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Passes & fails: A recap of what happened during Utah’s 2024 legislative session

Rakel Davis

The Utah Legislature had a theme for its 128th session: Looking toward the future.

While not every bill focused on future generations or imagining what the state could be, they emphasized the importance of looking ahead in terms of things like natural resources and infrastructure.

Lawmakers approved a bill that works to restore Utah’s “100-year vision” as it pertains to water. They passed two bills that would allocate public funding to “revitalize” Salt Lake City through updating the Delta Center downtown with the hopes of attracting a National Hockey League team as well as the potential construction of a Major League Baseball stadium on the city’s west side.

Even with the future in mind, critics raised concerns about transparency and if the Republican supermajority Legislature focused more on politics than policy.

And for the third year in a row, legislators passed contentious laws related to transgender rights, as well as education. Gov. Spencer Cox has already signed some of those bills into law.

Lawmakers also noted the state pocket book is strapped, claiming it’s a “socks and underwear budget” this year. Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson reiterated the notion, stating “the bank is closed” and that no more appropriations requests would be granted. As a result, many areas, like homelessness relief and affordable housing, aren’t getting the big dollars some hoped for. Still, they found a way to sneak an income tax cut.

Here’s what did and didn’t make it past the Legislature in 2024 (which set *another* record for bills passed — 591):


✅ Record state budget: Utah leaders passed a record $29.4 billion state budget for fiscal year 2025, which starts July 1. They call it the “bill of bills.” Highlights include $1.2 billion in new infrastructure investments, a $300 million investment in subsidized loans to build more affordable housing in the state and $60 million in homeless services. On the education front, there was a nearly $212 million increase in the weighted pupil unit. $10 million in additional investments in Great Salt Lake was also included.


DEI: Within the first two weeks of the session lawmakers introduced, debated and passed a ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs and offices in public schools, universities and state entities. State offices are also prohibited from requesting diversity statements during the hiring process. Republican Rep. Katy Hall, HB261’s sponsor, said DEI work can continue, just not under that name. The bill replaces offices titled “Diversity, Equality and Inclusion” with “Student Success Offices.” Critics, including Minority Leader Angela Romero, believe it “doesn't send the right message” to many Utahns. Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill on Jan. 30, four days after it passed. The Utah State Board of Education has already overhauled its “educational equity” rule to comply. The bill goes into effect July 1.

Sensitive materials: For the third year in a row, lawmakers revisited the debate on “pornographic or indecent” books in schools. They passed HB29, making it easier for certain books to be banned statewide. If three districts, or two districts and five charter schools, find a book “objectively” indecent, all Utah public schools will be required to remove that book from shelves. However, the Utah State Board of Education does have the power to overturn the statewide ban. As long as the Gov. Cox does not veto the bill, which some groups have asked him to do, it goes into effect July 1.

✅ Natalie Cline: The Utah Legislature voted to censure, rather than impeach, Utah School Board member Natalie Cline on Feb. 15. She came under intense scrutiny after a social media post falsely alluded that a Utah female student-athlete was transgender. Since Cline was not impeached, she will be able to run for reelection in 2024, which she’s said she would do.

❌ Teacher ‘neutrality’: HB303 would’ve banned Utah teachers from having certain symbols in their classroom, like an LGBTQ+ Pride flag or anything else that “endorsed, promoted or disparaged” certain beliefs or viewpoints, failed in the House. It would’ve included religious or political beliefs, as well as views on sexual orientation or gender. The bill would’ve also restricted what teachers can and can’t say. Both Republicans and Democrats said the bill was too vague.

School safety: Armed security will be required in every Utah school after lawmakers passed a massive school security bill, HB84. Schools can either have a school resource officer, an armed security guard or a “school guardian,” which is a school employee who is armed and trained to respond to “active threats.” Included are other new requirements, like panic buttons in every classroom. Lawmakers allocated $100 million in one-time funds to help schools pay for the requirements. The state security chief will set a timeline for how long each school has to get in compliance.

Ten Commandments: Rep. Michael Petersen originally proposed requiring all Utah Schools to display a copy of the Ten Commandments. The version of HB269 that did pass was watered down to allow the biblical precepts in American history and government classes. The commandments are now on a list of optional historical documents and principles teachers can use for “thorough study.” The Magna Carta was also added to that list. It is scheduled to go into effect July 1.

