Two bills sponsored by Utah lawmakers this year could potentially lead to the adoption of a new state flag.
But while one proposal would create a commission to review and seek input on new flag designs, the other already has a design in mind and asks legislators to vote, now, on a change.
“They either will like this flag or not,” said Richard Martin, chairman of the Organization for a New Utah Flag, “and virtually everybody likes it.”
Martin, a Utah County businessman who ran to be Utah’s governor 2010, said he wants to avoid the perils of design-by-committee. A better process, he said, is to put forward a design created by professionals and get it approved without tinkering that takes away the beauty of a simple, powerful flag.
Instead of the current 100-year-old design — which largely consists of the state seal on a blue background — Martin’s organization is suggesting a modern replacement with a beehive and red star at its center and four red, white and blue triangles intersecting along diagonal cross points.
Numerals forming “1847” are also printed on the flag’s face, commemorating the year that Mormon settlers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
“There isn’t really a lot of designs to choose from in the end,” Martin said. “You’re limited especially when you use the beehive as your main emblem, which seems like a necessary part of the flag.”
Sponsoring the legislation to adopt the flag design is Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, who said he’s most interested in advancing discussion about the state’s flag.
“As we look at 2019, we’re approaching the 125th anniversary as a state," Stratton said. “Is there an additional way to tell the story of our state in the symbols and things that we use?”
Many state flags consist of a state seal on a plain background. That design style, of which Utah is a part, is sometimes derided as an “S.O.B.” — or “seal on a bedsheet” — by flag enthusiasts.
“It would be, I think, helpful for someone who is an elementary school student to be able to draw our flag,” Stratton said. “Right now that’s a challenge.”
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is sponsoring the other piece of legislation, which forms a flag review commission. He said changing the flag is a big decision, and it’s better to establish a process that considers broad feedback and seeks general support than to simply present people with one design option.
“What we don’t want is a contentious process,” Handy said. “This should be something really fun and mandating one design over another by legislative fiat isn’t going to work and I can’t imagine my colleagues wanting to go that direction.”
Joseph Shelton, associate director of the Utah Flag Group, agreed that a more collaborative process is needed. Shelton has worked with Handy on his bill, and said that while he sees the design in Stratton’s bill as an improvement to the current flag, the process behind it is lacking.
Shelton said his organization has received feedback intended for Martin’s group. And while many people are impressed with the design, others express reservations that the diagonal orientation is evocative of the Confederate flag, or that the use of “1847” is less inclusive than other dates — such as 1896, when Utah gained statehood.
“The trick is not to design it by committee,” Shelton said, “but to have several designs that can be made into a shortlist by committee.”
HB219 (Handy’s bill) has been assigned to the House Government Operations Committee, while HB292 (Stratton’s bill) is currently held by the House Rules Committee, which must assign the bill to a standing committee for it to be debated by lawmakers.
The state proposals come in the wake of Salt Lake City’s launch of a public survey late last year in what could be an initial step in the redesign of its city flag.