June Special Legislative Session
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
I hope you and your family are healthy and doing well. I wanted to report back on this week’s interim meetings and special session. As legislators we met both in-person and virtually for our 5th special session and considered 26 bills that addressed the state’s budget, policies impacted by COVID-19, and issues that have arisen since our general session. If you haven’t already, mark your calendars for my virtual townhall on June 30th at 7pm. Details for the town hall can be found here. In the meantime, I wanted to share the legislative outcomes from this week:
The State Budget
I appreciate the emails and phone calls from many of you with your concerns on potential cuts to education in the state. I am happy to report that we did not cut spending on public education and in fact, were able to fund enrollment growth and increase education funding by 1.8%. Although, this is not as big of an increase as originally hoped for during the general session, this is a huge win for education and demonstrates Utah’s commitment to our children and teachers. In addition to education, we did not cut funding for social services and increased funding for those much-needed programs at this time. Given the economic state of affairs in our country, this is truly remarkable.
Because of a multi-pronged approach that includes the utilization of spending reductions, cash flow management, drawing from a portion of the education rainy day fund, the general rainy day fund and the Medicaid rainy day fund, and budgetary reserves we made overall cuts of 1.7% to the state budget. Because of 2020 budget shortfalls, we used approximately 27%, or $680 million, of the multiple rainy day funds to backfill budgets, so drastic cuts did not need to take place.
A Deeper Dive into the State Budget:
26 states including Utah have published projected revenue shortfalls for fiscal year 2021. Of those states:
9 states project budget cuts of 4-10%
12 states between 10-20%
4 states 20% or higher
Utah was projected to have cuts of 0-5%. Overall, we cut 1.7% of our budget, which is by far the lowest cut reported thus far. Below are each appropriations subcommittee’s cuts:
Business, Economic Development, and Labor - 3.6% cut
Executive Office of Criminal Justice - 0.6% cut
Higher Education - 2.2% cut
Infrastructure and General Government - 18.8% cut
Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Quality - 2.4% cut
Public Education - 1.8% increase
Retirement and Independent Entities - 0.6% cut
Social Services - 5.4% increase
Executive Appropriations Committee - 26.9% cut
In addition to increasing the WPU (Weighted Pupil Unit) by 1.8% and funding for growth, we also passed a bill to allow school districts to use revenue generated by the Capital Levy to fund school district's general funds for fiscal year 2021.
For those of you who have been following education funding in our state closely, it is important to note that we also voted in favor of HB 5011: WPU Value Increase Guarantee. This bill provides that certain revenue be dedicated annually to increase the value of the weighted pupil unit (WPU). The bill amends a section of code that only takes effect if the amendment to the Utah Constitution proposed by S.J.R. 9, Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Use of Tax Revenue, 2020 General Session, is approved by a majority of those voting on it in the general election.
As a result of COVID-19, Governor Herbert declared a state of emergency on March 6, 2020. Just a week later, President Trump declared a national state of emergency on March 13, 2020. Because the President declared a national state of emergency, states were and are eligible to receive emergency federal funding, such as FEMA funds, or the funds available through the CARES Act, regardless of whether or not a state has declared a state emergency.
Yesterday, I voted against extending Utah’s “state of emergency” through August. When under a state of emergency the Governor is able to exercise emergency powers and spend federal funds without oversight from the legislative body. Like many of you, I have had serious concerns about the emergency powers that have been used at both the state and local level in the name of expediency and have resulted in limited accountability and little to no legislative oversight.
As a member of the Government Operations Interim Committee, I requested that we formally review the emergency powers granted to government and a review of no-bid contracts and purchasing agreements that have occurred during the pandemic. As a legislative body, we must be vigilant in safeguarding tax payer dollars.
HB 5007: Ban on the Chokehold
Yesterday we passed HB 5007: Peace Officer Amendments, I am grateful for the leadership of Representative Sandra Hollins and the opportunity to co-sponsor this legislation. This bill prohibits police officers from using the chokehold as a restraint, particularly the "knee on the neck" method. Utah officers have not been using this restraint for several years and many agreed it was time we codified this best practice. I appreciate the men and women who serve in our law enforcement community who came to the table for this bill, and continue to serve our communities.
As of today, the Utah Department of Health has reported 15,839 positive cases (an increase of 495 cases from yesterday), 1,120 hospitalizations (150 current hospitalizations), and 152 deaths (an increase of 3 from yesterday). In all, Utah has administered 282, 685 total tests. Additionally, it is estimated that 8,786 Utahns have recovered from COVID-19.
In close consultation with local health authorities and with the Utah Department of Health, Governor Herbert has approved requests for the following counties to transition to Green: Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne. I am hopeful that we will continue to see counties going “green” in the coming weeks.
I know many of you have been impacted negatively financially by the government response to COVID-19. Over the past few months, I have worked with many constituents and the Department of Workforce Services to help them receive their unemployment benefits. If you're having issues applying for benefits, please send me an email at email@example.com. DWS has been working round the clock to meet the needs of individuals facing unemployment and has been great to work with me on constituent cases. If your employment has been impacted by COVID-19, you can visit jobs.utah.gov/covid19 for updated information.
Below is the latest update on Utah’s unemployment insurance claims. A few things to highlight from last week (June 7-13):
Unemployment insurance claims decreased 11.7% from the previous week to 4,847 claims
This week’s claim volume represents a 329% increase from the average weekly claims seen in 2019
More than $24.8 million paid in state benefits
More than $47 million paid in federal dollars from the CARES Act $600 weekly stimulus
2020 has certainly proved to be a year of unexpected challenges and unprecedented times. I am hopeful that we can and will continue to work together as a state to get Utah’s economy back on track and things back to normal. One of the best things you can do is get involved and vote! You should have received your primary ballot, we have critical races in our district and your voice matters. If you have any questions, you can visit vote.utah.gov.
As always, it is a pleasure and honor to serve and work with you to make our communities and state a better place to work and live. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns you might have.
Candice B. Pierucci
State Representative for House District 52