Utah Legislature approves new state flag

Mar 2, 2023, 11:44 AM | Updated: 3:57 pm

(Utah Senate/Twitter)...

(Utah Senate/Twitter)

(Utah Senate/Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is set to have a new state flag after the state Legislature approved SB31 on Thursday.

The bill will designate a new state flag — one selected by the Utah State Flag Task Force on Nov. 10 and updated by the Utah Senate on Jan. 30 — while making the current flag the “historical state flag.”

The bill passed the House with a 40-35 vote Thursday morning. One item that was mentioned during the debate was the bill’s fiscal note, which noted a one-time expense of $3,000 for Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office, which said it can absorb that cost, and $0 in ongoing costs.

“Enactment of this legislation likely will not materially impact state revenue,” the note stated.

The Senate previously approved SB31 and voted on minor changes Thursday afternoon, passing it 18-9 and sending it to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.

Among the minor updates was changing the current state flag’s designation from “ceremonial” to “historical” and removing a potential new license plate featuring the flag.

New state flag design

The new flag design features a beehive on a blue hexagon with a gold trim on horizontal bands of blue, white and red. Originally, it featured an eight-point star to represent the eight federally recognized Native American tribes in Utah.

However, a constituent said it looked more like an asterisk, which the constituent said is what many Native American people feel as a result of the government.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, unveiled an updated design with a five-point star before the Senate voted 17-10 in favor of the bill.

The five-sided star represents both hope and 1896, the year Utah became a state, according to the amended description of the flag in McCay’s bill.

The bill will go into effect on March 9, 2024, if signed by the governor.

Building the new flag

Designers said they worked to combine the top two designs after receiving public feedback on the task force’s top five.

More than 44,000 Utahns — representing every county — submitted feedback surveys on the 20 semifinalist designs, which were selected from over 5,000 submissions. Each of the top five featured some form of critique.

The 20 semifinalist designs for Utah’s new state flag. (Utah State Flag Task Force)

“For example, southern Utah residents preferred rich, deep reds over oranges to represent the region’s distinctive red rock landscape, while Tribal leaders encouraged stars or other representations of the state’s eight sovereign nations,” the task force said.

“We are extremely pleased with the public response,” David Wicai, director of strategic initiatives at the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, told KSL.com, noting that almost every single ZIP code in Utah is represented in the feedback. “It seems that Utahns are pretty invested in selecting our next state flag and providing their feedback on what will work and what will represent Utah best.”

The task force said the foundational blue, similar to the current flag’s background, suggests natural resources, such as lakes and the sky, and principles such as knowledge, freedom and optimism.

The gold rim around the beehive represents strength and unity while the rugged white band represents Utah’s mountain landscapes and peace.

Finally, the red along the bottom evokes the red rocks of southern Utah.

Utah state flag history

Utah’s original flag was created in 1903 to be used at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Utah Gov. Heber M. Wells asked the Daughters of the American Revolution to oversee its creation.

The blue flag with the state seal and the year 1896 in white thread was known as the governor’s flag until 1911.

A gold seal was added and the seal was colorized in 1912, and the Utah Legislature officially adopted the changes in 1913.

Technically, Utah’s current state flag was officially adopted in 2011 after an error was introduced in 1922 and went unnoticed for 89 years.

In 2011, vexillologist John Hartvigsen said, “The ‘1847’ was moved from its correct position right below the word Utah on the shield, to a place below the shield. That has been followed by flag manufacturers ever since, even though it’s incorrect.”

A joint resolution fixed the error, moving it back to its correct spot on the shield, which was also colorized. Minor changes to the bald eagle and sego lilies were also made.

Utah state flag from 2011-2022

Why now?

A common question that was presented to the task force was “why now?”

The task force had a section of its website dedicated to the question, which says task force members “believe that designing a new state flag offers Utahns the chance to talk about who we are now. It’s a chance to talk about bigger questions that get to the heart of our identity nowwhile still honoring and building upon our history.

“A new flag can draw upon our history and be a symbol in a bigger initiative to think about what unites us. A new flag could be one step in helping all of us, together, face our pressing issues.”

State leaders also said the flag should have a simplified design that is more iconic — much like flags in neighboring Colorado and New Mexico.

This image from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office shows the state’s flag.

“Utah is a very distinctive state, but our current flag blends in with many other state flags. We can do better,” McCay said. “The new state flag can be simplified with a design that is both innovative and memorable.”

Cox has previously referred to the current state flag as an “S.O.B.” or “seal on a bedsheet” — a joke term from the vexillology community for a flag that uses a solid color (most commonly blue) background and the official seal or coat of arms of whatever it is representing as the main feature.

A survey of Utah residents said nearly half are proud of the current flag, but only one-third would wear the flag on clothing or as an accessory.

A graphic showing all 50 U.S. state flags. Utah’s flag is highlighted in red. It’s one of 24 current flags that’s nearly identical to each other, per Utah State Flag Task Force members. (Photo: State Flag Task Force)

In the survey, 36% indicated they would support a redesign while 35% wouldn’t. The remaining 29% said they neither support nor oppose a change.

Once a new state flag is chosen, officials said the current state flag will become the governor’s flag and will still be flown publicly. The state seal, which is displayed on the current state flag, will also remain in place.

“This is not an effort, at all, to take away our history,” Handy said. “This is an effort to modernize a symbol of our great state.”

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Utah Legislature approves new state flag