Effort to change Utah’s state flag narrowly passes Legislature after hours of debate

Gov. Spencer Cox now has three weeks to decide if he’ll approve or veto the new state flag bill.

The bill to change Utah’s state flag squeaked by on the House floor Thursday morning on a razor-thin 40-35 vote, thus ending debate on the surprising controversy that engulfed the Legislature since the start of the 2023 session.

SB31 adopts the redesigned flag as the official flag of Utah and gives three iterations of the current flag “historical” designation. All four flags can be flown at any time for any reason.

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said the change would lead to a wider display of the flag.

“When you drive across the state, you see some Utah flags, but the majority of those flags you see are on state-owned buildings or government-owned buildings. There are going to be more people flying the Utah flag, and that’s good for our state,” Schultz told lawmakers on Thursday.

The process of redesigning the state flag began in 2019. The new design emerged from more than 5,700 submissions last year.

Proponents have claimed the redesign would be a good marketing tool for the state because it would look good printed on clothing, mugs or other knickknacks. That claim didn’t sit well with Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

“I’ve heard people say when they go to Disneyland, they want to have a t-shirt with our flag, and our current flag doesn’t go on a shirt as well. Fine. Adopt a state t-shirt and put this on it. We’re apparently going to adopt a state crustacean, a state worm and a state mushroom. Let’s have a state t-shirt,” Dunnigan said.

(Utah Senate) A rendering of the new Utah state flag under Senate Bill 31.

Debate on the flag issue consumed nearly 35 minutes on the House floor Thursday morning, longer than every other piece of legislation considered during that time. Between committee hearings and floor debate, discussion and debate ate up nearly three hours during the 2023 session. For comparison, consideration of the $400 million tax cut package in HB54 consumed just one hour and 15 minutes this year.

The bill now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox for his signature or veto. His office did not indicate how he was leaning on the issue.

“We appreciate the passionate debate, and we’re glad legislators were able to find common ground on this one,” spokesperson Jennifer Napier Pearce said in a text message.

Cox has until March 23 to make up his mind.