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What the Utah State Legislature did to your life this year

Governor legislature
Posted at 12:21 AM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 19:57:20-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It began with pulling back an overhaul of Utah’s tax code after public pushback and ended with a pandemic.

The Utah State Legislature adjourned the 2020 session after 45-days, spending $20 billion to fund government services we all use and passing 510 bills.

“It’s been an interesting session,” Governor Gary Herbert said, noting that lawmakers passed fewer bills than previous years.

In response to COVID-19 reaching pandemic stage, the legislature extended the state of emergency for Utah to June 30. They found millions for response efforts and even instituted a “no handshake” rule at the Capitol.

The legislature decided to forego a tax cut and save the money as economic uncertainty from the novel coronavirus continued to set in and extended the state of emergency until June 30.

It seems so long ago that the biggest thing to happen was the implosion of the tax reform bill. Lawmakers met in a special session in December to pass an overhaul of the tax code, only to repeal it on day two of the 2020 session in the face of a citizen referendum that appeared to have qualified for the ballot.

The shadow of tax reform hung over the Capitol, as lawmakers scrapped their budget plans. House and Senate leaders insist that financial shortfalls remain from an imbalance in the tax code (the income tax, earmarked exclusively for education, generates a lot more money than the general sales tax which funds a lot of other essential government services).

But the legislature passed a major funding change for education. They’re proposing to shift the income tax to cover services for children and the disabled. It could free up as much as $650 million to spend on other essential government services. In a deal with education leaders, lawmakers created new funds and pumped new money into education. Voters will decide the proposed constitutional amendment on the income tax in November.

But lawmakers also passed a lot of other bills dealing with some major issues facing our state. Some of the bills are headed to Governor Gary Herbert’s desk for his signature or veto.

Here’s a recap of some of the bills in the legislature that passed, failed or never really got off the ground:

CORONAVIRUS -

It really messed with the budget as lawmakers deliberated whether to give a tax break to Utahns and the stock market kept falling. They will likely return to special session later this year.

Lawmakers instituted a “no handshake” rule at the Capitol in efforts to stop the virus from hitting the legislature. They also suspended constituent notes from being delivered in the last days of the session. Still, the legislature did appropriate $16 million in a fund to help the state respond to COVID-19. Another $24 million was given to specifically help seniors.

Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert passed a resolution that allows lawmakers to meet remotely using electronic communication methods in case of an emergency.

A resolution was passed expressing support for the Chinese people who were dealing with novel coronavirus.

Rep. Melissa Ballard’s bill to expand telehealth services in Utah rocketed to the top of the priority lists on the last night of the session in response to COVID-19. It passed without problem.

The state of emergency was extended until June 30.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS -

Sen. Jake Anderegg ran a bill to get more money for affordable housing projects across Utah. Last year, he got zero dollars. This year? He asked for $35 million and got $10 million. He counts it as a win.

Millions of dollars were appropriated for homelessness in the budget.

A bill to require the state to create a “homeless czar” failed in the last minutes of the legislature. It had opposition from advocates for the homeless, and the support of the Pioneer Park Coalition.

A bill to require landlords to disclose any “hidden fees” when renting an apartment failed to pass the legislature.

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost wanted to allow cities to talk about the idea of rent control, so she proposed a bill to remove the ban on even discussing it. The bill didn’t get very far in the legislature.

AIR QUALITY -

This was another issue that the budget impacted. Governor Gary Herbert called for $100 million to be spent on air quality improvements. But what lawmakers funded was less. Rep. Patrice Arent, said she feared a number of critical initiatives wouldn’t be funded appropriately, if at all. But still a lot got done. The legislature did approve a bill to expand the electric vehicle charging grid statewide. It’s designed to get ahead of more and more people purchasing electric vehicles.

A bill that gave a break to some refineries who haven’t met a deadline for Tier 3 fuels passed the legislature over objections from air quality advocates.

Heavy machinery that runs on alternative fuels could qualify for some tax breaks. Electric vehicles are exempt from emissions inspections (seems obvious, but lawmakers had to put it in code).

A pilot program has been passed that would evaluate homes to see where they can improve on energy efficiency.

