2023 Session - Week 6
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The past few weeks have flown by! As we near the end of another great session, I look back on all we have accomplished with pride and gratitude. During week six, we heard bills on many important topics, and I spent several hours considering the thoughts of my fellow legislators and constituents. I appreciate each of you and your commitment to reaching out and letting me know your thoughts.
This week, we released updated revenue numbers and started to finalize the state budget. In Utah, we pride ourselves on balancing our budget and making wise financial decisions that will positively impact generations to come. This year’s budget isn’t any different. We are making strategic investments, including funding education, investing in statewide infrastructure and water needs, allocating money to rainy day reserves and reducing taxes for Utahns.
Below you will find a description of a few bills and other events. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. If you would like to get in touch with me, contact my intern Gracia Allen at email@example.com.
Budget Estimates for 2023-2024
Utah’s economy is in a strong position, ranking as the best state for economic outlook for 15 years in a row. Currently, Utah’s budget is robust, with an estimated $817 million in one-time and $410 million in ongoing money.
However, the country is experiencing increased risks and volatility, with predictions of economic slowdowns. We are making strategic investments and wise budget decisions this session to prepare for economic uncertainties and downturns.
The Legislature will finalize the state’s budget before the legislative session adjourns on March 3. FY 2023-24 begins July 1, 2023. Read more here.
Looking at Removing the Sales Tax on Food
Throughout the past year, Utahns have informed lawmakers that removing the sales tax on food is a priority. In response, the Legislature is currently considering H.B. 101 Food Sales Tax Amendments, which removes the state portion of sales tax on food, contingent on removing the constitutional earmark for income tax revenue, as laid out in S.J.R. 10.
While Utah’s economy is robust, the state’s current budget structure creates funding constraints. Currently, the Utah Constitution mandates all income tax revenue be used only to fund higher and public education, and children and people with disabilities.
Over the last few years, we have made historic investments in education, showing our commitment to Utah students and the education community. Under the current budget structure, sales tax on food helps to fund all state needs, including Medicaid, homeless programs, public safety, courts and parks. To continue funding these needed programs without the sales tax on food, we need to restructure the budget.
If the Legislature passes H.B. 101 and voters approve the change during the 2024 general election, eliminating the state sales tax on food would result in a $200 million total tax reduction. Read more here.
First Time Homebuyer Assistance Program
Over the last few years, home costs soared for both purchase and rent. Not only have prices increased, inventories are at all-time lows, making it increasingly more difficult for families to purchase their first homes.
S.B. 240 First-time Homebuyer Assistance Program allocates $50 million to the first time homebuyer assistance program. This program will help qualifying applicants receive a loan of up to $20,000 to buy down interest rates, apply funds toward a down payment or pay closing costs. The program assists Utahns across the state to get out of apartments and into homes while encouraging home builders to construct affordable housing. By doing this, we are helping address our state’s housing shortage and providing an opportunity for families to build equity. With the proposed funding, the first time homebuyers assistance program will help an estimated 2,500 families. Learn more here.
Protecting Utah’s Unborn
In Utah, we value all human life. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, legislators have worked with hospitals and doctors to provide greater clarity for healthcare professionals and women when it comes to protecting the unborn. H.B. 467 Abortion Changes does the following to protect our state’s most vulnerable population:
Makes performing an abortion in violation of statute unprofessional conduct for doctors and other medical providers.
Clarifies the exceptions of abortion to include medical emergencies, the physical health of the mother and fetal abnormalities that are incompatible with life.
Creates a presumption that children under 12 who become pregnant are victims of rape or incest.
Ends licenses issued for abortion clinics after May 2, 2023, and prohibits abortion clinics from operations beginning January 1, 2024.
Restricts the ability to receive an abortion due to rape or incest after the unborn child has reached 18 weeks gestational age.
Prohibits out of state providers from prescribing drugs for the purpose of causing an abortion.
H.B. 467 protects the unborn while safeguarding women who experience rape or complications during pregnancy. Read the bill here.
Autism Coverage Amendments
Adults with autism often need additional healthcare and resources that can be expensive and unobtainable for some families. S.B. 204 Autism Coverage Amendments aims to amend Medicaid coverage in Utah to include coverage for autism treatment services. The bill recently passed the Senate unanimously and will now be heard in the House. You can learn more here.
Transparency in our state’s government is essential. It helps create checks and balances between Utahns and those who represent them. With the goal of promoting increased transparency, H.B. 294 Governmental Entity Budget Transparency requires all proposed government budgets, whether state, city or any other government entity, to include percent change by fund and total budget, as well as the population change using information from federal census data. These changes aim to inform taxpayers and make more information available to Utahns.
How to Navigate the Legislative Website
This week’s tutorial on how to stay involved in the legislative process explains how to find and read votes on bills.
Bryce Canyon’s Centennial Year
Bryce Canyon is a stunning national park in our state. It was first established as Bryce Canyon National Monument on June 8, 1923, making 2023 its centennial year. We had the opportunity to recognize this beautiful landmark and welcome representatives from the area. I enjoyed the chance to recognize the incredible rock formations and the park’s rich history. For the past 100 years, Bryce Canyon has been a place of recreation for visitors from around the world. It is home to over 70 miles of trails and has welcomed more than 60 million visitors. I appreciate their hard work and the efforts of all visitors who keep Bryce Canyon in the best condition possible for future generations.