Lawmakers emailing educators: Under HB82, Utah’s Senate President and House Speaker can jointly email every public school employee in the state up to three times a year for “official communication on behalf of the Legislature relating to the teaching profession or education policy in the state.” There is no option for educators to opt out. Bill sponsor Rep. Candice Pierucci said since the state pays a part of teachers’ salaries, the state should be able to communicate with them. Utah’s largest teachers’ union opposed that portion of the bill, which was otherwise largely a clean-up bill. Annually by Oct. 1, the Utah State Board of Education will collect the work email addresses of every school employee and then give them to the two legislative leaders.

School fees: Under HB415, families of Utah high school students won’t have to pay certain school fees starting with the 2025-2026 school year. While bill sponsor Rep. Mark Strong said “anything that is part of the regular school day, part of your normal education, we won’t be charging fees for,” lawmakers delayed the implementation because they couldn’t come to a consensus on what exactly would and wouldn’t fall under that category. They’ll work over the interim session on clarifying what fees schools can and can’t charge for.

Student surveys: Under HB182, schools have to get parental consent before giving students any “non-academic” surveys. It also allows school districts to opt out of administering the state health department’s student health and risk prevention survey without risking funding. Groups that use this data expressed concerns about the bill. It goes into effect July 1.

Teacher licensing: HB208 is aimed at making it easier for people to get a teaching license. Bill sponsor Rep. Norman Thurston said some teacher training programs are too weak and some are bloated with “a lot of bureaucratic hoops.” The bill prohibits the state board of education from requiring a “Pedagogical Performance Assessment” in order to get a license. It also requires the board to work with the Utah Board of Higher Education to develop a strategy to modify teacher training programs. Proponents said the hoops are keeping competent teachers from entering and staying in the field. Critics worry under-qualified teachers will be let into the classroom and increase turnover.

Student teacher stipends: HB221 creates a “Stipends for Future Educators Grant Program” where Utah student teachers, who currently work without pay, can apply for a $6,000 stipend. The program has $8.4 million in one-time funds, enough for 1,400 student teachers to receive $6,000, but the state board has flexibility in how much money it gives each student. The passed unanimously and goes into effect July 1. It’s currently a pilot program and scheduled to end July 1, 2028.


Bathroom access: Under HB257, transgender Utahns are prohibited from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity inside a government owned and operated building. They could be criminally charged if they do not use the facility that correlates with their sex assigned at birth. Transgender students in Utah public schools must use the sex-designated bathroom and locker room that is on their birth certificate or contact school administration to gain access to staff facilities. Republican bill sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland said the bill “creates privacy for every Utahn.” Democratic Rep. Sahara Hayes, the only open LGBTQ+ lawmaker, said the bill targets transgender people by “regulating and restricting trans people's ability to exist in public space.” It passed and was signed by the governor within the first three weeks of the session. The law went into effect immediately.

Transgender inmates: Incarcerated transgender Utahns cannot be assigned to the same housing area that corresponds with their gender identity in most instances. Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, HB316’s sponsor, said there is a “pathway” for transgender inmates to be housed in the unit that aligns with their gender identity. The inmate must undergo a “security analysis” to determine if the person is claiming to be transgender when they’re not or if they pose a low risk of harming themselves, other inmates or correctional staff.


Repealing the abortion clinic ban: After moving to ban abortion clinics statewide in 2023, Republican bill sponsors Sen. Dan McCay and Rep. Karianne Lisonbee reversed course this session. The Legislature voted to repeal the sections of that law that are currently enjoined and in front of the Utah Supreme Court. According to McCay and Lisonbee, the actions of HB560 could encourage the court to expedite a ruling on Utah’s so-called “trigger law,” which bans elective abortions statewide. That case has been undecided since it was first enjoined in 2022.


Major League Baseball stadium: Utah leaders approved HB562. The bill would increase sales tax and the tax on rental cars to help pay for a new Major League Baseball stadium on the west side of Salt Lake City. The state has agreed to foot roughly half of the estimated $1.8 billion stadium. The rental car tax increase only takes effect if a Major League Baseball agrees to come to Utah, which the organization has yet to do.

NHL stadium/downtown revitalization zone: Lawmakers also gave the green light to a similar bill centered around keeping the Utah Jazz basketball team in downtown Salt Lake City and attracting a future National Hockey League franchise. SB272 creates a tax structure to allocate $1 billion in public money toward revitalizing the downtown core surrounding the current Delta Center. It will be accomplished through a sales tax increase in Salt Lake City. House Speaker Mike Schultz said the bill “guarantees” that the Utah Jazz stay in downtown Salt Lake City.

