What Cottonwood Heights residents need to know about the 2021 legislative sessionFeb 10, 2021 01:01PM ● By Cassie Goff
By Cassie Goff | [email protected]
The 2021 Utah State Legislative Session began on Jan. 19 and will run until March 5. This year, much of the session will be held virtually as the State Capitol Building (350 State St.) has been closed to the public due to COVID-19. It is estimated that over 200 bills will be filed this year. As the session begins to ramp up, many will be paying close attention to various bills. Cities like Cottonwood Heights tend to track bills that could impact local authority.
Cottonwood Heights Lobbyists Brian Allen and Chantel Nate have been advocating for Cottonwood Heights for years. They pay close attention to any drafted bill that might influence local control. As of publication, they shared concern over potential bills regulating firearms at the state level, billboards, local zoning and COVID-19 measures.
Allen shared that there will most likely be a bill filed allowing sections of homes to be rented legally, which would “put guardrails around what cities can do.”
Lobbyist Greg Curtis reported that there will be an emphasis on infrastructure funding this year. “(The legislature) will be looking at that from the state level. (The Utah Department of Transportation) has a process for state road improvements.”
Cottonwood Heights Councilmember Christine Mikell voiced some concern over infrastructure funding at the state level, as funding might go toward Wasatch Boulevard and influence the corridor development opposite of what the city’s Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan outlines. “How can we influence that to lessen the impact to our community?”
Cottonwood Heights City Manager Tim Tingey recalled an emphasis from the legislature on trails last year. Tingey anticipates discussions around funding trails to resurface. “We are committed to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail,” he reminded Curtis.
All three lobbyists reported that there will be over 70 bills addressing issues of police reform. “These bills will be taking some authority away from cities,” Allen said.
Allen and Nate shared that there are drafted bills addressing K-9 certification, citizen review boards and disciplinary action. A drafted bill of particular interest will address use of force.
“It will define use of force and how it is reported. Municipalities and counties are defining it differently,” Allen reported. The intention with this bill is to get a clearer picture of use of force throughout the state.
City lobbyists and elected officials work closely with the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT) every year. ULCT is a nonpartisan, interlocal, government cooperative working to strengthen the quality of municipal government and administration of Utah’s cities and towns.
Tingey and Mikell attend ULCT meetings regularly. At a recent ULCT meeting, they learned that there are multiple bills proposed to address COVID-19 related issues.
Curtis also reported on drafted bills addressing COVID-19 legislation. “Some are working to try and rein in unchecked emergency powers,” he said.
The anticipated argument related to COVID-19 between legislators will be about where the decision making power resides. Does the legislature take a one-size-fits-all approach, or do they allow the cities to keep their authority and govern themselves? (In other words, they’ll be discussing a statewide mask mandate.)
As mentioned, the session is encouraged to be as virtual as possible. “The chief clerk is concerned about an COVID-19 outbreak at the capitol,” Allen said.
“Advocacy will change this year,” Tingey said. “We will have to work more closely with legislators and keep them informed.”