The 2018 Utah legislative session ends at midnight. Here are some of the more interesting happenings as the lawmaking comes to a close:
Rep. Keven Stratton never gave up his idea to create an oversight committee reminiscent of the one in Congress once chaired by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, but the rest of the Legislature did.
Stratton filed HB175, which would have created a new joint committee to oversee local governments, school boards and state agencies. It struggled to pass through the House, failing twice, before it was watered down and passed to the Senate, which declined to act on the bill.
Sen. Curt Bramble suggested a new route, creating the new committee through a resolution. That idea, too, struggled to pass. It appeared the idea was dead for the session when, with less than three hours left in the session, Stratton revived the idea of an oversight committee just in the House.
Alas, the bill fell victim to the clock before coming up for another vote.
— Taylor W. Anderson
12:31 a.m.: Utah governor gives lawmakers an A; praises retiring Speaker Hughes
After the House adjourned its general session, Gov. Gary Herbert told members that their efforts merit “a grade A.”
He added, “I think this has been the best session I’ve been involved in” in his 14 years as governor or lieutenant governor.
One reason for the A: “I don’t know when we’ve worked with more collaboration and civility.”
He also praised lawmakers for “passing some wonderful things.”
At the top of the list was finding more money for education.
He praised a move toward Medicaid expansion, and a bill to rename and reform the Utah Transit Authority.
He also thanked it for extra funding and work to reduce teen suicide, a high priority for him.
“The list could go on and on and on. Those are just a few I scribbled down when I came down here,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who may face retiring House Speaker Greg Hughes in the 2020 gubernatorial race, joked he was “very sad when he announced he that he was going to be leaving politics, I understand forever.” He then praised Hughes’ work.
Herbert also jokingly wished Hughes “well in his retirement.”
Hughes lamented that he missed his step-father’s funeral this week, but said he “understood he was doing the work of the people” and could not leave the final week of the session and of his career.
“It’s the honor of my life to have served with you,” he told his colleagues.
— Lee Davidson
12:17 a.m.: No action on long-fought elections issue
A victim of the last-minute rush to pass bills in the Senate was a proposal that would have repealed a 2014 election law if a ballot initiative fails in November.
HB338, sponsored by Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, came after years of infighting among the Utah Republican Party over the process for selecting candidates for elections.
Lawmakers passed SB54 four years ago after activists were pushing for a ballot initiative that year. The current law, which the Republican Party has unsuccessfully challenged, created two options for candidates to reach the ballot. They can either collect signatures and appear on a primary ballot or attempt to be selected by party insiders known as delegates.
The same group that pushed the 2014 initiative is collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot in November, in an attempt to effectively solidify SB54.
12:01 a.m.: Time runs out as House rushes to vote on bills
With only minutes to go until midnight, the absolute deadline for legislative business, Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, moved to the House gallery to drape a white cloth over the chamber’s clock
The House had been rushing to complete bills, speed-reading through descriptions and interrupting presentation to launch a vote, but a hold-up on bills arriving in the House from the Senate led to time expiring before debate could finish on a priority bill sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson.
The Speaker did not specify which bill he was waiting for, besides identifying Wilson as sponsor. Of Wilson's bills only HB457, dealing with the re-selling of tickets, was awaiting a concurring vote in the House for final passage.
— Benjamin Wood
Democrats try to remove $1.65M set aside in budget to sue California
The typically sleepy vote on the so-called Bill of Bills turned spicy Thursday as House Democrats attempted to strip funding for a lawsuit against California’s cap and trade policies.
Technically named “Appropriations Adjustments,” HB3 —the bill of bills — is the final list of state spending for items that were not included in previously approved budgets.
The otherwise procedural debate took a turn when Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, motioned to strike a line item for $1.65 million, intended to fund a “commerce clause lawsuit” against California’s environmental policies. That funding was requested by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who argued that the ability of Utah’s rural counties to produce and sell energy is impeded by out-of-state excise taxes.
“The People’s Republic of California should not dictate what we do with our energy here in the State of Utah,” Noel said.
King argued that if the Legislature believes a case is winnable against California, then it should seek out a firm to take on the issue, rather than approve the spending plan of lawyers who approached the state.
“We should find an attorney or a law firm in Utah, California or elsewhere that believes, as we do, that the case has merit,” King said. “That’s a wise use of taxpayer funds.”
King’s amendment failed on an apparently party-line voice vote. Afterward, the bill of bills was approved with all but four GOP members in support.
