End of Utah’s 2019 Legislative Session Report

Another session is in the books! Foxley & Pignanelli is proud to have completed another legislative session. 2019 was a unique year of new faces and unprecedented issues. As your designated Utah politicos, we are pleased to provide you an end of session summary, complete with color commentary:

Tax Reform

You can’t discuss the 2019 session without mentioning H.B. 441 Substitute -- Tax Equalization and Reduction Act (Rep. Quinn, T.). State leadership is concerned that the General Fund is in danger of diminishing as sales tax receipts decrease due to changes in the economy. Governor Gary Herbert collaborated with House leadership to craft this tax reform bill to reduce the state’s overall sales tax rate by extending taxes to professional services never taxed before. The rapid introduction and inclusion of all these services created a dramatic response from many Utahns. Lawmakers sent the bill to study and may brought back in special session sometime this summer.

Hate Crimes

Senator Thatcher worked tirelessly to pass S.B. 103 -- Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements (Sen. Thatcher, D.), a hate crimes bill that increases the penalty for criminals who target victims based on personal attributes like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, family status, homelessness, college attendance, or gender identity.

Alcohol

Another bill to buzz about in the beehive state was S.B. 132 -- Beer Amendments(Sen. Stevenson, J.). T he original version increased the permissible alcohol content of off-premise beers from 3.2% to 4.8%. Currently in Utah, beers that are sold outside of state liquor stores are capped to the 3.2%, one of only two states in the country with this limit. Merchants desired changes in response to beer manufacturers ceasing the production of low alcohol content beers. After much debate, the cap was lowered from 4.8% to 4.0%, and requested interim study for research.

Conversion Therapy

Representative Hall ran legislation that would ban the practice of therapy to change a minor’s sexial preference and/ or gender identification. The bill gained attention when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints publicly announced they would not oppose the bill. But the bill was eventually altered in the House Judiciary Committee with a substitute that essentially only placed a ban on the most severe forms of conversion therapy and did not include transgender minors. There was much debate as to what should fall under the definition of conversion therapy with no consensus. As a result, the bill was tabled. Media attention and rallies at the capitol which indicates the conversation will carry to future legislative sessions.
H.B. 399 -- Prohibition of the Practice of Conversion Therapy upon Minors
(Rep. Hall, Medicaid Expansion
In the 2018 elections, Utahns voted in favor of Proposition 3 which implemented full Medicaid expansion.There was major concern amongst lawmakers as to the feasibility of the state funding this in the long term and the legislature passed S.B. 96 -- Medicaid Expansion Adjustments (Sen. Christensen, A.). The bill alters Proposition 3 by including enrollment caps, a work requirement, and seeks federal waivers.

Looking ahead:

Golden Spike

It’s almost time for the party of the century! Doug has been hard at work bringing together stakeholders from across the state and country to ensure this is a celebration worthy of such a historical event. Art, culture, history, tourism, business and more have all come together to make this celebration an important part of history. By May 10, 2019 Doug will have raised over $6M in private and public contributions to fund a celebration of transcontinental railroad. Additionally, on March 12th of this year, President Trump signed the Natural Resources Management Act, which was sponsored by Congressman Bishop and designates the Golden Spike National Historic Site as a Historic National Park. There may or may not have been a Foxley behind that legislation.

Better Days 2020

What could possibly challenge the Golden Spike celebration in historical significance for the state of Utah? The year 2020 will mark the 150th anniversary of Utah being the first state where women voted in our country. The year also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted all U.S. women the right to vote. Foxley and Pignanelli is proud to represent the organization behind the celebrations next year, Better Days 2020, in legislative affairs.

Ongoing issues:

Marijuana

Though the legislature altered the 2018 voter affirmed Proposition 2- which legalized patient access to medical marijuana - the marijuana discussions continue. Legislation was passed this session addressing topics from the transportation of cannabis to an appropriation that calls for a study on the effects of cannabis.

Inland Port

The Inland Port was conceived in the 2018 legislative session and lawmakers continue to iron out logistics and power associated with its creation. This year, Rep. Gibson sponsored HB 443. The bill extends the boundaries of the port, reorganizes powers, and introduces what the Representative refers to as a ‘Hub-and-Spoke’ approach -which looks to include more rural communities so they have an easier time clearing international customs with their exports.

Tax reform

HB 441 (mentioned above) was abandoned just shy of one week of being released but the Legislature sent a clear message that this is the beginning of tax reform conversations. To illustrate their sense of urgency to find a solution for the dwindling general fund, they converted all ongoing state appropriations to one-time funding. Furthermore, HB 441 was replaced with H.B. 495 -- Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force (Rep. Schultz, M.), s o options can be further explored. As of now, there are many. There is talk of possibly restructuring the ‘broaden the base, lower the rate’ proposal we saw in HB 441 to possibly reissuing a sales tax on food. At this point there does not seem to be a precise course of action.

Important dates:
Last day for Gov sign or veto bills: April 3rd
Veto override session: May 13th
Bills will become effective on May 14th unless otherwise noted in the legislation.