SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers are on track to sift through a record number of bills over the next six weeks after legislators moved at a frenetic pace to submit proposals, including many resurrected ideas that failed in past years.
As of Friday afternoon, lawmakers had 1,180 bills unveiled or in the works. That’s more than at the same point in the session last year and on track to break 2015’s end-of-session record 1,262 proposals, according to legislative researchers.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he doubts lawmakers will get through everything before they adjourn at the end of their 45-day session.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said more of his colleagues are warming to his repeat bills to raise Utah’s smoking age and strip away a quirky liquor law, and this may be the year the measures pass.
A look at some bills that have resurfaced this year:
21 TO SMOKE
Powell is trying for the third year in a row to increase Utah’s smoking age to 21, up from 19. The bill has stalled in past years as critics argued any adults should be allowed to smoke and it should even be lowered to age 18. Last year, Hawaii became the first state to raise its smoking age to 21 and many states are considering similar measures. Powell said the change would save lives because most people start smoking before they turn 21 and few take it up for the first time after that age.
Powell also is pushing for something Utah legislators have shied away from: repealing a rule that requires some restaurants to mix or pour alcoholic beverages behind a barrier out of public view. The barriers have been nicknamed the “Zion curtains,” a reference to the Mormon church, which instructs its members to avoid drinking alcohol. Supporters argue the barriers keep restaurants from looking like bars and curb underage drinking. Powell’s bill would allow restaurants to remove the barriers if drinks are prepared in an adults-only seating area and a sign is posted nearby warning that alcohol is being served in full view. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, called the Zion curtains a “relic of an old time.”
Another proposal to resurface this year would allow anyone 21 or older to carry a concealed gun without a permit. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, sponsored the same bill last year. It passed in the Senate but died in the House of Representatives. Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed a similar bill three years ago and says he doesn’t think he’ll approve it if the measure looks substantially similar when it arrives on his desk.
WEAPONS ON TRANSIT
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, is trying again to allow people to carry a gun or knife on a bus or train. Utah law allows someone with a concealed weapon permit to carry a gun on public transit, but under a state hijacking law, it’s otherwise illegal to carry a weapon on a bus or train without permission from the operator. Thurston said the law on public transportation should be the same as it is on the street. Critics say they worry it could be dangerous to allow more weapons on public transit where there are many people moving in and out.
After his plan for a broad medical marijuana program failed to pass last year, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, has stepped up a campaign to earn support for the measure this year. Madsen appeared in a video supporting the effort by citing his Mormon family history and has had a slew of people with painful and debilitating conditions advocate for his bill. It would allow those with chronic conditions to consume edible pot products but would not allow marijuana to be smoked. This could be Madsen’s last shot to get it passed, as this is his last year in the legislature. It’s one of three medical marijuana bills lawmakers are weighing this year.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.