2018 Legislative Session in Review

Utah’s 2018 Legislative Session adjourned sine die on March 8th, officially ending the 45-day process. This year’s session was primarily dominated by critical issues facing Utah including education funding, reactions to initiative petitions, tax reform, inland port authority, and the opioid crisis.

Utah constantly ranks at the bottom of nation for per-pupil funding yet our graduation rates, test scores, and other performance metrics are at or near the top in the nation. The threat of the “Our Schools Now” ballot initiative forced the legislature to compromise in the final hours of the legislative session on a bill that freezes property taxes rates but when property values increase, so do homeowners’ tax bills. The bill also lowers income taxes slightly (from 5% to 4.95%). This will generate $122 million in additional tax revenues that will go directly to education funding. “Our Schools Now” has agreed not to pursue their ballot initiative at this time.

The legislature also passed a joint resolution placing a non-binding question on the November ballot asking voters if they would support a 10 cent gas tax increase to further help fund education. If this is enacted along with the tax bill, the state will collect an estimated additional $375 million in tax revenue.

The northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City will see some dramatic changes in the next five years from a newly renovated airport, construction of the relocated state prison, and the development of an inland port. Utah’s elected officials have been working on the governance structure of what a possible inland port authority should look like. After a year-long discussion with stakeholders, developers, transportation entities, local and state officials, a bill was passed that usurps Salt Lake City’s authority and creates an 11-member board cobbled together from a coalition of stakeholders. Salt Lake City is only granted one member from the city council and one member designated by the Salt Lake Airport Director. This caused the Salt Lake City mayor and Council, the Salt Lake County Council and Salt Lake City legislators to request a veto from Governor Herbert which they were unsuccessful in obtaining. The Governor signed the bill but  stated he wanted  issues addressed in the near future. So there is discussion at the State Capitol of a possibility of a Special Session this summer to address the controversial issues in the legislation.

As in past years, a flurry of bills were introduced attempting to address the opioid epidemic plaguing Utahns. The primary outcomes were bills that increase awareness campaigns, provide more training for high opioid prescribers, requiring consultation of the controlled substance database before prescribing opioid, and most notably, a bill encouraging the Attorney General to sue drug manufacturers.  

The final days of the legislative session were consumed with heated budget negotiations between the House and Senate. The complete budget came down to the wire on the final night.  

There are three important dates to keep in mind. The Governor has until March 29th to sign or veto any bills. Bills not signed or vetoed by this date will automatically become law on the regular effective date. The legislature has until May 7th to call a veto override session. All bills will become effective as of May 8th unless otherwise specified.  

Interim & Elections

The Legislature will likely convene their first interim meeting in May. Interim hearing will be held on the third Wednesday of every month except for possibly July and December. They can also hold hearings at their discretion that same week, or as otherwise specified.  

Every seat in the State House of Representatives is up this year and due to a high number of notable retirements, a majority of State Senate seats will also be up. Utah’s senior US Senator Orrin Hatch is retiring leaving Mitt Romney as his air apparent for that seat. Congressional races in Utah seem fairly uneventful with the exception of Mia Love who is being challenged by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.