April, 2016

Dear Friends:

The 2016 Legislative Session is over! Of the 1258 bills drafted, 474 passed. As you may be  aware, I contracted pneumonia - my apologies for this late update!
I want to share legislation I sponsored this year. Each piece of legislation took a great deal of time and effort. I liken it to preparing a case for trial but having to be at many trials all at the same time. Politics aside, the actual process to pass a bill is not easy!
This bill strengthens the remedies for compensation discrimination in Utah code.
In Utah, these claims go through an administrative process. Prior to SB 185, Utah Code provided "if a respondent has engaged in a discriminatory or prohibited employment practice; the presiding officer shall issue an order requiring the respondent to:
(a) cease any discriminatory or prohibited employment practice;
(b) provide relief to the complaining party, including (i) reinstatement; (ii) back pay and benefits; (iii) attorney fees; and (iv) costs."
(Note that Administrative Law Judge is the presiding officer referenced in Utah Code.)
SB185 adds a provision that if a discriminatory practice includes compensation discrimination, the presiding officer may provide, to the complaining party, in addition to the amount available to the complaining party, an additional amount equal to the amount of back pay available to the complaining party. This bill incentivizes these cases to be resolved in Utah, rather than going to Federal court with a judge and jury, a cost saving measure with regard to litigation costs. This benefits both employees and employers.
This does not create more exposure for employers, because employers are already exposed under Federal law, which allows for mandatory back pay and benefits, and more damages if it is a Title VII action. This bill applies to all protected classes, including race, national origin, sex, age (over 40 years old), and/or disability. This is an efficient, less costly and fair process. The enhanced damage provision also acts as a deterrent. Compensation decisions should be based upon an individual's talents and qualifications. Our entire economy is healthier if we pay people what they are worth.
Included in the legislation, is a reporting requirement on the effectiveness of the Labor Commission and state law in addressing discrimination, including matters of compensation.
The bill passed unanimously in the House and nearly unanimously in the Senate.
This bill was listed by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (OLRGC) as one of the "Selected Highlights of the 2016 General Session" . 
I also made an appropriation request for an ongoing, anti-discrimination outreach and education position, which was funded. Currently, the very few investigators employed, are only able to respond to requests for trainings due to their current and backlog of cases. A position dedicated to educating employers, employees, and the public regarding discrimination matters, may prevent discrimination from happening in the first place.   
For the past 2 years, I have been researching (with the assistance of our amazing staff at OLRGC, as well as the Office of the Fiscal Analyst) issues relative to caregiving. While on the Salt Lake County Council, and as a member of the Council for Aging, I learned that this district (in the county, and now in the state) covers the second highest, senior population in the state. I also learned that Salt Lake County was the best, west of the Mississippi in keeping seniors living in their homes rather than in an institution.
States have several options available to transition individuals from institutions into the community. While my focus has been on the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration Grant (followed by 43 states and the District of Columbia) which is designed to shift Medicaid's long-term care spending from institutional care to home and community-based services, SB 140 instructs the state to study other programs, as well. This bill requires that the Division of Medicaid and Health Financing report its findings to the Social Services Appropriations Committee and the Health and Human Services Interim Committee by June 1, 2016, in time to be able to pursue one of these possible opti ons shortly thereafter.
This bill addresses the limitations of the present governmental immunity cap in the event of catastrophic personal injury cases.
Utah Code Section 63G-7-604 currently contains a limit on the amount that an individual may claim against a governmental entity for damages for personal injury. If an individual's claim exceeds the amount of that statutory limit, the individual cannot recover the amount of damages that exceed the statutory limit - where there are multiple individuals' claims arising from the same occurrence, all individuals cannot recover beyond the aggregate amount of the cap.
The tragic 2005 crash involving a Utah State University van, leaving eight students and an instructor dead, and two critically injured, illustrates the limitations with the current law. The aggregate amount of the cap at the time of this tragic accident was $1.1 million. The damages for loss of life and for those that survived, clearly exceeded that amount. When the aggregate amount of the cap is divided by ten parties, you can see the inequity of our present law.
Many jurisdictions do not have caps, as in California where I practiced law. However, there are always important issues and arguments on both sides.
Numerous meetings were held during the session with risk managers, attorneys and representatives from the Governor's office, Attorney General's office, Utah Association of Counties, Utah League of Cities and Towns, plaintiffs' bar, and others to explore possible alternatives to the current system.
The present legislation is meant to resolve this complex and important issue.
Although a good issue, this bill was sent to the Senate Government Operations Committee and was never put on an agenda, and thus never heard.
This bill set up a 7-member commission that would draft 3-5 legislative maps for the legislature's consideration. This bill was fashioned after Salt Lake County's effective, independent Redistricting Advisory Commission.  

With public perception at an all-time low and the concern that maps are drawn behind closed doors, an independent redistricting advisory commission would go a long way. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is in important issue and good public policy.
For years we have known that reusable bags are a better option for our public health and environment. 
This past year, cities in our state expressed interest in dealing with this issue. This led to a much closer look at the costs to landfills and recycling facilities. We now also know that reducing use of these bags will extend the lives of our landfills and eliminate extra costs at recycling facilities. Rocky Mountain Recycling, which does 85% of curb recycling throughout our state, incurs about $30,000 in labor to stop machines and cut and eliminate plastic bags from machinery and throughout the recycling process.
Salt Lake County Landfill 
"Free" single use plastic bags really are not free - we ultimately pay the costs associated with the detrimental effects to our landfill and recycling facilities.
SB196 has a number of exemptions, including those for food safety; specialty items, including laundry bags, garbage, pet waste or yard waste bags; bags from veterinarians or pharmacists; bulk food items; wrapping frozen foods, meat or fish; unwrapped prepared foods or baker goods; restaurant or fast food carry out; and more.
This program has been characterized as a "tax increase." It is not. It is voluntary fee charged if the consumer wants to purchase a single use plastic or paper bag. Th e main point of the legislation was to reduce the use of these bags which threaten our land, water and public health.
Rocky Mountain Recycling 
One of government's prime directives is the protection of our land, water and air. Notwithstanding the above burdens to our landfills and recycling facilities, of great concern is that plastic bags do not decompose, but instead break down into small highly toxic pieces that can leach into our water and are also ingested by wildlife. 