ALCOHOL -

It wouldn’t be a legislative session without liquor bills. This year, Rep. Timothy Hawkes brought a “little cleanup” bill in the form of a 4,000+ line bill. It forbids alcohol manufacturers from advertising “stronger” products and creates a new arena license. The bill does not add more bar licenses. Lawmakers stripped out a controversial provision that required police to ask someone pulled over for DUI where they’ve been drinking -- and document it.

Bills to legalize “wine of the month” clubs in Utah started out strong, then got watered down more than a 3.2 beer. Sen. Gene Davis’ wine subscription bill got modified to create a “consumer purchasing system” within the DABC failed to pass in a bad budget year. Rep. Mike McKell wanted a wine subscription program to deliver to homes. It ended up being modified to go through the DABC (with a cost + 88% markup) and you pick it up at a liquor store. But his bill did allow you to bring in a case of wine from out of state, slightly loosening Utah’s anti-bootlegging laws.

A “beer delivery bill” that would have allowed you to have it delivered to your home never got considered.

CRIME AND JUSTICE -

A bill to require clergy to report disclosures of abuse by perpetrators was introduced in the legislature and immediately drew heated pushback. Rep. Angela Romero’s inbox was flooded with angry -- and sometimes threatening -- communications after The Catholic League began lobbying hard against the bill. The legislation never got a hearing, but Rep. Romero said she plans to bring it back again next year.

A bill to excuse people over the age of 72 from jury duty failed to pass.

A bill that sought to bring back the insanity defense in Utah failed to pass. House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss is expected to bring it back next year.

The definition of consent to sex was changed. Rep. Angela Romero’s bill made it so prior consent to sexual activity does not apply to any future acts. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time, legally speaking.

People can be removed from the sex offender registry if the offense they were put on there for no longer qualifies as a registerable offense.

Rep. Stephanie Pitcher pushed through a bill that overhauls Utah’s bail system. She argued that the system no longer works because people with money are posting bail while others are forced to sit and wait, losing their ability to work. The bill faced pushback from bail bondsmen.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard’s bill dubbed “Lauren’s Law” after murdered University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey to make loaning a gun used in commission of a crime potentially liable failed to pass.

Passing a school bus gets an increased fine in Utah.

Nuisance ordinances, particularly dealing with pets, got a little defanged under a bill that passed the legislature.

Veterans will have more support in the court system thanks to the creation of a special program. The “veterans court” will provide access to treatment and offer plea breaks for those who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne pushed a bill to crack down on “fringe gambling” in Utah. The expansive bill increases penalties and blocks some games.

Sen. Dan McCay wanted to decriminalize “charitable drawings.” The raffles are technically illegal in Utah, but charities do them (and call them “opportunity drawings”). It didn’t pass on the last night of the legislature.

Juveniles under 12 would no longer be jailed in Utah, except in extreme circumstances under a bill passed. Another would reduce how many kids are bound over into the adult court system and, if they are, could keep them in juvenile facilities until age 25.

Sexual misconduct involving teachers also faced enhanced penalties under a bill sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci.

Rep. Marsha Judkins sponsored a bill to have prosecutors and jails collect data based on race, ethnicity, gender and other factors to document how they charge, if they offer plea deals, and make the info public. Another of her bills would have wrongful convictions get a look by a special “conviction integrity unit.”

INLAND PORT -

The massive development project for Salt Lake City’s Northwest Quadrant is moving forward. Protesters hit the Capitol earlier this year to demand it be canceled. That didn’t happen. Instead, a bill that re-works some of the management of it was passed after negotiations with newly-elected Mayor Erin Mendenhall. It gives Salt Lake City some more of what it wanted, but she’s not dropping the city’s lawsuit over the inland port.

Sen. Luz Escamilla passed a bill to create a program to mitigate some of the impacts of the port project on neighboring communities.

A bill to enhance the penalties for disrupting public meetings passed the legislature. Sen. Don Ipson insisted it was to encourage “civility” but it comes after protests have disrupted meetings of the Inland Port Authority.