Child abuse:

✅ Om’s Law: Almost one year after the tragic death of 16-year-old Om Moses Ghandi, legislation that aims to add new protections to children who are caught in custody battles with an abusive parent passed both chambers and now awaits the governor’s signature. In addition to elevating the priority of a child’s safety, HB272 stipulates that court workers like judges and custody evaluators will now be subject to increased training around identifying child abuse. The requirements on who can give “expert” testimony in cases of child abuse are also more clear. 

✅ Clergy reporting: After failing in the past, lawmakers unanimously approved HB432, which gives religious clergy, like a Catholic priest or a bishop with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the option to report “ongoing” child abuse, even if the abuse was disclosed in confession or a legally protected confidential setting. If a clergy does report known or suspected child abuse to law enforcement, they will receive legal protections from criminal and civil lawsuits. The LDS Church and the Catholic Church did not oppose the bill, as they have done in previous sessions. The legislation does not make clergy mandatory reporters.


✅ Religion in the workplace: The Legislature strengthened protections for religious accommodations in the workplace. Under HB396, all Utah businesses – regardless of staff size – must try and grant ecclesiastical requests from employees who have “sincerely held religious beliefs,” such as stepping away to pray or not scheduling them on certain days so they can worship. However, businesses with less than 15 employees do not have to accommodate scheduling preferences due to religious beliefs.


✅ Future water: Senate President Stuart Adams wants to restore Utah’s “100-year vision” by ensuring there is enough water in the desert state for future generations. SB211 creates the “Water District Water Development Council” that tasks the four largest water districts in Utah with finding “new” sources of water from outside state boundaries. It includes negotiating with different water users and various Western states about the trade or importation of water to Utah. Talks of importing that water through a pipeline is not out of the question. Critics believe there is a lack of transparency because the meetings and business conducted by the council would be exempt from public records requests.

✅ No personhood: Great Salt Lake won’t get “legal personhood” status after HB249 passed both chambers. The bill prohibits some entities, including bodies of water, weather, Artificial Intelligence and non-human animals, from using legal personhood status as an argument in litigation. U.S. law states corporations and other non-human entities can hold legal personhood, which allows those entities to own property, enter contracts and be sued. The national statue has been an avenue for advocacy groups to sue on behalf of the environment.

❌ Golf Course Amendments: While the Senate voted in favor of SB195, the House killed the legislation. The bill would have exempted public golf courses from complying with public records requests regarding its water usage – which was the biggest upset with it. The legislation would have also required the Institute for Land, Water and Air at Utah State University to research how much water golf courses in the state actually use and how they could be more efficient with the scarce resource.

❌ Wet water years: A bill that would devise a plan to send water to Great Salt Lake during “wet water years” failed to make it out of the Senate. Under SB196, the Great Salt Lake commissioner would have needed to figure out the best way to send extra water to the lake. The idea was also proposed by the commissioner in February’s first ever strategic plan for the lake.

✅ Mineral extraction: HB453 targets companies that extract minerals from Great Salt Lake. It requires companies, like U.S. Magnesium and Compass Minerals, to reduce their water usage during dry years. It puts money generated from mineral extraction back into Great Salt Lake. Companies that use water efficiently or no water at all during the process will also pay less in severance taxes.

✅ Utah Lake: Lawmakers want to figure out how to improve Utah Lake. SB270 funds a study looking into the water quality, conserving water resources, removing invasive species, restoring native plants, restoring and conserving fish and bird species and restoring recreation and community use of the lake. The bill also researches ways to send excess water from Utah Lake down to Great Salt Lake.


✅ Electrical energy amendments: In response to federal regulations that place stricter emission standards on power plants, Utah lawmakers moved toprotect coal-fired power plants in the state from early closure due to those regulations. GOP lawmakers say coal is still a reliable source of power while alternative forms of production are not proven yet. But critics say the coal industry is declining anyway and efforts to prop up the industry could lead to higher rates for everyday Utahns.

Energy security: Another bill about coal would give the state the option to purchase a power plant that is slated for decommission. Rocky Mountain power announced last year that it intends to close both of its coal-fired plants in Emery County by 2032. Those opposed to the bill like House Minority Leader Rep. Angela Romero said the bill “overlooks the opportunity for our state to invest and transition to renewable energy sources for the benefit of current and future generations.”