— Benjamin Wood
11:46 p.m.: Utah could receive $300M from big-tobacco lawsuit
Utah may be line to receive a huge increase in the amount of money it’s receiving from the national settlement against big tobacco.
SJR19, which won final approval Thursday night, indicates that under restated terms of the 1998 settlement of a class-action suit on consumer protection and antitrust claims, the state could see nearly $300 million in additional revenue from 2018 to 2027.
If the revised settlement materializes, it would essentially double the $28 million annually Utah currently receives.
— Dan Harrie
10:46 p.m.: Proposal to ban cities from banning plastic bags gets trashed
The House overwhelmingly voted down an attempt to prevent cities and counties from banning plastic bags or other containers — as Park City has done.
The House voted 14-58 to kill SB218.
The Senate also once killed the bill, but later resurrected it, amid arguments that it attacks local control. The objection arose again in the House.
Rep Val Potter, R-North Logan, said, “Why would we want to regulate what cities do with their cardboard boxes and their plastic bags?” He said lawmakers resent it when the federal government restricts them, “and we’re doing that to the local level.”
Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber, complained the bill is aimed at Park City, in his district. It would erase action by Park City to ban plastic bags at its three large grocery stores — a prohibition adopted to help control trash and landfill problems there.
“If we can’t allow them to ban a bag, what are we going to allow them to do?” Quinn asked.
“Send this back with the trash,” said Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, a former county commissioner who said counties usually have good reason for any restrictions they impose.
The Utah Restaurant Association backed the bill, saying local fees could hamper the ability of restaurants and stores to buy bags and other containers in bulk statewide.
The Utah League of Cities and Towns opposed the measure, saying it limits local ability to address local problems.
Of note, a Senate committee earlier killed SB192, which sought to impose a statewide 10-cent fee on grocery bags to cut down on landfill trash, and referred it for more study.
— Lee Davidson
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued a statement Thursday evening ripping the Legislature for what she said was a bad-faith usurpation of the city’s powers in the undeveloped northwest quadrant.
SB234, which passed Wednesday night, would set in motion the creation of what supporters hope will be an international trade hub for the western United States, near the Salt Lake City International Airport and the soon-to-be-built state prison.
But the final bill “is substantially different from the version city officials and state lawmakers had been collaborating on as part of the city’s continuous good-faith efforts,” she wrote.
“In a matter of a mere 30 minutes, the Senate and House passed a bill that eliminated the city’s land-use authority, compromised environmental protections, and took all tax increment.”
SB234, Biskupski charged, takes control of nearly 20,000 acres of city land and turns it over to a legislatively created board with a “complete lack of accountability.”
She continued, “This is an unacceptable precedent, and we are working vigorously to protect the rights of the city and our residents.”
— Dan Harrie
9:55 p.m.: Proposal to abolish or remake state school board is resoundingly defeated
A fast-moving resolution to abolish the state school board — later changed to make the board appointed — skidded off a cliff in the waning hours of the legislative session.
Members of the Utah House voted 54-18 against the proposal, in one of the most resounding defeats of legislation this year.
Because the resolution sought to amend the state constitution, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass the House, or 50 votes.
Instead, more than a two-thirds majority of representatives rejected it.
“This discussion warrants an entire interim and more,” said Rep. Christensen, R-Draper, who read from a voluminous copy of the Utah State Code as he argued against the change. “This is like a coin-flip approach to a constitutional amendment.”
The resolution, SJR16, created a disturbance within the education community in the final week of the legislative session. Sponsored by a liberal Democrat, Sen. Jim Dabakis, the bill was written off by many observers, before it received unanimous approval from a Senate committee followed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate the following business day.
Originally, it would have replaced the elected state school board with a single person, a state superintendent appointed by the governor. But its House sponsor, Rep Dan McCay, R-Riverton, substituted the bill to instead convert the elected board to an appointed one, similar to the Board of Regents that oversees Utah’s colleges and universities.
The state school board is like a “fourth quasi-branch of government” McCay said, operating outside of the traditional checks and balances and reduced to waiting for policy table scraps that fall from the Legislature and Governor’s Office.
“Education should not be an elected position,” McCay told his House colleagues. “This body does amazing things. I’ll trust this body all day long to make great policy. We will set up by statute how this board will be composed and what its member duties will be.”
