Officials in Summit County are preparing for another Utah legislative session as they watch bills regarding the state’s budget and tax cuts, water and first responders. But the departure of the deputy county attorney, who had a knack for combing through legislation, presents another hurdle during what promises to be a frenzied month and a half on Capitol Hill.
Last session, the county’s legislative team was led by Deputy County Manager Janna Young and Deputy County Attorney Jami Brackin. Although Brackin has since moved to St. George and her experience sifting through bills to find ones affecting Summit County will be missed, Young said county officials remain focused on monitoring legislation and playing defense for residents.
“The best government is one at a local level,” Young said, adding that the legislative team is dedicated to fighting for what the community wants — and what it doesn’t.
County officials are closely monitoring bills related to sustainability practices, public health and issues about local control entering the 2022 general session, which begins on Tuesday and is slated to run through March 4.
Each week the legislative team meets to track bills, share what they learn and take positions on the issues. They also employ a lobbyist and work with the Utah Association of Counties to screen legislation and reach out to lawmakers.
And Young said they already have some insight into the policy themes of this session.
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez, for one, is particularly interested in legislation that would change the waiting period for public safety employees who retire but later choose to return to work from one year to two months. He said that an unexpected consequence of the current law is that many individuals choose not to return to law enforcement after the waiting period expires. If someone does return to the field after 12 months, Martinez said it’s likely that they’ve lost institutional knowledge and experience.
County officials will advocate for the legislation because it would allow public agencies more flexibility with hiring, and Martinez added the bill would help with recruitment and aid in retention. The state’s 28 other sheriffs are also in favor of the bill, according to Martinez.
Officials are also monitoring legislation to help fund rural medical services after a similar bill was introduced too late last year for approval. The bill would create a pot of money that provides health insurance to part-time providers, and officials believe this will serve as an incentive for recruitment in rural areas as well as assist agencies that rely on volunteer or part-time emergency medical services workers.
The county’s team is also expecting to see legislation connected to the state budget surplus, but hopes the funds are used for improvements to infrastructure like roads, bridges, water and sewer. Young added that the group is planning to advocate for more transit funding, too.
Bills related to property taxes will also be closely watched. Young said they’re supportive of the concept of deferring property taxes or reimbursing homeowners who were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but added that the county is guaranteed the same budget every year unless there is new tax revenue. Summit County property tax rates are adjusted every year to keep the budget stable, but if credits are given, Young said the loss must be made up, or else the tax burden is shifted onto other homeowners or commercial properties.
“There are other ways to get a solution rather than increase the indigent level,” she said.
Other legislation that has drawn the county’s attention covers issues such as building permit fees, water quality, election reform and mental health.
As always, the county’s team is also looking for any bills tied to land use such as owning or annexation. The latter issue is particularly topical after last-minute legislation in the 2020 session led to Hideout’s annexation attempt and Summit County’s ongoing legal challenge that has so far stymied the move.
“It’s been a really busy last few years and we don’t see that slowing down,” Young said, adding that there is tension around issues being discussed at the national level like law enforcement and COVID.
But even though there are always a few bills that ‘scare (the team) to death’, Young affirmed that lawmakers are open and willing to work with counties and lobbyists on legislation. Most times, they’re able to reach an understanding despite differences in politics.
“Previously, our issues were dead on arrival. Now, people are willing to work with us,” she said, crediting the strong relationships county officials have built at the Capitol. “They see the value our community provides to the state economy.”
Visit le.utah.gov/~2022/2022.HTM to keep up with the Utah Legislature during the 45-day session.