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It’s go time: Utah lawmakers to push through a flurry of bills in the session’s final days

Speaker of the House Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams share a moment on the first day of the 2023 Utah Legislative Session, Jan. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
Briana Scroggins
Special to KUER
Speaker of the House Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams share a moment on the first day of the 2023 Utah Legislative Session, Jan. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

With only a few days left to pass as many bills as they can get through, Utah lawmakers haven’t taken their foot off the gas. There have been more than 1,000 bill requests during the 2023 Utah Legislative Session and over 900 bills have been numbered. However, not all have made it to the floor for consideration.

Lawmakers still have housekeeping business to get through, like balancing the state budget. Here is where the Legislature stands with the Friday, March 3 deadline looming:

  • Starting Wednesday (day 43!), the House will only hear Senate bills and vice versa. 
  • With no committee hearings on the agenda, lawmakers will endure long hours on the floor until the clock strikes midnight on Friday. Once it’s 12 a.m. Saturday morning, the session is officially adjourned. 

What must get done:

  • Lawmakers need to approve how they will spend $28 billion for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, 2023. But don’t worry! House and Senate leadership have a plan.

    • A $400 million tax cut for Utahns. 

      • This bill would reduce the state income tax from 4.85% to 4.65%. 
      • In human terms, a family of four taking home $80,000 a year would see about $200 back in their pockets. 
      • Skeptics argue the tax break benefits high-income earners more than low-income families. 
    • Nearly $1 billion toward public education

      • Some of that bucket-o-money would fund a $6,000 teacher salary raise that is tied with $239 million toward a scholarship fund that would help students pay to attend private or home schools. 
    • More than $300 million for water-related projects and programs

      • A bulk of that money would go toward helping farmers pay for infrastructure updates to conserve water. 
      • $12 million for cloud seeding to produce a little more water from storms. 
      • Roughly another $12 million toward a Great Salt Lake Commissioner, who would be in charge of developing a plan and pulling the trigger on action that would funnel water into the ailing lake. 
    • Over $1 billion for transportation needs 

    • Nearly $2 billion for affordable housing and homelessness services
  • Lawmakers must get the budget balanced and passed by the last day of the session 

Goodbye to the state food tax?

  • House and Senate leadership signaled they’re open to doing away with the state food sales tax IF the restrictions around how lawmakers spend income tax are loosened. 

  • That would require a change to the Utah Constitution, though, which outlines income tax can only be used to pay for public and higher education, along with a few other things.
  • Lawmakers and the education community are still trying to work out a deal to ensure education has a budgetary framework. 
  • If the resolution passes, Utah voters would get the final say on the change during the 2024 general election. 
  • Local sales tax on food from counties or cities would not be affected.

Education bills in the pipeline:

  • Lawmakers are taking another crack at sensitive materials in school

    • HB464 would allow the State Board of Education to ban books that discuss “illicit sex or sexual immorality” statewide. 

      • It’s currently on hold in the House.
  • HB550 would censor conversations around sexuality in the classroom and prohibit them from taking place from Kindergarten to third grade. 

    • It’s been sent back to the Rules Committee but could make it to the floor if lawmakers decide to suspend the rules.
  • SB283 deals with removing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officers and departments at state universities. 

    • Bill sponsor Sen. John Johnson said he was concerned with these positions imposing certain social and political ideologies instead of prioritizing academics.
    • It’s received pushback from the higher education community and is currently being held in committee. Senate President Stuart Adams said it’s likely to be heavily amended. 
  • Under Rep. Kera Birkeland’s HB463, students would be required to hand over their birth certificates in order to play school sports. 

    • During House floor time, Birkeland said it is to verify that a student is eligible to play and specifically points out age requirements. 
    • However, Birkeland admitted this bill piggybacks off legislation passed last year that banned transgender girls from participating in school sports.
    • It passed the House and is awaiting to be heard by the Senate. 

Abortion restrictions:

  • A bill simply titled “Abortion Changes” would further limit access to the procedure in the state.

    • It would close all abortion clinics in the state starting in 2024. 
    • It would also require all abortion procedures to be done at a hospital or state-approved facility. 
    • Because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively handed the power to regulate abortion back to the states, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah is still mulling over how it would proceed if this bill passes. 
  • The second bill, HB297, focuses on sexual assault vicitims with an abortion stipulation

    • It requires police to compile data on the number of sexual assaults reported, investigated and prosecuted. 
    • It also states that if a sexual assault survivor wants an abortion, they must report that assault to the police first. Then the physician must verify that a report was filed before performing the procedure. 
  • Both of the bills cleared the House and are in the Senate. 
Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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