With the bill defeated, the selection method for state school board members remains in limbo. A previous method, relying on a nominating committee to screen candidates, was deemed unconstitutional in court.
Following that ruling, lawmakers created a direct, partisan election route, which was also challenged in court and ruled to be in violation of the state constitution. The state intends to appeal that ruling, but this year’s elections will remain nonpartisan due to the timeline facing the ongoing litigation.
— Benjamin Wood
9:30 p.m.: Utah lawmakers officially acknowledge climate change for the first time
A resolution recognizing “the impacts of a changing climate on Utah citizens” will be sent to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.
“For the first time, the state of Utah has recognized the existence of a changing climate, factors that contribute to these changes, and the potential negative effects on the state of Utah,” wrote the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Becky Edwards, in a news release.
HCR 7 notes that Utah’s economy or its “global competitiveness” should not be constrained by efforts to mitigate or prepare for the effects of climate change.
The resolution stumbled early in the session, with several lawmakers skeptical that humans have had a sizable effect on the earth’s climate.
9:10 p.m.: Education community sends thank-you letter to lawmakers for approving education funding
Shortly after approving a tax reform bill that will direct hundreds of millions of dollars to public eduction in the coming years, the Senate paused to read a letter of thanks from Utah’s education community.
The same letter had been read earlier in the House by Speaker Great Hughes. It stated:
The diverse members of Utah’s public education community have come together in unity to offer our thanks to the members of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, the Executive Appropriations Committee, the House and Senate Education Committees, and the members of the House and Senate for their investment in public education this year. We also offer our thanks to Utah’s taxpayers for their support and pledge to use the resources we have so generously been given to better prepare students for their futures.
Our shared mission — and we include the Legislature in that shared mission — of providing each of Utah’s 652,348 students with the very best educational opportunities to ensure they are successful adults was clearly the focus of this session. We also appreciated your focus on teacher recruitment and retention, equalization, and recognition of the diverse needs of student mental health.
We enjoyed the open dialogue and collaborative atmosphere this year. With fewer education bills came richer and more robust discussion. Collectively, we were better able to further our mutual goals of increasing student achievement.
We commend your commitment to our students and their future.
Thank you for a positive session!
The letter was signed by the Utah Board of Education, Utah State Charter School Board, Utah Education Association, Utah Parent Teacher Association, American Federation of Teachers, as well as other organizations representing the state’s superintendents, school boards, charter schools and school employees.
— Benjamin Wood
8:45 p.m.: Lawmakers ban police departments from setting quotas for tickets or arrests
Police agencies may soon be banned from requiring officers to achieve a quota of tickets or arrests.
The House voted 72-0 on Thursday to pass SB154, and sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature or veto.
Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, House sponsor of the bill, said, “We’ve had dozens of police officers contact us and say quotas really do exist.” She said 18 states have similar quota bans.
In an earlier hearing Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, the bill’s sponsor was flanked by two former police officers who said they were pressured to meet arrest and ticketing quotas by their supervisors.
Former Salt Lake City police officer Eric Moutsos said when he did not meet the quota, he was deemed insubordinate.
“We had to arrest five people a day: misdemeanor arrests, it wasn’t just traffic,” Moutsos said. “I said, ‘What if the public knew we had to arrest five of them per day?’”
— Lee Davidson
8:30 p.m.: Lawmakers pass compromise bill to raise $375M for schools — half of what citizen initiative would’ve put before voters
The grand education bargain of the 2018 legislative session has been approved by both the House and Senate, with a proposed gas tax hike headed to the November ballot and a tax reform package awaiting a final procedural vote.
If the House signs off on Senate amendments to HB293, the Our Schools Now initiative is expected to cease its campaign to place a $700 million tax increase before voters this year.
“This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity that we need to seize,” said Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan. “This is a win-win-win and it deserves to win. It deserves your vote.”
The two bills combined — if voters approve the 10-cent gas tax increase — would generate roughly $375 million in new annual education funding once fully implemented.
But that’s roughly half what Our Schools Now sought to generate for schools, a point raised by Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who said the compromise should be defeated to let the citizen initiative proceed.
“If the people want to spend $700 million — amen,” Dabakis said. “We do it and we ought to do it with a smile.”
— Benjamin Wood
7:30 p.m.: Lawmakers pass a partial expansion of Medicaid after years of attempts
Utah legislators signed off on a partial Medicaid expansion bill that — if approved by the federal government — would extend health coverage to more than 70,000 impoverished Utahns.
