’ pace to continue through Friday as bills are debated
Utah’s legislative session is set to end this week, and every bill that has a chance of becoming law must be heard and voted upon by midnight Friday. That sets the table for a frenetic few days, common each year around the time the Legislature wraps up its work.
“Today and tomorrow are insane,” said Jami Brackin, a Summit County attorney who helps coordinate the county’s legislative affairs, on Monday. “Committees are wild and crazy right now, but then once that’s done, then it’s all about floor amendments.”
The county knows all too well about last-minute floor substitutions, after a maneuver on the second-to-last night of the 2020 general session led to the ongoing imbroglio over Hideout’s attempt to annex Richardson Flat.
Brackin will be monitoring several committee meetings, some of them happening simultaneously, to watch for potential harm to the county’s interests, offering comment if the situation warrants it.
“God bless technological improvements,” she said, describing how she has several livestreams going at the same time and switches on the volume for the debate that appears to most impact Summit County. “Normally, we’d be running from room to room.”
Brackin said this session has seemed like an extended attempt by state legislators to wrest control from local governments, a trend that was also on display during the special sessions convened to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The entire session just felt like this big, giant attack on local control, and this ‘big brother’ approach to government, and ‘the state knows better,’” she said.
One bill, for example, would allow the Legislature to step in and alter or remove local emergency orders after they’d been in place for 30 days, something Brackin called a “huge overreach.”
Another would ban local governments from regulating short-term rentals, commonly listed on sites like AirBnB, if the home is owner-occupied.
Yet another, Brackin said, would allow billboards virtually anywhere inside a jurisdiction and remove the local ability to regulate them.
But the bill that has Brackin the most worried is H.B. 98, which would allow developers to hire their own building inspectors in some instances, enabling them to certify that buildings are safe to inhabit. It would also prevent jurisdictions from regulating building materials or aesthetics, she said.
Brackin said the bill threatens local governments’ ability to ensure the health, safety and wellness of their citizens.
“When you’re dealing with buildings that might fall down or roofs that can’t hold snow, there’s a reason you make governments responsible for this, so that if it doesn’t work, you’ve got somebody looking out for the public’s health, safety and welfare,” she said.
On a more positive note, Brackin said that the compromise bill put forward to address cross-county annexations like what occurred in Hideout was progressing through the system and appeared on its way to passage.
And Brackin lauded the Legislature’s proposal to issue more than $1.4 billion in debt to finance infrastructure projects, part of a more-than-$2 billion total package.
Many of the larger projects are specifically earmarked in the bill’s text, like $200 million for “double tracking” sections of the Frontrunner commuter rail line on the Wasatch Front, and $11 million for a bus rapid transit system in the Salt Lake Valley.
It also sets aside funds for aspects of other, unspecified projects, like paying for environmental assessments or right-of-way acquisition for projects prioritized by the state Transportation Commission.
Brackin said the county provided cost estimates for two high-priority projects — a proposed bus rapid transit from Kimball Junction to Park City, and improving the Kimball Junction interchange — and asked that they be included in the bill.
“We would rather be in the bill rather than have to compete with everybody else,” she said. “That’s really the question: Are we important enough to be on the list?”
She also said there have been several mostly good bills dealing with law enforcement, mental health and emergency medical services, and a potentially problematic bill establishing a state policy czar.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said. “… You can never say never until the last day, obviously.”
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.