These plastic bags take up to one thousand years to degrade. Utahns throw away an estimated 940 million plastic shopping bags each year. As an added note, many of these plastic bags are made in China and other countries which, like China, ban use in their own countries.
And paper bags have their own damaging issues, bringing along 70% more air pollutants and having significant impacts on water quality. Paper takes centuries to decompose in a landfill, and when they do decompose, they release methane gas which must be managed per EPA standards. http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/holey-ground/Content?oid=3193222  
I view SB196 as a step toward educating consumers and encouraging all of us to reduce our dependence on single use plastic bags. It can be done. It has been done. There are studies that confirm reduction. Ireland has been particularly successful. Ireland approved its single use plastic bag reduction program in 2002. Within weeks, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. You'll find the link at: http://plasticbaglaws.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/study_the-most-popular-tax-in-Europe-2007.pdf.
The 10-cents generated from each plastic bag was to be distributed to the counties, municipalities and the Department of Environmental Quality to promote sustainable alternatives to single bags, prevent litter, increase public awareness, and to promote recycling. For the retailer, proceeds would be us ed to defray the costs incurred by the business for collecting fees and administering the program.
This is a serious issue - and it is being addressed throughout our nation and the world.
Overseas and in cities from to New York to San Francisco works because people do not want to pay it - so they choose to use nothing (Costco), or choose re-usable bags.
Making a small adjustment to our habits will have a significant and positive impact on our state.
This is toxic stuff.
This is important to our health.
This helps maintain the aesthetic beauty of our state.
SB196 passed through the Senate Business and Labor committee and was heard on the Senate floor. I circled the bill, waiting for an updated fiscal note. Unfortunately we ran out of time. This bill continues to generate a lot of discussion.  

I also sponsored
SCR007, Concurrent Resolution Honoring Those Who Have Assisted Korean War Veterans (the first bill passed in the session and signed by the Governor- a fun highlight!)
; SCR 013, Concurrent Resolution Honoring Randy Horiuchi ; and a citation honoring the life and work of Dee LaMar Holladay, owner of Holiday River Expeditions - for his tireless efforts and love for preservation and conservation of our rivers and riparian areas.

I co-sponsored
SB077, Medicaid Expansion Proposal (Sen. Gene Davis). Unfortunately, this bill was not heard on the Senate floor. Instead, HB 437 (Rep. Jim Dunnigan) was passed. HB 437 creates a new program under Utah's existing program without joining the 36 states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This program will cover 17,700 individuals who have extremely low incomes and under very limited circumstances. I supported full Medicaid expansion which would cover all Utahns currently in the coverage gap (105,500) for only a slightly higher cost. See chart below. I still hope that our Legislature will take up full Medicaid expansion next year.
I also co-sponsored SCR011, Concurrent Resolution Urging the Rescheduling of Marijuana (Sen. Brian Shiozawa) and was also happy to support SB 49, Statute of Limitations on Environmental Code Violations (Sen. Luz Escamilla). You can read about th is bill here.  
I also supported SB 107, Hate Crimes Amendments (Sen. Stephen Urquhart). This bill would have amended the statewide uniform crime reporting system in the Bureau of Criminal Identification to specify additional criteria to be reported regarding crimes that indicate evidence of prejudice, and the provisions regarding hate crimes, including the definition of a hate crime and the specified penalties.

A hate crime is a prejudice-motivated crime - often violent a nd targets a victim because of his or her membership (or PERCEIVED membership) in a certain social group. It is not a crime against just one person but a crime against an entire community and impacts us all. Penalty-enhancement hate crime laws are traditionally justified on the grounds that, in Chief Justice Rehnquist's words, "this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm...bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest."

This bill did not pass the Senate floor.

I also sit on the appropriations committees for Public Education and Executive Offices and Criminal Justice. Bottom line, there is never enough funding for education. Full Medicaid expansion would have helped our implementation and success of last session's HB 348 - Criminal Justice Programs and Amendments. However, a lot of good bills were passed in this legislative session, as well as separate appropriations, funded.
My apologies for the length of this newsletter. I wanted to give you more specifics and explanations than what was available during the session and/or reported by the media. I am grateful for my senate and house colleagues, and to all those who assist in the development of legislation, and with the 45 crazy days of session.

If you, or anyone you know, would like to volunteer or are interested in interning next session, please contact me!

I would like to thank you for your support and feedback this Legislative session, and I hope to continue to hear from you during the interim. I am honored to represent my district and our state. I am honored to represent you.


As always, I appreciate your input. Your voice is critical. If you would like to volunteer, PLEASE contact me, I can be reached at jiwamoto@le.utah.gov (legislative matters), iwamoto.jani@gmail.com (personal matters), by mail to 4760 S. Highland Drive, #427, Salt Lake City, Utah 84117, or by phone at (801)580-8414. Check out my website here, or you can interact with me on my Facebook!  
This Senate seat includes the following house districts: District 36 (Rep. Patrice Arent), District 37 (Rep. Carol Spackman Moss), District 40 (Rep. Lynn Hemingway- welcome back!), District 46 (Rep. Marie Poulson) and District 28 (Rep. Brian King). To see who your Representative is click here!
Jani Iwamoto
Senate District 4

To visit my website, click here. To visit my facebook page, click here.