State legislative session comes to a close

The Utah state legislative session came to a close on Friday, March 5, ending a 45-day session featuring a lot of work from area representatives and interest groups.

San Juan County is represented in the State House of Representatives by Republican Phil Lyman of Blanding and in the State Senate by David Hinkins of Emery County.

Lyman authored three bills that passed through the legislature and await signature from the Governor. Two of Lyman’s bills passed on the last day of the session.

Lyman’s Executive Order Review Process Amendment Bill allows a state Constitutional Defense Council to review certain executive orders by the President of the United States.

The bill authorizes the Utah attorney general or governor to have an executive order declared an unconstitutional exercise of legislative authority by the president and restricts enforcing certain executive orders.

The legislation includes a list of possible executive order subjects that a Utah Attorney General could rule as unconstitutional, including executive orders related to a public health emergency; the regulation of the second amendment; or the regulation of land use, natural resources, the agricultural industry and others.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Hinkins.

The barber licensing amendment, another of Lyman’s bills, passed on Friday. Previously, in order to obtain a barber’s license in Utah, a person would pass a practical exam and a written exam.

Lyman’s bill makes it so those who pass the practical exam can have an instructor sign off on the skills of the person applying for the license.

Lyman’s wildlife amendments bill passed earlier in the session. The bill requires the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to deliver notice to landowners, written or orally, before taking game on private land.

The division may take the wildlife after delivering the notice, and the notice doesn’t apply when there is an immediate threat to public safety. The bill was also supported by the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Lyman also co-sponsored another bill with Representative Doug Owens, a Democrat from Millcreek. The bill creates an advisory committee to help explore the feasibility, location, functions, and other important matters surrounding the creation of a visitor center in or near Bears Ears National Monument.

The committee will include five voting members made up of representatives appointed by the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray.

In presenting the bill, the “political odd couple” of Owens and Lyman said despite their disagreement on the size of the monument, they both agree that increased visitation, economic opportunities, and continued federal responsibility for the monument means considering a visitor center.

The ultimate design of a Bears Ears Center would be up to the five tribal members of the proposed committee. Once the committee has a vision, the two representatives believe they can go to the federal government with a strong case to fund the creation of the visitor center, with possible contributors from non-profits and the state of Utah.

Owens is also the sponsor of a house concurrent resolution that asked the federal government to expand the deadline and increase the compensation for the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act benefits.

The federal act and later expansions of the act have provided compensation for Americans who suffered health impacts from nuclear weapons testing in the west.

The resolution was supported by San Juan County Commissioners at their February 16 meeting.

As part of the 45-day session, Tribal leaders from the eight Tribal Nations in Utah visited the state legislature on February 24. Among those leaders included representation from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Navajo Nation.

Members of the eight Tribal Nations met in private with Utah Governor Spencer Cox to highlight issues important to Utah’s indigenous communities. Although the press was not invited, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued a statement that outlined some of the discussions he had with Cox.

President Nez thanked Utah officials for their support and assistance in the passage of the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act.

President Nez also thanked the state for its work to help the administration of COVID-19 vaccines in San Juan County. Nez also requested more support from the state of Utah for more vaccine allocations for Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) to administer more doses to Navajo residents in Utah.

President Nez also spoke about ongoing work to deliver much-needed water and electricity lines for 27 Navajo families residing in a 120-acre area known as Westwater, near Blanding, which was purchased by the Navajo Nation in 1986.

In 2020, a $500,000 allocation from the state legislature was to provide electrical power to the area. However, the funds were withdrawn by the state to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds were restored in the latest allocation. Nez says the funds will help develop a three-phase power line to a water well and a single-phase power line distribution to Westwater.

President Nez also reported that fiber optic lines were recently installed in Montezuma Creek to serve the secondary and elementary schools and UNHS. The Navajo Nation continues work for permitting, including right-of-way approval for broadband expansion in the communities of Oljato and Navajo Mountain.

In regards to transportation issues, President Nez said the Utah Navajo Commission continues to seek assistance from the Utah Department of Transportation to address road deficiencies, including the reconstruction of SR 162 between Aneth and Montezuma Creek, installation of a roundabout interchange in Montezuma Creek, right-of-way corridor fencing along SR 163 in Monument Valley, and construction of a paved road between Oljato and Navajo Mountain.

In addition to the private meeting of tribal leaders, Utah Division of Indian Affairs Director Dustin Jansen discussed some legislation of interest to Indigenous people living in Utah.

Two bills with support from Utah American Indians passed. One is House Bill 41, which re-establishes the state task force to understand and address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) epidemic in the west as it relates to Utah and its tribal nations.

The bill is authored by Rep. Angela Romero, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, and sponsored in the Senate by Hinkins.

The bill appropriates $1,100 in 2021 and $8,100 for the operation of the task force in 2022 and 2023.

Another bill with support from Indigenous communities was the Place Names Amendment bill. The bill allows the Utah Division of Indian Affairs to create an application template to help guide communities trying to advocate for a name change for geographic locations on federal lands.

Another resolution of interest would have encouraged public schools to consider retiring Native American mascots. The resolution failed in the state House of Representatives.

The day included several presentations regarding issues faced by Indigenous communities in Utah. Including the MMIWG epidemic, AMBER alerts on Tribal lands, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

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