It was the first successful step toward Medicaid expansion by state lawmakers after years of failed attempts. HB472, pushed by Gov. Gary Herbert, passed the Utah Senate on a 20-8 vote Thursday, after clearing the House 47-27 earlier in the week.
“Finally this year we have partners in the federal government who are working with us, and asked us to develop a Utah solution to this issue,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Cottonwood Heights.
Zehnder was referring to the Trump administration recently signaling it will approve Utah’s waiver request to add provisions such as work requirements for enrollees, and a total cap on state spending for the program.
According to the the bill, the feds would cover 90 percent of the expansion costs, with Utah covering the remainder. The state would repurpose existing funds to cover its portion, including from smaller Medicaid programs that would be rolled into the larger expansion.
Some experts are skeptical that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would approve one key change Utah wants, however. The state hopes to only expand coverage to people making up to 100 percent of the poverty line — not up to 138 percent, which is the level other states have been required to meet.
The bill received bipartisan support Thursday, though several Senate Democrats said they did not feel it went far enough. Several Republicans worried about giving entitlements to more people, and the possibility that the feds might one day renege on giving the state such a favorable funding match.
“You talk about this being the Utah way of doing things ... why is the Utah way to discriminate?” Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis of Salt Lake City asked Zehnder. He was referring to the bill’s cap on spending, which could potentially leave some people who qualify without coverage.
For four years, Davis has introduced full Medicaid expansion bills on Capitol Hill, but they never went anywhere.
Davis ultimately voted for the bill, saying he felt it was a first step toward full Medicaid expansion. That could come with a proposed ballot initiative, now the subject of signature gathering statewide. If approved in November, the initiative would expand Medicaid to about 150,000 uninsured Utahns.
“These are people who right now have nothing … and end up in our emergency rooms,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who also voted in favor of the bill.
“It’s embarrassing that we cannot cover the most needy — and we talk about being a family state,” she added.
— Luke Ramseth
6:42 p.m.: With under 6 hours left in session, lawmakers break for dinner
Nine hours into the Legislature’s final day, and with — most likely — six hours left, lawmakers, Capitol guests and the intrepid members of the local news media are on break for dinner.
A delivery order of soup and sandwiches for the Tribune Political team was canceled by the vendor. What they’ll dine upon — and if they’ll have time to do so — remains to be seen.
The team briefly considered requesting filet mignon, the dish that the Deseret News’ management team reportedly served to lawmakers while lobbying to preserve crucial and essential noncompete clauses.
While we’re being verbose: a brief definition of the phrase “sine die,” which is often used to refer to the final day of the Legislative session. From Latin, and meaning “without day,” the phrase “Adjourn sine die” will be used in the House and Senate at midnight tonight (possibly earlier, but likely not) to mean that the Legislature is concluding its business without a scheduled day to resume.
Pronunciation of “Sine Die” varies, often Anglicized as “sign die.” But according to Merriam-Webster, the proper pronunciation is “sign-uh die-ee”
Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back with more after a brief respite — of mastication, we hope.
— Benjamin Wood
6:09 p.m.: Lawmakers say they don’t want to know if their proposed laws might be unconstitutional
Sorry constitutional notes, the Utah House is just not that into you.
Representatives voted 46-21 to end the practice of requiring that legislative lawyers make notes on bills that could run afoul of either the U.S. or Utah constitutions.
The notes are subjective, divisive “scarlet letters,” according to sponsor Rep. Dan McCay.
He was supported in the debate by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who read from an article titled "8 signs it's time to end the relationship."
Included in that list were if a couple were not having fun anymore, have different values, or that you can’t imagine yourself marrying your partner, which he said apply to the Legislature’s chemistry with constitutional warnings.
“I don’t think I can read number eight on this list,” Wilson said.
This year, a bill to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome was determined to likely be unconstitutional, but the House voted to approve it."
— Benjamin Wood
5:45 p.m.: Gov. Herbert not on board with spending money to rebrand UTA, says it’s ‘not as tarnished’ as some would believe
While Gov. Gary Herbert loves a just-passed bill to restructure the Utah Transit Authority, he dislikes that it will rename it as the Transit District of Utah — and says it is foolish to spend money to try to rebrand it.
“I think the UTA brand itself by those who ride and use the facilities is pretty good. I don’t think it’s as tarnished as others would like to believe,” he said in an interview.
He added the way to improve UTA’s image further is with “the end result of a better product, that’s what going to bring back the trust, not by calling it from some different name.”
