UTAH LEGISLATURE

These are the biggest unresolved issues as Utah lawmakers enter last week of session

Feb 25, 2024, 8:11 PM

FILE - The Utah Capitol is shown on March 3, 2023. Utah lawmakers have just five days left to pass ...

FILE - The Utah Capitol is shown on March 3, 2023. Utah lawmakers have just five days left to pass hundreds of bills before time runs out for the legislative session on midnight on March 1. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have just five days left to pass hundreds of bills before time runs out for the legislative session on midnight on March 1.

Lawmakers passed a record number of bills last session and still managed to adjourn with a couple of hours to spare — a rarity that seldom replaces the scramble to pass as much as possible before the clock strikes midnight — but have their work cut out for them this year.

The 2024 session was off to a slower start than usual through the first five weeks, according to Adam Brown, a political scientist at Brigham Young University who has tracked the workload of lawmakers going back to 2007. Legislators picked up the pace during the last week, and the House of Representatives worked until nearly 10 p.m. Thursday to vote on dozens of bills.

Nearly 180 bills have passed both chambers as of Wednesday, and lawmakers will likely approve more than 500 of the nearly 1,000 numbered bills by the time the dust has settled.

Here are a few key proposals still on the table to watch over the next week:

Tax cuts?

Republican legislative leaders have consistently touted major tax relief passed in recent sessions, and have long had their eye on yet another tax cut in 2024. Lawmakers are considering reducing the state’s income tax rate from 4.65% to 4.55% at a cost of nearly $170 million.

“I call it a tax cut again, again, again and again now,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Thursday. “Some of us think it’s a really good idea.”

SB69, Income Tax Amendments, passed the Senate on Jan. 31 and got approval from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Friday morning. It now awaits a vote in the House of Representatives.

Major League Baseball, hockey stadiums

As state leaders have begun wooing potential Major League Baseball and National Hockey League franchises to the Beehive State, a major question has been whether taxpayer funds will be used to construct new stadiums. Lawmakers have recently unveiled proposals to fund half of an estimated $1.8 billion baseball stadium and redirect about $1 billion over the next three decades for a sports complex to include a hockey arena in downtown Salt Lake City.

HB562 creates a framework for a possible baseball stadium while SB272 would create a sports and entertainment project area to house a potential hockey team. HB562 was approved by the House Government Operations Committee on Friday, while SB272 is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Social media regulations

If Utah lawmakers going after major social media platforms in an effort to protect kids online feels like deja vu, you’re not alone. Utah passed first-in-the-nation social media regulations last year, and is planning significant overhauls to those laws following legal challenges from the tech industry and residents.

In a nutshell, lawmakers this year are targeting so-called “engagement-driven designs,” such as infinitely scrolling feeds and algorithm-driven content, by making it easier for parents to sue companies that use those features for alleged harm to minors. Platforms that limit the use of such features for accounts owned by minors will be given safe harbor from the presumption of harm in legal cases.

SB194 passed the Senate on Wednesday, while its companion bill, HB464, advanced through the House late Thursday.

Changes to election law

When it comes to election law, some lawmakers are looking to end the state’s municipal experiment with ranked choice voting a year early. Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to give cities the option of using ranked choice voting in 2018, but six years later some say it has run its course.

HB290 would end the ranked choice voting pilot program on May 1, rather than its initial repeal date of Jan. 1, 2026. The bill passed the House on Thursday.

Lawmakers are also looking at raising the threshold to 60% of voters’ approval to pass ballot initiatives that raise taxes. Voters in 2018 approved an expansion of Medicaid that would have failed under the proposed threshold.

The proposal would require a constitutional amendment be approved by voters this fall. HB284 has passed the House and a Senate committee and awaits consideration on the Senate floor, along with the accompanying proposed constitutional amendment, HJR14.

Affordable housing and homelessness

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox focused on affordable housing and homelessness in his annual budget proposal, but it remains to be seen if lawmakers will approve his $193 million request for emergency shelter space and affordable housing.

Representatives on Thursday approved a pair of bills to target barriers to affordable housing and increase the number of owner-occupied homes, and a bill to allow cities to create zoning for affordable, owner-occupied housing was approved by a Senate committee on Friday.

HB465 and HB476 now head to the Senate for consideration, while SB268 will need to pass through both chambers next week.

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These are the biggest unresolved issues as Utah lawmakers enter last week of session