Utah is home to many incredible places, but Bryce Canyon National Park is truly special. I have loved visiting with my family over the years and would encourage anyone to witness this park’s incredible landscape in person.
Recognizing Utah’s Fallen Military Members
Last week, we expressed our heartfelt sympathies to the families of our fallen military members. The United States of America stands as a symbol of freedom throughout the world, and many Utahns have bravely carried freedom's banner at home and into foreign lands, paying the ultimate price defending freedom. This sacrifice is not one we take lightly. We are committed to remembering that the preservation of our liberty comes at a price, and that price is often paid by young men and women who selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives of innocent people. May the examples of these dedicated individuals serve as examples to all of us. Watch the recognition here.
Protecting Student Religious and Moral Beliefs
In 2022, we passed a resolution that encouraged education entities and athletics organizations in the state to accommodate religious and modesty concerns of student athletes. It encouraged schools and athletic organizations to modify uniform requirements to accommodate religious beliefs or personal values of modesty without barriers or limitations.
During this session, we passed H.B. 163, which protects students' choice to wear religious or moral headwear and clothing during athletic activities. Examples of this would include student athletes wishing to wear their hijab, yarmulke, turban or other articles consistent with the student athlete's beliefs. This bill ensures that the guidelines in last year’s resolution are secured for all student athletes going forward.
Railroad Crossing Maintenance Amendments
In 2022, a bill affirmed the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) authority to allocate railroad safety oversight at crossings, removing confusion caused by outdated references. This session, H.B. 232, establishes a process for the UDOT to oversee railroad crossings. It also further allows UDOT to assign maintenance, responsibilities and costs among highway authorities and railroads, clarifying the Public Service Commission’s administrative authority between UDOT and railroads. Under H.B. 232, new or improved highway-railroad grade crossings are to be funded solely by non-federal funds. Ultimately, the bill intends to help improve safety at grade railroad crossings by ensuring regular, high-quality maintenance is performed by the appropriate entity. See the bill here.
Aerospace Industry Day on the Hill
We welcomed Utah's talented, innovative aerospace industry to Capitol Hill. Aviation and the aerospace industry are woven into the fabric of our state and further solidify our position as the crossroads of the West. Utah is home to Hill Air Force Base, Falcon Hill Aerospace Park, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and more. Our state is known for its achievements in aerospace and defense. This is largely because, over the past few years, Utah has invested in this industry and collaborated with higher education institutions and companies to create a ready workforce. Our state has top-notch aerospace engineers, materials scientists and machine operators that studied at our public universities. You can find out more about Utah's Aerospace Industry here.
Agricultural land is taxed at a lower rate than other types of land. However, when agricultural land changes use, state law requires the property owner to pay rollback taxes on the property to reflect the higher tax to which the property would have been subject. H.B. 397 allows a piece of agricultural property to avoid rollback taxes and continue being taxed as agricultural land if it changes use to urban farmland, meaning it is one to five acres and is actively used for urban farming. It also makes renewing a piece of property’s designation as urban farmland easier by establishing a streamlined renewal application form. You can read the bill here.
Electrification of Utah’s Transportation System
Our state is home to the largest transportation electrification research center in the nation, the ASPIRE Center, located at Utah State University. S.B. 125 Transportation Infrastructure Amendments begins the process of planning for transportation electrification and designates the ASPIRE Center as the lead research center for strategic planning for electrification in our state. The bill also creates a steering committee where stakeholders from across the state analyze Utah's electrification ecosystem and identify gaps across industries. As the stakeholders examine transportation electrification, they will report their findings to the Legislature, allowing Utah to make innovative decisions that effectively fill current gaps in state electrification. You can read the bill here.
Clarifying Conversion Therapy Regulations
In 2019, the Department of Professional Licensing implemented an administrative rule that prohibited all licensed mental health therapists and psychologists in Utah from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The administrative rule created some confusion for therapists and psychologists regarding what they could discuss with their minor patients. Because health professionals feared losing their license, some stopped working with minors, preventing minors from accessing needed treatment. H.B. 228 Unprofessional Conduct Amendments clarifies what a therapist can discuss with their minor patients while codifying the ban on conversion therapy for minors. The bill has consensus from all sides and passed both the Senate and House unanimously. The bill will now be sent to the governor. You can learn more about the bill here.
S.B. 254 Drug-induced Homicide Amendments
With the rise in drug-related deaths, the Legislature is working to create policies that will prevent future tragedies. S.B. 254 Drug-induced Homicide Amendments creates a new felony that can be used by prosecutors when charging individuals who cause a drug-related death. The bill outlines that if a distributor of a controlled substance contributes or causes the death of an individual, the distributor could be charged with a second degree felony. By giving prosecutors additional tools, we will be able to do more to combat the drug problems confronting our state. You can learn more about the bill here.
Lease Provisions for Victims of Domestic Violence
In domestic violence situations, a victim may need new housing arrangements for their safety. The Legislature previously passed legislation that allows victims of domestic violence to end their rental lease if they have a specific protective order. This year, the Legislature is examining H.B. 314 Remedies for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendments, which would add four additional types of protective orders victims of domestic violence can use when ending a rental lease in order to move to a safer location. You can read the bill here.
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 20