Push to redesign Utah flag clears another hurdle

Opponents worried the state is abandoning its heritage.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, waves a small representation of the current Utah state flag during discussion on a new Utah flag design that will be vetted over the next few months by a nine-member task force. The current flag is criticized for being a bland and unimaginative symbol that is essentially the state seal on a blue background.

The long-sought redesign of the Utah State flag is finally moving ahead.

On Thursday, the Utah House voted 49-23 to approve the creation of a task force to study and possibly recommend a replacement for the current banner, which features the state seal on a dark blue background.

“Flags are symbols, and we’re simply asking should Utah’s flag be modernized?” asked Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton and the bill’s House sponsor.

It took a couple of compromises to win final passage in the Utah House nearly a month after Senate approval. The current flag won’t be discarded on the scrap heap of history, but will become the “governor’s flag” to represent the state’s chief executive.

Additionally, a flag design featuring a beehive on a blue circle above a single star on a background of blue, red and white triangles will be adopted as the commemorative state flag celebrating the 125th anniversary of Utah’s statehood. Government buildings will be able to display that flag throughout 2021.

That commemorative flag has generated a bit of controversy as it has been hijacked by some in the DezNat movement on social media. Privately, some House members have grumbled about the proposed commemorative flag but grudgingly accepted it to move the flag revamp forward.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, shows his support of a new Utah flag design during voting on the bill that designates this flag as the commemorative state flag to celebrate the state's 125th anniversary. It will be displayed on government property throughout 2021.

The main thrust of SB48 is creating a nine-person committee that includes the governor and lieutenant governor, or designees, along with six legislators and the director of the Department of Heritage and Arts. The group will begin meeting in June, and will pick up to 10 proposed designs as replacements for the current flag.

Proponents argued the bland design of the current flag fades into the background when compared with more vibrant emblems from other states.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, described his experience working in the U.S. Senate and traveling in the tunnel to the U.S. Capitol building.

“I looked really hard to find Utah’s flag, but I couldn’t see it. There are like 35 other states with the same background. You can’t see it” he laughed. “I always saw Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.”

Wilcox, who works in marketing and communications, added this is a great opportunity for the state to really make an impact nationally with a more recognizable brand.

“These symbols communicate something. Sometimes we love symbols so much we put them on our clothing. Right now, nobody recognizes our brand. We should make it stand out” he added.

Ditching the current flag caused some heartburn among representatives who worried that the state was downplaying Utah’s history in exchange for a flashy redesign.

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo via AP) This July 24, 2017, file photo shows the Utah state flag waving in the morning sun at the start of the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City.

“I’m concerned we’re trying to update history,” said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville. “I love our flag. I don’t want to give up our heritage. I don’t need a task force to tell me whether I like the current flag.”

“I appreciate there are traditionalists who say we shouldn’t mess with history,” countered Handy. “I’ve heard from our younger constituents who say they don’t relate to the flag right now. We need something that will instill greater pride.”

The flag redesign bill now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.