Legislative Recap Week One: Tax Reform Repeal, Growth And Possibility
Utah’s legislative session kicked off this week. Over 45 days lawmakers work to pass a budget and wade through more than a thousand bills. KUER’s Caroline Ballard joined political reporters Nicole Nixon and Sonja Hutson to help break it down.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: Tax reform really took center stage this first week of the legislative session. Can you explain what happened?
Nicole Nixon: If you remember last month there was a special session where lawmakers passed this tax reform package, and it was a really unpopular bill. Immediately after that special session, a referendum effort launched.
By the time it became clear in the last week or so that it was going to make it onto the ballot, Republican leaders announced that they would repeal that law. So that's what happened this week. Though I will note that House Speaker Brad Wilson, during his opening speech on the first day of the session, had this to say:
Legislation by referendum, while part of the political process, can be divisive and at many times be short of facts, it has proven ruinous for many states that have turned down that path.
NN: So it sounded like they’re still a little salty about it. They still do say that there is a revenue distribution problem in the state that will have to be tackled in the coming months or years.
CB: Are we going to see Tax Reform 2.0 during this session?
Sonja Hutson: It's looking like no. There's not really a political appetite for it right now after the saga that was 2019 tax reform. It dominated a lot of the session last year and obviously was really controversial at the end of 2019 and the beginning of this year.
Lawmakers say they need to do a lot more public outreach and do a lot more work building consensus with the public about what they want to see out of tax reform, and what should be in Tax Reform 2.0.
CB: Governor Herbert also delivered his State of the State address this week. What did he focus on?
NN: This is Gov. Herbert's final State of the State address, because he's not seeking re-election this year. And he spent a lot of time sort of subtly tooting his own horn.
To say that the state of our state is excellent would be a gross understatement. Utah is thriving and we're in the best position economically that we've ever been in our state's history.
NN: However, he said that the next person to take his seat in the governor's mansion will have a lot of work to do in the next 10 years to keep this success going.
SH: He did, of course, also mention tax reform, kind of echoing that statement of responding to the will of the people. He talked a lot about education – that's been one of his big priorities.
In terms of growth, he highlighted again that in his budget there is $100 million set aside for air quality and transit. He threw his support behind double-tracking Frontrunners so that trains could run more frequently. He also suggested that we change some zoning laws to make way for more affordable housing.
CB: Things are still easing in and bills don't usually see a ton of action during this first week of the session, but did any important ones come up on the floor or in committee?
NN: Other than the obvious tax reform repeal bill that passed very early on, the first week kind of seems like we're slowly like getting that engine up and running. So there aren't a ton of bills.
There are a handful of bills dealing with water policy in committee. One of those bills actually has already passed the Senate dealing with water banking. And I think that that's, again, part of managing growth in the state.
SH: Lawmakers also made a lot of noise about some big bills that are going to come up during the session on Wednesday. Lawmakers were talking about a series of bills aimed at curbing teen vaping.
There's also been some talk about this really big $35 million affordable housing bill by Sen. [Jake] Anderegg, [R-Lehi]. That money would go towards helping private developers finance the construction of new affordable units and also towards rental assistance.
CB: What else are we looking out for this session?
SH: There's an abortion bill coming up that would require the burial or cremation of aborted or miscarried fetuses.
NN: There's this controversial bill from Rep. Brad Daw [R-Orem] that's gotten some attention. It would bar transgender teenagers and minors from undergoing gender confirmation surgery or hormone therapy. I don't think that one's been made public yet, but it's getting some attention.
SH: And another one we're looking at is a bill from Rep. Angela Romero [D-Salt Lake City] that would require clergy to report child abuse and neglect to law enforcement, even if they learned about it through confession. Romero and the Catholic League are already battling on Twitter about it. So we'll definitely see some fireworks about that this session.
Nicole Nixon covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @_Nixo
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson
Caroline Ballard hosts All Things Considered for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @cballardnews