He noted the bill extends a transportation task force for a year, and does not require immediate rebranding — so he hopes the issue will be revisited. He called rebranding “so premature. We don’t have to do that. I don’t think it’s even needful.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, House sponsor of SB136, said the name change is important because “when you purchase a business that is failing and doesn’t have the trust, one of the first things you do is rebrand it or redo the name to send a message that we are moving forward under a new process.”
Otherwise than the name change, Herbert had high praise for the UTA restructuring bill.
“How about UTA? We’re going to make sure that functions better, more transparent, more open. That’s going to be a major upgrade with a new governance system,” he said.
— Lee Davidson
4:15 p.m.: Utah House approves tax bill to raise as much as $250M for education annually
The Utah House voted to make it rain for schools on Thursday, approving a tax bill by a 48-23 margin that lowers Utah’s income tax rate while raising up to $250 million in new, annual funding for public education.
The bill, HB293, is the second piece of a compromise with the Our Schools Now ballot initiative, intended to be combined with a 10-cent hike in the state’s gas tax to boost annual school funding by roughly $375 million.
HB293 began the session as a comparatively simple proposal to equalize school district funding by freezing a statewide property tax rate for five years. But the negotiations with Our Schools Now, sponsor Brad Last, R-Hurricane, said, led to revisions that “transform this bill into something a little bit different.”
Now, the bill retains the property tax freeze — rates otherwise float down as values increase — while adding a decrease in the income tax from 5 percent to 4.95 percent, an expansion of the circuit breaker program that gives tax relief to low-income households, an index to match school funding rates to inflation and the creation of a special budget account to divert General Fund revenue to schools.
The additional funding would come on top of naturally-occurring growth in Utah’s income tax revenue, which is constitutionally required to be spent on public education.
Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, a high school counselor, thanks his colleagues for their support on behalf of Utah’s educators.
“We can’t go out and be the number one or two economy in the country and then end up where we’re at with the education funding,” he said.
— Benjamin Wood
3:39 p.m.: Governor’s son speaks out against governor-supported proposal to abolish state school board
You know who doesn’t want to get rid of the state school board? Nathan Herbert, the son of Utah’s governor.
Gov. Gary Herbert has already voiced support for SJR16, which in its current form would replace the elected state school board with a state superintendent appointed by the governor.
But in a Wednesday email to lawmakers, Nathan Herbert expressed his opposition to the resolution, saying it the proposed change “seems like a very bad idea.”
“Putting the authority of the USBE under an unelected appointee of the Governor will only exacerbate the feeling of alienation that parents are already feeling throughout this state,” Nathan Herbert wrote. “Surely, this will DECREASE accountability to parents; not INCREASE it!”
The resolution’s house sponsor, Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, is drafting a substitute that would preserve a board over public education in the state. But that board would be appointed by the governor, instead of elected as currently required by the Utah Constitution.
Paul Edwards, spokesman for Gov. Herbert, reiterated Thursday that the governor supports having a larger role for himself in the governance of public education.
“His son Nathan has been active in politics and policy issues for many years and was speaking as a private citizen,” Edwards said. “Clearly his views vary from those of the governor on this issue.”
— Benjamin Wood
2:45 p.m.: The $1.5B bonds passed last year to pay for transportation and a new prison now cost an extra $10.5B
Remember the $1.5 billion in bonds that the Legislature passed last year for transportation projects and the new state prison? They will now cost an extra $10.5 million.
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, sponsor of SB110, said questions had arisen about whether the costs of issuing the bonds — such as hiring bond counsel and use of rating agencies — would come out of the authorized amount, or on top of it.
His bill ensures they will be on top of it. Fiscal analysts estimate those costs at $10.5 million, “assuming cost of issuance equals 1 percent of the bond amount.”
The House passed the bill, but amended it. So it goes back to the Senate for final approval.
— Lee Davidson
2:15 p.m.: Controversial Down syndrome abortion bill appears unlikely to pass
The controversial Down syndrome abortion bill appears unlikely to pass on this final day of the Utah legislative session, its sponsor acknowledged Thursday.
“It seems they are burying the bill for some unknown reason,” Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said of her Senate colleagues.
The bill, HB205, had appeared primed for a hearing on the Senate floor earlier this week — only to be shipped back to the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday.
It had previously passed the House 54-17, and a Senate committee by a 3-2 vote.
