- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The next legislative session is eight months away, but Utah lawmakers are already working on bills to set up medical marijuana programs, halt a move to relocate the state prison and overhaul the state liquor department in 2016.

Here’s a look at some of the bills lawmakers already have in the works the next legislative session starting in January:

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Sen. Mark Madsen, a Republican from Saratoga Springs, plans to once again try to pass a medical marijuana program in Utah. In March, senators narrowly voted down his measure that would have allowed patients with chronic and debilitating diseases to get edible marijuana products like candy and brownies from dispensaries if they have a doctor’s prescription.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said rather than opening up state-licensed dispensaries, he’s working on an alternative proposal where patients would be closely monitored through a research program overseen by university doctors. Officials need to gather more data before the state can offer a full-fledged program, Daw said.

STATE LIQUOR DEPARTMENT

Sen. Karen Mayne, a Democrat from West Valley City, criticized members of the state liquor board last month after hearing reports of low morale and high turnover rates among employees at the state’s 44 liquor stores.

Mayne is working on a bill that would create an ombudsman to address complaints from employees or customers. She’s also working on a bill to allow the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to keep more of the hundreds of millions of dollars it generates each year rather than having much of it redirected to other state spending. Mayne hopes that would help the department keep longtime employees who are knowledgeable about beer, wine and liquor.

“This is a retail business. We need to treat it like that,” Mayne said.

PRISON RELOCATION

Utah lawmakers are expected to hold a special session later this year to vote on a new home for Utah’s state prison. But if they can’t come to an agreement, Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, said it may make sense to keep the prison at its 700-acre site in Draper and start replacing buildings.

Cox said the state has spent millions during the past few years looking for new location, but he’s working on a bill that would require the state to study whether it should keep the prison at its current location. The facility is already close to courts and hospitals, and any visitors, volunteers and staff living in the Draper area wouldn’t have to relocate, he said.

POLICE SEIZING CARS

A new law that took effect this January requires police to impound the cars of uninsured drivers on the spot. Utah police have had the option to pull over an uninsured driver and impound the driver’s car since 2008, but the new law requires it unless there’s a safety concern.

Cox said he’s working on a bill to reverse that law. He said it doesn’t offer police enough discretion to determine if a driver is habitually uninsured or if they happen to have been pulled over in unusual circumstances. For example, he said, they may have just had an insurance check bounce or be in the process of changing insurance policies.

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME

Utah lawmakers shot down several proposals earlier this year that would have the state stop changing clocks twice a year for Daylight Saving Time. Cox plans to try again next year, saying he’s heard repeatedly from residents in his district that they’re tired of the time change. His proposal would have Utah remain all year on the same time zone as Arizona, one of two states that currently don’t observe Daylight Saving Time.


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