POLYGAMY -

A bill that effectively decriminalized polygamy in Utah passed the legislature, but not without quite a bit of controversy. It makes bigamy among consenting adults an infraction, on par with a traffic ticket. Bigamy in concert with crimes like abuse, fraud or child-bride marriages gets enhanced.

A bill to move the “Safety Net Initiative” which deals with underserved communities (like polygamy) was moved to the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

INITIATIVES AND ELECTIONS -

Following the passage of Prop. 2, Prop. 3, Prop. 4, and the tax referendum, some of the rules to get those before the public were tweaked in the 2019 session. It continued in 2020.

Lawmakers struck a deal with the Better Boundaries ballot initiative campaign. At first, Better Boundaries said the legislature was set to overhaul Proposition 4, the independent redistricting ballot initiative. Then, they came together to craft an agreement. Redistricting will start next year.

A bill to provide for more disclosure of the impact of a ballot initiative (for example, if it were to pass and take effect) passed unanimously across the entire legislature.

Rep. Patrice Arent’s bill to ban straight ticket voting, where you hit one button and vote for all candidates on one party, has been run for years and died last year in the final moments of the legislature. Ironically, this year it passed in the final moments of the Utah State Legislature.

A bill that tweaked voter privacy laws passed the legislature. It gives political parties a little more access to your info.

Lawmakers passed a resolution in support of ranked choice voting. It recognized the Utah County communities the experimented with it and urged others to do so as well.

ABORTION -

Sen. Dan McCay’s bill to ban elective abortion in Utah (with exceptions for rape, incest, life and health of the mother) passed the legislature. But implementation of the bill would not happen unless Roe v. Wade is overturned at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The legislature passed a bill to require the remains of an aborted or miscarried fetus to either be cremated or buried.

A bill to require a woman seeking an abortion to see an ultrasound and/or hear a heartbeat failed to pass the legislature. After all the women senators walked off the floor in protest of the bill, it was held in the House on a concurrence vote.

EDUCATION -

A lot of education comes down to the budget. This year, teachers rallied at the Capitol for a 6% weighted pupil unit (a formula used to calculate class resources and salaries). Lawmakers budgeted for 5%.

A major overhaul of Utah’s higher education system passed under a bill run by Sen. Ann Millner and House Speaker Brad Wilson. It combines Utah’s Board of Regents with the authority overseeing the technical college system. They argue it will streamline the system and make it easier for students to transfer credits.

A bill to study how much parents pay in school fees for their kids passed the legislature. So did a bill that exempts some school textbooks and supplies from being charged fees.

A bill to require water in schools be tested regularly for lead failed to pass the legislature by a narrow 34-33 vote.

Rep. Lawanna Shurtliff’s bill to make kindergarten attendance mandatory failed to pass the House. So did a bill to do away with state school board elections sponsored by Rep. Melissa Ballard.

Rep. Lowry Snow’s bill to tweak truancy in Utah (allowing a little more work with students who are truant) passed the legislature.

The legislature has approved a resolution encouraging high schools to start later in the day. Rep. Suzanne Harrison argued it is good policy for teens’ development.

Lawmakers did not pass a bill offering a tax credit to teachers for some out-of-pocket expenses. Many teachers end up buying school supplies with their own money.

Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne ran a bill to require substitute teachers to undergo sensitivity training after a child at a Utah school was berated for talking about his two dads. The bill failed to pass the House.

Lawmakers made it a crime to explicitly threaten a school, whether that threat is real or fake.

GUNS -

A lot of gun bills were introduced in the legislature this year -- and none of it passed. House Minority Leader Brian King’s universal background checks bill got a hearing, but was then tabled, meaning it would go no further in the session.

Rep. Elizabeth Weight’s bill to criminalize unsafe storage of a firearm was held up in a House committee and advanced no further.

A bill to allow concealed carry in Utah without a permit was introduced. Governor Gary Herbert warned he did have concerns with it. Rep. Walt Brooks’ bill did not advance in the legislature.

Rep. Cory Maloy’s bill to block cities and counties from enacting gun control legislation did not pass the legislature. It would have preempted Salt Lake County from requiring gun shows that use its convention spaces to conduct background checks on gun purchases.