The bill would criminalize doctors who perform an abortion if the sole reason was Down syndrome.
It also requires a doctor to give the woman information about Down syndrome parent support groups and to refer her to a physician who is a Down syndrome specialist.
HB205 had undergone drastic proposed changes in recent days, Lisonbee pointed out — changes she said had been requested by Senate leaders.
The overhaul was in part meant to address constitutional concerns about the bill, delaying rollout of the provision banning doctors from performing a Down syndrome abortion until a court upholds a similar law instituted by another state.
The substitute bill also included more specific language on exactly what information a doctor would be required to provide a woman after receiving a Down syndrome diagnosis.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said the Senate would “love to defend the right to life,” but there are “some elements of this bill that we see are challenges, so at this point there hasn’t been a lot of favor for addressing the bill.”
Lisonbee said the Senate has had the bill in its queue for about a month, and she was unsure why Senators had chosen to “bury” it now. She also said she was holding out hope for a last-minute revival Thursday.
— Luke Ramseth
1:45 p.m.: Turns out there’s no funding for a tax credit for Utah’s working poor
Utah budgeteers have decided not to fund a bill that would pay for a tax credit for workers who come from a history of poverty.
Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, wanted Utah to help out some of its poorest residents with the credit by creating the state version of a federal credit for poor workers.
HB57 passed the House and Senate and would have let about 25,000 people claim a credit worth up to $600 a year at tax time. It would have cost the state about $6 million a year.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, a Layton Republican and the Senate’s top budget-writer, said lawmakers prioritized business tax cuts and lowering the corporate and personal income tax rates, which haven’t yet passed.
“We’ve looked at tax reductions this year because of fairness issues and economic stimulation,” Stevenson said.
— Taylor W. Anderson
1:30 p.m.: Despite criticism over how much it will cost, lawmakers celebrate bill to rename and restructure UTA
Legislative leaders and Utah Transit Authority officials joined Thursday to sing praises for a just-passed bill that renames and restructures that agency — and to dismiss concerns raised by UTA’s vice chairwoman.
“We’ve brought the stakeholders together, and they are singing kumbaya,” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said at the press conference.
However, UTA Board vice chairman Sherrie Hall Everett has attacked the bill online during the week saying changing its name to Transit District of Utah could cost $50 million.
And she said eliminating UTA’s internal lawyers to rely instead on the Utah Attorney General’s Office could threaten a deal with the Department of Justice to avoid scandal-related prosecution. She said it may create conflicts of interest because the attorney general previously investigated the agency.
Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, floor sponsor of SB136, dismissed criticism by Hall Everett, saying she “has been fighting this all along” — including voting against a UTA resolution that most other board members passed to support the bill.
About her projection of $50 million to change the name, Schultz said, “I can’t believe that is even being quoted out there it is so far from the truth. We’re not going to spend money to take away bus routes … to reshuffle the name.”
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, sponsor of the bill, said it requires implementing the change over time as resources permit.
“If you run out of letterhead, you print out with the new logo. If you run out of bus passes, you print those with the new logo. If you order a new bus, you rebrand it with the new logo,” he said.
Schultz said the name change is important because “when you purchase a business that is failing and doesn’t have the trust, one of the first things you do is rebrand it or redo the name to send a message that we are moving forward under a new process.”
Schultz also said one of the key reforms in the bill is doing away with internal lawyers to have the agency use the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
“There is not a better check and balance than that” against scandal, he said. Also, “This will save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” in salaries.
He added that the attorney general’s office itself sees “no concern” that taking over UTA work could somehow threaten agreements with the Justice Department.
Two current UTA board members — Draper Mayor Troy Walker and Davis County Commissioner P. Bret Millburn — also appeared at the press conference to stress UTA has passed resolutions to support the bill, and said they are not concerned about the name change nor use of the Attorney General’s office.
About switching to the Attorney General’s office, Walker said, “I’m not concerned about it. I have a lot of faith in the Attorney General’s office. Their ability and their lawyers are outstanding.”
Among changes the bill would make includes replacing the current part-time, 16-member UTA Board with a full-time, three-member commission — seen as better able to watchdog the agency criticized for high executive salaries, extensive international travel and sweetheart deals with developers.
— Lee Davidson
1:15 p.m.: Tesla has been banned from opening a dealership in Utah — but that could change
The Senate voted 26-1 to approve HB369, a bill that would allow Tesla to own and operate car dealerships in Utah.