❌ Geothermal: SB257, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Nate Blouin, would have authorized a study on the future of geothermal energy in the state. To Blouin, who has a background in renewable energy, technology like geothermal would be an easier transition for workers in traditional fossil fuel industries like oil or natural gas because geothermal utilizes similar drilling technology. The bill stalled in the Senate.

❌ Grid enhancements: Another Blouin bill, SB191 would have helped utility companies explore ways to enhance the capacity, efficiency or reliability of electric transmission lines. Although the bill had unanimous support in the Senate, the House ran out of time to consider the legislation before the session ended on March 1.


Tax cut: Utahns are getting another cut to their taxes. For the third year in a row, lawmakers voted to slash the state income tax. This time lowering the rate from 4.65% to 4.55%, which equals to a nearly $170 million cut.

Child tax credit: First passed last year, lawmakers voted to expand the child tax credit to include children between the ages of 1 to 4. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Susan Pulsipher provides a $1,000 tax credit per child.

Air Quality:

Air quality standards: Republican Rep. Tyler Clancy tried to set up a framework to establish statewide air quality standards with HB279. The bill did not create any metrics the state must maintain, but it put things in motion to eventually put them in place. Right now, Utah only follows federal air quality guidelines. Clancy said the bill was in response to the International Olympic Committee asking the state to reduce emissions by 50% in the next six years in order for the games to come back to Salt Lake City. Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Kirk Cullimore, said he will likely continue to work on the legislation during the interim.


✅ Shelter priority: As homelessness continues to be a problem in Utah, lawmakers are trying to identify ways to serve the growing population. HB421 prioritizes who should get access to overnight shelter beds. Sponsor Republican Rep. Steve Eilason said unsheltered Utahns who have been discharged from the Utah State Hospital have precedent. In family shelters, Utahns who qualify for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would get a bed first. While largely supportive of the measure, Unsheltered Utah is concerned that refugee families would be shut out from services since most aren’t eligible for the federal program.


✅ Utah homes investment program: Calling the bill “a very creative way to actually get more money towards housing attainability,” Gov. Cox applauded lawmakers on HB572. It creates a subsidized loan program to encourage more affordable housing development. Although Cox’s wish for a “Utah First Homes” program ultimately did not make the cut, he said he was “over the moon excited” for the creation of the loan program.

Child care:

❌ Buildings for child care: To deal with the lack of affordable child care in Utah, Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla wanted to convert six empty state office buildings in Salt Lake County into child care facilities. However, SB176 never made it past the finish line partly because the Republican supermajority said the fiscal note of $2.179 million was too high for the “socks and underwear” budget.

✅ Unlicensed child care: Republican Rep. Susan Pulispher’s bill increases the number of children allowed in an unlicensed child care facility from six to eight. Under HB170, those looking after the children would have to have a background check.


❌ Ranked choice voting: HB290, which sought to end the ranked choice voting pilot program early, died in the Senate. Some municipalities, including Salt Lake City, have opted to use the alternative voting system in nonpartisan elections. While lawmakers will keep the pilot program alive until it’s set to lapse 2025, they aren’t convinced it should continue past then.


✅ Flavored vapes: Utah lawmakers don’t want the majority of flavored vapes on the shelves anymore. SB61 would prohibit the sale of all flavored vape products aside from tobacco and menthol. If signed by the governor, the law will take effect July 1, 2024.

✅ Booze news: HB548, a big alcohol omnibus bill, reduces the population size needed to grant more bar and liquor licenses. At the same time, the state will increase its marked-up price of high-point beer, spirits and wine. It increases the tax on alcohol sold at state liquor stores by 0.5% to pay for three compliance officers who will investigate if bars and restaurants are following all the liquor laws. It also removes products that are more than 80% alcohol, including Everclear.

❌ Lottery free: Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland’s wish to bring the lottery to Utah isn’t happening this session. HJR24 would have proposed an amendment to the Utah Constitution to allow the lottery, like Powerball and raffles. If passed by the Legislature, Utah voters would have had the final say on the issue.

Corrected: March 13, 2024 at 8:05 AM MDT
An earlier version of this story misidentified the originating chamber of SB191, Grid Enhancing Technologies. It is a Senate bill, not a House bill.
Corrected: March 5, 2024 at 4:22 PM MST
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of the fiscal note on SB176, Child Care Services Amendments, as well as the ages of children now covered under the child tax credit per HB153, Child Care Revisions. The fiscal note for SB176 was $2.179 million. Children ages one to four are now covered under the child tax credit per HB153.
Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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