Utah House says ‘yes’ to a review of the state flag

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Flags from the four corner states show the contact in flag designs, during discussion of one of two bills that could lead to the adoption of a new state flag to the House Government Operations committee, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.

Rep. Steve Handy told his House colleagues that until recently, he had “never really thought too much” about the Utah state flag.

“It’s there,” he said. “It’s nice.”

But that changed after speaking with a constituent who advocated for a new flag, the Layton Republican said. Residents in other states wear flags on their hats and T-shirts, Handy said, while the Utah flag is rarely seen outside of formal and ceremonial settings.

On Friday, the Utah House voted 46-26 for Handy’s bill creating a commission to review and potentially recommend new designs for the state flag. The bill, HB219, will now move to the Senate for consideration.

If enacted, an 11-member panel would be directed to solicit design submissions and report back to lawmakers by November, with any final decision on replacing the flag being made through future legislation.

Utah’s current flag is more than 100 years old and consists of a variation of the state seal set against a blue background. It includes several traditional Utah and national symbols — like a beehive and sego lilies, as well as a bald eagle and two U.S. flags — but is aesthetically similar to several other state flags that also feature a seal on a blue background.

Rep. Scot Chew, R-Jensen, said he’s proud of the current flag and has no trouble explaining its imagery to others. He questioned the need to update the design and balked at the bill’s suggestion that children should be able to draw the flag from memory — a design principle espoused by vexillologists, or flag experts.

“Does that mean someone 3 years old or 17 years old?” Chew asked.

And Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, pushed back on Handy’s statement that Utahns do not display the flag outside of formal settings, adding that a college acquaintance hung it in a shared space.

“I’m not in favor of revisiting our state flag at this time,” he said.

Debate on Handy’s bill was cut short by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, who asked her colleagues if they had heard a “sound” and suggested the final week of the 2019 session could be better spent on more substantial legislation.

“I think it’s the sound of our future bills dying on the last night,” she said.