A bill to allow people to voluntarily surrender a firearm temporarily passed the House, but did not pass the Senate.

A bill to study “rampage violence” passed the Utah State Legislature.

WATER-

In the West, whisky’s for drinking and water is for fighting. Lawmakers took up a number of bills dealing with water issues.

Rep. Keven Stratton passed a bill outlining Utah’s water policy, which includes conservation and development of infrastructure. It also lent support to the controversial Lake Powell and Bear River pipeline projects.

A proposed constitutional amendment will be on the ballot seeking to ensure that municipalities with control of water supplies outside their jurisdictional boundaries doesn’t deny it to other communities.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto passed a bill to allow “water banking” where you can essentially “bank” your water rights but not give them up if you don’t use your allotment of water.

Sen. Jake Anderegg’s bill to put secondary water supplies on meters (for new construction to start with) passed the legislature. He has long argued it would help encourage conservation.

Rep. Cheryl Acton’s bill that would have allowed dogs in cars in watershed areas failed to pass the legislature.

Interfering with water facilities like storm drains, pipelines, ditches, irrigation canals, etc., could face punishment under a bill that passed the legislature.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher’s bill to create more environmentally friendly drug disposal methods (as opposed to flushing them) passed the legislature.

PORN AND THE INTERNET -

A bill that required warning labels to be applied to all porn films and magazines was introduced to a lot of controversy. It was eventually altered to only cover “obscene” materials (which would require a legal challenge). Still, the adult entertainment industry says it could still face a legal challenge.

A bill to require new cell phones to have porn filtering software pre-installed didn’t get considered. A resolution to require apps to have a ratings system did pass. It simply suggests app makers form a ratings board and start rating their stuff.

St. George Rep. Travis Seegmiller proposed to have local school districts check their internet filtering software every six months. It didn’t get considered in the legislative session.

TECHNOLOGY -

A bill to regulate the Utah Department of Public Safety’s controversial use of facial recognition technology on driver’s license photos was introduced -- but didn’t get very far.

A first of its kind bill to require police to get a warrant if they want to use your fingerprint or face to unlock a phone did not get very far in the legislature. Rep. Adam Robertson said he plans to bring it back next year.

The legislature passed a bill to give personal delivery robots more access to the roads and sidewalks.

Banjo, the controversial real-time surveillance system, did not get a $5 million request for funding this year. Instead, House Majority Leader Francis Gibson promised legislation to scrutinize its data collection and privacy protections.

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME -

It may surprise you to learn this is actually one of the top constituent complaints that lawmakers hear about every single year. It’s also the lowest priority bill in a $20 billion budget and other major issues. But building off of Rep. Marsha Judkins’ success last year, Sen. Wayne Harper successfully got a bill through that would have Utah “spring head” and stay ahead -- but only when Congress approves it and other states around us join in.

OUTDOORS -

Rep. Timothy Hawkes’ bill to do more to preserve cultural artifacts in Utah passed, providing ways to preserve and protect archaeological resources in Utah.

Lawmakers also passed a bill to create an outdoor recreation commission to begin planning for the state’s future and preservation of open spaces, more trails and other recreational amenities.

PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS -

These are the things you, the voter, get to decide on in November (along with whether to re-elect some of your representatives in the legislature).

The biggest is the re-working of the education fund. House and Senate Republican leaders pushed the proposed constitutional amendment to shift services for children and the disabled under the income tax (which is earmarked exclusively for education) to free up $650 million to spend on other essential government services. The bill had some big education groups on board.

Utahns would have a “right to hunt and fish” under Rep. Casey Snider’s proposed constitutional amendment that passed the legislature.

You could decide when the legislature starts. Or, at least give lawmakers the power to decide that. Sen. Ann Millner’s proposed constitutional amendment would modify the dates (but not add any more time to the legislative session).

You’ll vote on whether you have a “right to hunt and fish.”

LGBTQ RIGHTS -

Rep. Brad Daw proposed a ban on transgender youth receiving hormone therapy. Then, he agreed to water it down to a study. The bill still failed in the House on a 17-55 vote.