Tesla has been prevented from operating dealerships under the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act, a law that doesn’t allow car manufacturers to have direct ownership interest in any new dealerships in Utah.
Tesla has been butting up against the law since 2015, with its attempts to open a dealership shot down continually by the Attorney General’s Office. Tesla tried to appeal its case to the Utah Supreme Court last year, but the Court upheld the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act.
Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, the bill’s Senate sponsor, joked on the Senate floor that Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, is the reason this bill settles differences between car dealers and the state. Coleman has been working for two years to allow Tesla to operate in Utah.
Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, voted against the bill. The bill will now return to the House to allow the representatives to concur with minor amendments.
— Madalyn Gunnell
12:44 p.m.: House says residents should decide whether to raise the tax on gas
After debating for almost an hour, the Utah House voted overwhelmingly to submit the question of a gas tax increase to voters on the November ballot.
If approved by the Senate, Utahns will be asked weigh in on whether they approve or disapprove of the following question:
“To provide additional funding for public education and local roads, should the state increase the state motor and special fuel tax rates by an equivalent of 10 cents per gallon?”
The resolution, HJR20, is part of a broader compromise with the Our Schools Now ballot initiative to replace what could be a binding public vote to increase both income and sales taxes to generate more than $700 million in annual education funding.
Instead, with a 10 cent gas tax hike and a five-year property tax freeze, lawmakers are looking at generating roughly $376 million in new school funding.
But the property tax freeze is included in a separate bill, HB293. If only one passes, then Our Schools Now is not bound by their agreement to cease their initiative, in which case “all bets are off,” as stated by Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber.
Despite the 55-17 vote, representatives spent a considerable amount of time debating unsuccessful amendments to add context to the ballot question, such as the percentage increase of the 10 cent hike — 33 percent — or the current level of the state’s gas tax — 29.4 cents.
“If we’re truly concerned with transparency, we’ll tell the voters what the percentage and the monetary increase will be,” said Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden. “Otherwise I feel like we’re simply masking the question that’s on the ballot and manipulating the public intentionally.”
Critics of the amendments argued that instead of adding context, they would complicate the issue. Utahns will be voting to raise the per-gallon price of gas by 10 cents, they argued, independent of relative and percentage increases.
“10 cents is 10 cents,” said Rep. Scott Sandall. “They understand what 10 cents is.”
The gas tax question is nonbinding, meaning that lawmakers would be compelled to enact the changes if they’re approved by voters in November. That will include diverting money that currently funds transportation to instead fund schools as the new gas tax revenue is collected.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, stopped just short of calling his colleagues hypocrites for approving the gas tax question, but opposing his similar push to place a repeal of daylight saving time on the ballot.
“That bill failed last year and many of you spoke up and argued passionately that if we’re going to do something we should do something,” he said.
— Benjamin Wood
12:15 p.m.: Republicans want out of the Antiquities Act
Utah wants out of the Antiquities Act. Or, more accurately, the Republicans who dominate the Legislature want out.
Carried exclusively by Republican votes, the Senate agreed Thursday with a House resolution that calls on Utah’s congressional delegation to sponsor bills that would opt the state out of the federal law that has led to millions of acres being protected through the designation of national monuments.
The law has been a political flashpoint in Utah in recent years. State lawmakers lobbied against the two sprawling monuments in southern Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — that President Donald Trump shrunk in December.
If successful, Utah would join Alaska and Wyoming as states that are exempt from the act.
11:36 a.m.: To honor Parkland shooting victims, lawmakers resolve to make April ‘kindness month’
With family members of a victim of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting watching from the House and Senate galleries, the Utah Legislature approved a resolution Thursday to make April #MSDkindness Month.
The House and Senate voted unanimously to dedicate the month of April to kindness and remembrance for the 17 victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month. The resolution encourages Utah residents to report acts of kindness in the SafeUT app, which allows students to report school safety threats anonymously.
Ryan Petty, the father of 14-year-old Alaina Petty, who was killed in the shooting, was present with other family members as the Legislature passed the resolution. He is supporting the resolution to honor his daughter’s legacy, according to a press release.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who is sponsoring the resolution, said Petty has been working tirelessly since the Parkland tragedy to ensure nothing like it happens again.
Alaina Petty was a member of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High’s Junior ROTC program and heavily involved in community service.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, the resolution’s Senate sponsor, told his fellow senators that Ryan Petty wants people to be aware of his daughter’s “incredible kindness and her desire to be friends with everyone.”
