Guest Blogger: Marc Watterson, Utah Government Relations Director
The 2015 Legislative Session has finally come to end and while there are important issues that have yet to be resolved, we can be proud of the efforts we have engaged in and the results we were able to see.
Top of mind for many people the past few months has been the status of Healthy Utah. In the years I have spent following and being a part of the political scene here in Utah I have never witnessed a more important – yet politically galvanizing – issue as this. And while the result at the end of session was not what any of us were hoping for (nothing was passed) the important thing is that this issue is far from over. As long as the “coverage gap” continues to exist there will be a need to help those who most need affordable access to healthcare.
Over the next 4 months a group comprised of Governor Herbert, Lt. Governor Cox, Senate President Niederhauser, Speaker Hughes, Senator Shiozawa, and Representative Dunnigan will hammer out the details of a compromise that will address the “coverage gap” here in Utah. I am hopeful that by the end of this summer we will have a bill passed by the legislature that finds the delicate balance between providing for those Utahns who are in need while ensuring that our financial obligations are taken care of now and into the future.
A bright spot this legislative session was a bill that we hadn’t reported on before. Early in the session Senator Vickers proposed and ultimately passed legislation that dealt with the construction of new schools here in the state. I was drawn to this legislation in light of the work we have been doing with UDOT’s Safe Routes to School program. They indicated that they receive many applications each year from schools asking for financial help with infrastructure projects around their schools (sidewalks, crosswalks, safety zones, etc.).
A surprisingly large amount of these applications actually come from newer schools because they had failed to adequately prepare for the pedestrian traffic coming in and out of the schools and surrounding neighborhoods. The legislation passed by Senator Vickers ensures that all proposed school construction projects must plan for pedestrian traffic around these schools before they open their doors on the first day of school. Our hope is that the pre-construction planning will ensure new schools are built with the school child in mind – both in the classroom and as they travel to and from school each day!
Lastly, but certainly not least is an update on E-cigarette legislation we have been working with Representative Paul Ray on for the past few years. I am happy to announce that after years of working on this issue the state legislature unanimously passed legislation that ensures that e-cigarettes are now treated like other tobacco products here in the state. That means that those that create and/or sell e-cigarettes will now have to obtain a tobacco license. This will ensure that existing laws regarding youth access will be better enforced and will also ensure that manufactures and retailers meet high quality control standards for how these products are made and where they are sold. The ultimate aim of this legislation was to ensure that Utah’s existing laws restricting these products from minors was strengthened. I am happy to announce that this legislation met that goal!
I express my sincerest thanks to those of you who have helped us in our advocacy efforts this session and throughout the years. With your help we are well on our way toward our 2020 goal of improving the health of all Americans by 20% while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20%. As always, for heart disease and stroke in the state of Utah, You’re the Cure!