A bill that would have dealt with transgender athletes in Utah was talked about, but never considered.

The legislature passed a bill that allowed same-sex couples to enter into gestational agreements to reflect a Utah Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Sandra Hollins proposed a bill to allow post-HIV exposure drugs be available without a prescription, but it didn’t advance very far in the legislature. She plans to bring it back.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS -

Lawmakers passed a resolution by Rep. Melissa Ballard and Sen. Deidre Henderson recognizing Utah’s trailblazing role in having the first women in the nation to vote. Women’s suffrage was honored in both the House and Senate on the 150th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and encouraged women to get involved in civic life.

The Equal Rights Amendment returned. Rep. Karen Kwan sponsored the resolution to have Utah ratify it. The bill never got a hearing after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other groups signaled their staunch opposition to it. Supporters of the ERA plan to target lawmakers in the election to vote in candidates more friendly to it.

CHILD SUPPORT AND PARENTAL RIGHTS -

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s bill on termination of parental rights and possible reunification passed the legislature. She also passed a bill that yanks the hunting or fishing license of someone found delinquent on their child support.

Rep. Kyle Andersen passed a bill to take into account grandparents’ rights in some custody cases.

Rep. Susan Pulsipher modified the custody agreements when it comes to fall break.

Local school districts will be notified in some cases of a child abuse investigation under a bill passed by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore.

HEALTH CARE -

Lawmakers ran a number of bills dealing with health care costs and access. “Pharmacy benefit manager” programs saw some pressure from the legislature to not cut out local pharmacies and control competitors. Rep. Paul Ray argued it would help keep prescription drug prices low.

Rep. Norm Thurston pushed a bill through that reigns in the cost of insulin, hoping to avoid people rationing it or going without.

Rep. Brad Daw sponsored a bill to provide Medicaid coverage for inmates about to be released from incarceration. It passed the legislature.

Rep. Steve Eliason’s bill to provide mental health screenings for students in schools. Millions were also appropriated to expand mental health crisis services statewide.

The legislature created a program within Utah’s Department of Health to provide more resources to adults with autism.

Sen. Derek Kitchen tried to push through a Medicaid waiver that allows low-income people over the age of 18 to have access to birth control. It died on the House floor on the last night of the legislative session.

The legislature passed a bill to study “balanced billing” as a way of avoiding surprise bills for medical patients.

A bill to extend the time for people to give up a newborn child safely at a hospital has passed the legislature.

BUSINESS -

Rep. Suzanne Harrison’s bill to provide tax credits to businesses that provided paid family leave, on-site child care and other family friendly initiatives, was introduced but did not advance very far.

A bill to expand sick leave in Utah to care for an immediate family member also didn’t get too far.

State employers must offer postpartum recovery leave.

The legislature removed a cap on motion picture incentives.

Lawmakers approved a resolution supporting the Utah Sports Commission and its administration of the state’s venues (which could help us land a future Olympics).

TRANSPORTATION -

Following controversy surrounding a license plate that says “DEPORTM,” Sen. Luz Escamilla successfully passed a bill to restrict vanity plates so they don’t disparage people based on characteristics like race, religion, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore passed a bill to put your driver’s license on your phone. It creates a pilot program within Utah’s Driver License Division to look at the idea of electronic driver licenses.

A bill to conduct a statewide study on commuter rail including the concept of high-speed trains from Salt Lake City to Moab (or St. George) and, more quickly, double-tracking Frontrunner to get the trains to move faster, failed to pass the legislature.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss tried again to pass a bill to ban distracted driving. It didn’t make it through on the final night of the legislative session.

A bill that categorizes e-scooters as a “recreational activity” and makes it so you can’t sue a city if you’re injured while using one passed the legislature.

TOURISM -

Tourism got a lot of money in the budget to help keep bringing people to Utah. Rep. Eric Hutchings’ bill to allow tourism signs to be printed in languages other than English also passed. He had to run a bill because English is the official state language.

