2018 Legislative Session – Week Two Report
We introduced a bill this week to increase oversight and transparency and also efficiency and accountability to oversee state and local governments. The bill did not pass out of committee but my co-sponsor Senator Curt Bramble says stay tuned because legislation often goes through revisions and tweaks and the bill is not dead by any stretch. The bill spells out reasons for investigating waste, fraud, misconduct or abuse by a state or local government entity. The purpose is not to “air the bad laundry of the state” but I believe it could save the taxpayers money by assuring that every penny is properly spent. The bill is HB224 and you can track any status changes on the Legislature’s Bill Tracker.
Thank you for your emails, texts, phone calls and visits to the Capitol. Your opinions and insights are invaluable.
News from the House…
Week TWO: January 29 – February 3
Prescription Drug Prices
Prescription drug prices are on the rise and the Legislature is considering a bill that aims to help reduce costs for Utahns. The goal of HB 163, Prescription Drug Importation Program, is to implement a state-run program that will create a safe, cost-effective, wholesale import for a select group of prescriptions but does not include importation of narcotics or opioids.
The United States pays considerably more than other major purchasers for prescription drugs even though we are one of the largest consumers. On average, Canadians pay 30 percent less for prescriptions than we do in the U.S. It is time for Utah to explore ways to reduce these costs. The Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimates that private-sector-funded health insurance plans could save around $100 million a year from reduced spending on prescriptions.
Safety and purity of imported prescription drugs is a concern of many critics. This bill requires the Department of Health to design a program that would then need approval by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services prior to implementation, which would ensure all safety concerns are adequately addressed.
As a country, we already rely heavily on importation of both raw ingredients and finished product. Eighty percent of raw materials for drugs made in the U.S. are imported, while about 40 percent of finished drugs used here are manufactured elsewhere.
For years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had a cooperative agreement addressing regulatory matters with Canada and more than 30 Canadian drug manufacturers are FDA-registered to produce for U.S. markets. Additionally, about 20 percent of pharmaceuticals licensed for the Canadian market are made in the U.S. This is not new ground. The Utah Hospital Association, SelectHealth and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah are in support of this legislation
This bill allows for lower priced pharmaceutical options, while also containing checks to provide for the safety and protection of the residents of our state.
Operation Rio Grand
Operation Rio Grande (ORG) is making our community safer, and is offering individuals a second chance to turn their lives around. The House recognized three men during floor time on Feb. 1 – Brandon Jenkins, Mikhail Kotlov, and Cedric Willis – who are currently participating in ORG’s specialty drug court program. These men have been in the program since it launched in September of 2017 and have almost completed their treatment. All three are leaders at their residential treatment facilities, pursuing employment, and serve as role models and mentors to new participants joining the program. They are all now preparing to transition to independent, sober living and have made tremendous progress on their journey to self-sufficiency. The specialty drug court program provides professional clothing items for participants to assist as they search for a job and get back on their feet. Representatives donated items during the majority caucus meeting to be used in this program. If you would like to contribute, visit operationriogrande.utah.gov to learn how.
We are another step closer to living in a world like the Jetsons, rolling into 2018 with small robot vehicles that can deliver food right to your door. On Jan. 31, the House Transportation Committee unanimously passed HB 217, Personal Delivery Devices (PDD), which will allow the use of PDDs on sidewalks.
The six-wheeled robots weigh 50-60 pounds, can carry up to 20 pounds of food, groceries or parcels and emit zero CO2. The machines are equipped with proprietary mapping, navigation and obstacle avoidance technology making it safe for use on sidewalks. Nearly 100 percent of the time, PDD’s operate autonomously, though a human operator can remotely assume control at any time if necessary.
Currently, the PDD’s are mostly used for food delivery, but the goal is to provide a quick, affordable delivery method for medical supplies. Get notifications when HB 217 will be presented on the House floor here.
Blood Testing Amendments
You may remember the University of Utah Hospital nurse, Alex Wubbels, who was arrested last year when she refused to allow an officer to obtain a blood sample from an unconscious patient without a warrant. The Utah House passed a bill, HB 43 Blood Testing Amendments, to help avoid the overly-aggressive behavior manifest in this incident from happening again. The proposed legislation clarifies that an officer must obtain a warrant to draw blood from a person unless they receive verbal or written consent from said person. The bill passed the House 72-0 and is now being considered by the Senate.
YThe fires that occurred during the summer of 2017 sparked discussion about new fireworks regulations. Legislators met during the interim with law enforcement, firefighters, retailers, citizens and local elected officials. The goal was to find a balanced, bipartisan approach to address the various viewpoints and concerns expressed by residents. H.B. 38, Firework Restrictions, increases liability for those who cause a fire with fireworks, reduces the days fireworks are permitted in July by 40 percent and simplifies restrictions by providing maps that show where fireworks are prohibited due to hazardous environmental conditions. Additionally, cities will have more flexibility to regulate within their own jurisdictions. This bill passed the House and will now be considered in the Senate. Click here to read more about the proposed changes. Track the bill here.
During STEM Day on the Hill, local scientists came from all over Utah to the Capitol to present their findings. There were hands-on experiences as well as visual presentations. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is vital to help prepare the next generation for the future job market. Studies often provide insight and lead to the creation of bills that benefit the state, so it often even has a significant impact on the lawmaking process.
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Lee K. Levy visited the House Chamber on Wednesday, January 31 during morning floor time. He expressed his gratitude for the Utah Legislature’s support of Hill Air Force Base and added that the support does not go unnoticed. He reported that the Base adds $3.4 billion to Utah’s economy and, more importantly, strengthens the United States’ ability to protect itself during wartime.
“Hill Air Force Base is a central component of our nation’s defense,” said Lt. Gen. Levy.
Lt. Gen. Levy ended his speech by stating the Base is able to achieve what they do because of the talented men and women who serve their country and the support of the Utah Legislature. Listen to his entire speech here.
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