Thatcher also said Ernie Geigenmiller, a friend and former LDS mission companion to Ryan Petty, came up with the idea for the resolution. Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, whose son lived near the Petty family in Florida, commended the Petty family for how they are dealing with the loss of their daughter before voting for the bill.
Thatcher said he hopes that this month of kindness will help Utahns turn down “the noise of the world” and work on connecting with others.
“We can start being the kind of people that we would want to be. And we can start by honoring people like Alaina Petty,” he said.
The resolution also states that Utah would like to encourage other states to pick a remaining month in 2018 to dedicate to kindness.
Lawmakers in both houses honored the Petty family with a standing ovation after passing the resolution.
— Madalyn Gunnell
10:45 a.m.: After surprisingly backing a Democrat’s bill, Utah Eagle Forum is now against abolishing state board of education
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, has lost a key conservative ally in his quest to end the state school board as we know it.
When he pitched SJR16 in committee last week, he was joined by Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum.
The unlikely alliance of two of Utah’s most ideologically opposed political figures caught many in the education community by surprise, as did the speed with which the resolution advanced through the Legislature.
“It maybe needs extra time for everybody to get their heads together,” Ruzicka said. “It shouldn’t be last minute. It’s too important.”
Ruzicka said she has not yet seen the specifics of the House changes, and that it’s difficult to have an opinion on a resolution she hasn’t read. She said she would prefer a state superintendent over public education — appointed or elected — because it creates a clear line of authority and accountability for the public education system.
— Benjamin Wood
10:30 a.m.: Goodbye to the 10 lawmakers who are leaving
On the last day of the Legislative session, members who decide not to seek re-election often announce it — but usually after work is done for the day.
Some have already said they are calling it quits, so Thursday is not only the last day of the general session, but truly their last day in one. Here is a list of some who have said they are leaving:
• Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.
• Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who is the Senate Majority Leader Pro Tempore.
• Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. He has not announced his future plans, but is seen as a likely candidate for governor in 2020.
•Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City.
• Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake.
• Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden.
• Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, who has said he is running for the Weber County Commission.
• Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, who is running for the state Senate.
• Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan.
• Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan.
Here are members who resigned earlier this year and have been replaced:
• Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, resigned mid-session just before a tabloid reported that he paid a call girl for sex in hotel rooms paid for by taxpayers.
• Rep. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, resigned before the session to move to Denver to become regional administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services.
• Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, resigned before the session to take a new job out of state.
• Rep. Adam Gardiner, R-West Jordan, resigned before the session after being appointed as the new Salt Lake County Recorder.
— Lee Davidson
Sen. Jim Dabakis sipped a hot cup of coffee while he walked onto the Senate floor on Thursday. An upcoming slew of voting will likely be his last as member of the body before he retires from the Legislature.
The Salt Lake City Democrat is the most outspoken member of the Senate and announced last month he’d step down at the end of his term after six years.
Dabakis said he plans to spend time at his ranch outside Mexico City, though he hasn’t outright said he won’t make a run for any other office in the future. He has promised to stay involved in the 2018 election to try to unseat Republicans.
He has lamented being the Legislature’s only openly gay member, worrying his retirement would leave the state house without a voice for LGBT Utahns.
— Taylor W. Anderson
10:05 a.m.: Utah liquor laws change again
Another revision of the state’s alcohol laws breezed through the Senate early Thursday morning, with changes to liquor licenses for sports arenas with over 6,500 seats, a slight increase in the number of bar licenses and several more licenses for the Salt Lake City airport.
Notably, lawmakers included changes to a 2017 law that required restaurants to put up signs that read: “This is a restaurant, not a bar.”
To celebrate passing the bill, Sen. Jerry Stevenson passed out cookies on the floor.
“This is a cookie, not a bar, in celebration of this landmark legislation,” Stevenson said.
Bars will still have to put up signs that make sure people people know the establishment’s focus is on booze, not food.
— Taylor W. Anderson
9:35 a.m. The day begins
The Utah House convened at 9:35 — 35 minutes late. So it’s not exactly off to a flying start on the Legislature’s last day, which will end at midnight tonight.
The House cheered extra loudly as Speaker Greg Hughes announces that it is Day 45 of the 45-day Legislature.
Hughes, who has announced he will not run for re-election this year, paused before striking his gavel and remarked that he was beginning the day's business for his last time as Speaker.
— Lee Davidson