Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013 Legislative Session - Week Six Update

With time quickly running out at the State Legislature, there was a lot going on, at the Capitol last week. In the House, H.B. 91 Election Day Voter Registration, passed 53 to 14. The vote took place late Friday afternoon, and the circumstances were all the more interesting because the bill had been sponsored by members of both parties, before it was finally pushed through by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D). We are excited that H.B. 91 is progressing through the Legislature with strong support, as it would make voting rights more accessible to citizens. Other states with same day voter registration have typically recorded a five to seven precent increase in voter turnout after passing similar laws. Additionally, Utah already allows people to cast provisional ballots, that can be verified after Election Day. H.B. 91 would simply allow the state to count votes cast by individuals who registered on Election Day. With a system of verification already in place, counting the votes cast is a matter of common sense at this point. 

Also in the House, H.B. 387 Vital Statistics Act Amendments, passes with 65 yea votes and no votes in opposition. H.B. 387 amends the definition of "dead fetus" by lowering the threshold to only 16 weeks of gestation. This is down from the typical 20 week threshold used by the CDC. Of course, such a bill could have important consequences for women seeking abortions. Fortunately, lawmakers were very receptive to these concerns, and the bill was amended to exclude abortions. Instead, the stated purpose of the bill is to allow death certificates to be issued for miscarriages, to give families a sense of closure. We are very happy that lawmakers stuck to their stated intentions, and limited the bill accordingly.

In the Senate, lawmakers made history by passing S.B. 262 Housing and Employment Antidiscrimination Amendments, out of committee. S.B. 262 protects individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a big step towards protecting the rights of the LGBT community, and is a big step forward for Utah on this issue. While a growing number of local governments and businesses have already recognized that such discrimination is a problem, we do not currently have a state wide law addressing the problem. We are very excited that the vote in committee was bipartisan, and are hopeful that we can continue to make progress on this issue, as more people start to embrace the task of ensuring equal protection under the law for all groups. 

As the final four days of the legislative session unfold, we will be fully engaged as law makers make the final push to the end. Check in next week for a recap of the final week, and the session as a whole.

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