- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah legislators will head into the second half of their speedy annual session with hundreds of bills that have yet to have a hearing, including several contentious issues that are still pending.

Some of those ideas hit the brakes over the past week, including a hate crime proposal that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and a repeal of a rule that restaurants prepare alcoholic drinks out of public view.

Lawmakers have yet to dive into debate on other heated issues that deal with abortion and expanding Medicaid.

Here’s where some of the most disputed issues stand going into week five:

HATE CRIMES

Utah senator working to pass a hate crimes bill protecting gay and transgender people said the Mormon church has thwarted the plan by urging legislators not to upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights. Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “effectively snuffed out” discussion of his proposal, which is awaiting a vote before Utah’s Senate. Most Utah legislators are members of the LDS Church.

MEDICAL MARIJUNA

A broad medical marijuana plan faces a make-or-break vote Monday in Utah’s Senate. Lawmakers debated the measure for nearly an hour on Friday but pushed off a vote when they ran out of time. The proposal would legalize edible, vapor and topical pot products for those with certain medical conditions but bans smoking of marijuana. Supporters of the measure worry it may be doomed after the Mormon church announced its opposition weeks ago and conservative lawmakers have approved a more restrictive medical pot plan from two GOP lawmakers.

ALCOHOL IN RESTAURANTS

For the fourth year in a row, lawmakers have attempted to repeal what they argue is weird liquor law that requires some restaurants to prepare alcoholic drinks behind a barrier where customers can’t watch. The barriers are nicknamed “Zion Curtains,” as a reference to teetotal guidance from the Mormon church. Supporters say they keep restaurants from looking like bars and curb underage drinking by hiding what they say is glamorous bartending. Lawmakers said they wanted more information about the idea’s implications and opted to study it this summer.

ABORTION

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is working on a bill to require doctors to administer anesthesia to a fetus before an abortion based on the premise that the fetus can feel pain. Bramble says he’s determining at what point in the gestational process the rule would apply. Montana lawmakers passed a similar law in 2015 requiring fetal anesthesia before abortion performed after 20 or more weeks of gestation, based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. Montana’s Democratic governor vetoed the measure.

MEDICAID

Utah lawmakers have repeatedly rejected plans to expand Medicaid in the state over the past three years, but they’re still debating the issue. Supporters of expansion argue there’s federal money to help out and the state has to do something to help its poorest residents who can’t afford health insurance. Lawmakers have begun kicking around four proposals to expand Medicaid in the state, which range from a full expansion as envisioned by President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, to a very pared-down plan to help mostly childless adults who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness. None of the measures has come up for a vote.


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