“Utahraptor State Park” had a lot of support -- until it had a $10 million price tag. In a bad budget year, it didn’t get very far (but got about $500,000). The bill will be worked on over the next year in hopes of preserving the fossil grounds north of Moab.

TAXES -

In the aftermath of the collapse of tax reform, lawmakers still nibbled around the edges. Governor Gary Herbert and legislative leaders warned of problems in the future. But they passed no tax cuts, nor tax hikes.

Rep. Walt Brooks’ bill to offer an income tax credit on Social Security was introduced, but didn’t pass because of concerns about economics.

A resolution was passed to study the impact of local option sales taxes in Utah.

VAPING -

Lawmakers ran a number of bills to deal with youth vaping, and some were tougher than others. Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost tried to ban flavored vape juices from certain stores. Her bill faced pushback and she accused her fellow lawmakers of caving to Big Tobacco. Her bill failed.

Rep. Jon Hawkins’ bill raised the age of e-cigarette use to 21 and gave some distance for vape shops near schools. He also faced some pushback for compromising on his bill, but it passed. Rep. Susan Pulsipher’s bill to give schools more power to confiscate e-cigarette devices from teens passed.

Sen. Allen Christensen raised the tax on vaping and e-cigarette devices in a vote that divided lawmakers. He proposed a higher tax on juices and related products. On the Senate floor, the bill was amended to introduce a lower tax.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA -

Lawmakers ran a couple of bills dealing with the aftermath of Proposition 2, the voter-approved ballot initiative (that the legislature overrode). Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers pushed through a bill tweaking packaging requirements and raising patient caps so the medical cannabis program could open on March 1.

But when the program launched, the state’s lone dispensary didn’t have enough patients because they were stuck in bureaucracy. Republican lawmakers “hijacked” Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost’s bill to fix the issue. She agreed to it in a deal that got some requirements loosened for cannabis cards.

Lawmakers approved a resolution supporting federal guidelines on CBD products.

ZOMBIE BILLS -

A zombie bill is one that dies in the legislature, is brought back to life and rampages across the Capitol grounds (it’s less “The Walking Dead” and more “28 Days Later”). Here’s some of the bills that lived, and died, and lived again:

Rep. Brad Daw proposed a bill to ban minors from tanning. It was dead, then brought back to life, then died again in the Utah State Legislature.

Rep. Dan Johnson proposed a bill to expand a program offering free breakfast to needy children. The bill made it through the House without problems, but then died in a Senate committee. After FOX 13 reported on it, angry constituents hammered lawmakers who reconsidered it. The bill passed and was amended to expand the program to cover more children in Utah.

RESOLUTIONS AND CITATIONS -

After Sen. Mitt Romney voted to convict President Trump in his impeachment trial, Rep. Phil Lyman attempted to run a resolution to censure Utah’s junior senator. Lawmakers also contemplated a resolution to praise President Trump. It created a minor political firestorm that ended when House and Senate GOP leaders instead ran a citation “thanking” the president for his work on behalf of the people of Utah.

A resolution calling for Native American mascots to not be removed was introduced, but didn’t go anywhere in the Utah State Legislature. Rep. Rex Shipp’s resolution was condemned by Utah’s tribal leaders who called for him to withdraw it.

The legislature supports hosting another Olympics. They passed a resolution saying so.

Lawmakers passed a resolution thanking education support professionals. They also passed one thanking school bus drivers.

The League of Women Voters, who have a sizable presence on Utah’s Capitol Hill, were recognized for their civic works.

The Mayflower got recognition under a resolution passed by the legislature. So did the 250th anniversary of the USA.

The legislature created the Old Iron Town State Monument in Utah. They also created the Danger Cave State Monument.

Utah reaffirmed its longstanding relationship with Taiwan. It also sent its best wishes to the people of China dealing with COVID-19.

Pastor France Davis of Calvary Baptist Church was recognized for his longstanding service to the people of Utah.

The genocide in Rwanda was commemorated in a resolution passed by the legislature. Utah has had many Tutsi who fled the atrocity resettle here.

The legislature created K-9 Veterans Day. They also oppose the introduction of wolves in Utah.

Lawmakers passed a resolution encouraging closed captioning services in public spaces.