SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers this year took up sweeping proposals to abolish the death penalty, significantly restrict abortions and set up a system to grow and distribute marijuana products for medical use.
Legislators maintain that the most important thing they do every year is set the budget, which topped $14.5 billion this year. But a number of hotly contested social issues dominated debate during the 45 days lawmakers gathered on Salt Lake City’s Capitol Hill.
Traditionally left-leaning issues such as opposition to the death penalty and the legalization of medical marijuana made significant strides in the Republican-dominated Legislature, but lawmakers said late Thursday night that they wouldn’t pass their final vote by a midnight deadline and abandoned the efforts. Legislators said they believe the proposals will be revived in future years.
Here’s a look at where some of the biggest issues stood on the last day:
Utah’s Republican-dominated Legislature came close to making a final decision on whether to abolish the state’s death penalty, but the bill’s sponsor abandoned it with hours to go, saying there wasn’t enough support. The push came a year after lawmakers voted to reinstate the use of firing squads in executions when lethal drugs are unavailable. Had the measure passed, it would have faced an uncertain fate with Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who supports capital punishment but wouldn’t say if he would veto it. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment, and proposals to repeal the death penalty have been introduced in at least eight others in the past year.
After several years of Utah legislators rejecting plans to expand Medicaid, lawmakers approved a bare-bones plan this year that would insure childless adults who are homeless or in treatment and offender programs. The plan by majority leader Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan of Taylorsville would cover about 16,000 people and cost Utah about $30 million. Just under half of that would be paid for by a tax on hospitals, which the Utah Hospital Association says they’re willing to front. The federal government would kick in about $70 million to cover the rest, but the plan bypasses an offer under President Barack Obama’s health care law to bring in hundreds of millions more to cover tens of thousands of additional people. The plan is waiting for action from the governor, who is expected to approve the bill.
Utah will not pass a medical marijuana bill this session. On the last day of the session, lawmakers killed the more restrictive of two medical marijuana bills introduced in the legislature. They rejected a broader plan earlier this week that would have made edible marijuana products legal in Utah for those with chronic pain. The rejection of the bill concluded a more than yearlong effort that was severely hurt after the Mormon church came out in opposition last month. The more restrictive proposal by two GOP lawmakers would have allowed those with certain debilitating conditions to use cannabis-based medicine that has very low levels of the plant’s psychoactive components.
One representative’s attempt to ban some of the most common forms of abortions was wiped out during the final week of the session, but lawmakers approved a separate plan requiring doctors to administer anesthesia prior to an abortion performed after 20 weeks gestation. The proposal is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Republican Sen. Curt Bramble initially sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks entirely, but he changed course after the Legislature’s attorneys warned him that any such measure would likely be unconstitutional.