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Utahns First – Sustainability at Every Level  

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Friends and Neighbors, 


Our goal coming into the 2024 General Session was to echo our pioneering ancestors' thoughtful planning in everything we did. Their forward-thinking changed this once-arid terrain into the fertile landscape we know and love today, which is why we implemented a Utahns-first approach with water, energy, housing, criminal justice reform and tax cuts. These fundamental investments will lay the groundwork for future generations to not only survive in this great state but to thrive. 


Our foremost concern was prioritizing families, which is why we reduced taxes for the fourth consecutive year, allowing Utahns to keep more of their hard-earned money, especially in the midst of inflation and economic stagnation. We also focused on enhancing conservation efforts and expanding water resources statewide to support future growth. 


Ensuring school safety was a paramount objective. We allocated $100 million to guarantee that students feel secure within our educational institutions, nurturing their potential as future leaders. Additionally, we took steps toward creating a comprehensive, long-term strategic energy plan. This plan aims to maintain affordable energy costs for Utahns, safeguard ratepayers and establish a sustainable, resilient power grid.  


We remain dedicated to enacting forward-thinking policies that will provide our grandkids and great-grandkids with the tools they need to face every challenge head-on. The Beehive State will continue to prosper as we move through 2024 with our Utahns' first mindset.


Budget Overview 

It is our constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget each year. Early in the session, we pass a streamlined base budget to ensure the continued success of our state. Near the end of the session, the Legislature passes the “Bill of Bills,” (H.B. 3 Appropriations Adjustments) allocates requested funds to needed programs that will benefit our state and keep us financially secure. Our total state budget this year was a remarkable $29.4 billion, the largest budget in Utah’s history. 


While preparing and finalizing the budget, our vision extends beyond the immediate fiscal year; we are strategically planning to meet the needs of our children and grandchildren. This year we made deliberate investments in education, social services, energy and water while ensuring we are living within our means. 


Utah’s economy is in a strong position, ranking as the best state for economic outlook for 16 years in a row. Utah is the best-prepared state in the nation for economic uncertainties. We are committed to ensuring Utah continues to be well-prepared for current and future needs by making strategic investments and wise budget decisions.   


Alcohol Policy Changes 

Being one of the 17 states that oversee the sale and distribution of alcohol, Utah applies a unique and highly involved approach to alcohol regulation. As part of this, the Legislature updates and alters alcohol-oriented laws as needed. This year’s H.B. 548 Alcohol Amendments encompasses a comprehensive set of revisions to Utah’s alcohol regulations, including expanding full-service restaurant and bar licenses, establishing hotel and resort portability, changes in markup rates, taxation adjustments, enforcement enhancements and other measures. These policies all work to promote responsible alcohol consumption, protect public safety and reflect Utahns’ values and preferences, all while considering the state’s expansion and needs. Learn more here. 


A primary component of H.B. 548 is expanding the number of full-service restaurant and bar licenses to meet population growth and demographic changes. Specifically, full-service (FS) restaurant licenses will gradually increase from one per population of 4,467 to 3,167 over seven years. The total increase will be about 312 additional licenses, bringing the total number of FS restaurant licenses to 1,073 statewide by fiscal year 2031. 


Taxes on alcoholic beverages will help fund programs and initiatives aimed at mitigating or treating the harmful consequences of alcohol use and misuse. H.B. 548 implements a markup increase of 0.5% on liquor, wine and flavored malt beverages, the revenue of which will finance addiction recovery programs. A $0.25/year increase on beer tax and heavy beer tax over the next several years will fund additional compliance and enforcement officers in the state, with three additional officers to be added to the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) for code compliance in retail outlets. For victims abused by those under the influence of alcohol, this bill adds provisions for defendants and counsel to receive copies of DUI and accident reports for possible civil litigation. 


Finally, the bill allows hotel and resort patrons to carry purchased alcoholic beverages in unmarked/opaque cups to designated areas such as their rooms. A cash bar pilot program will also be initiated to track cash purchases, requiring patron information based on ID checks.  


Find additional provisions of the bill here or by watching the bill’s committee presentation here. 


Updating the Role of the Utah Inland Port Authority 

The Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) was established to ensure our state has the infrastructure necessary to support economic growth while preserving our valuable natural resources. S.B. 264 Inland Port Authority Amendments addresses several aspects of the UIPA’s functioning to promote transparency, efficiency and adaptability in light of evolving project areas and statewide expansion.  


One of the focuses of the bill is to prevent the misuse of tax differentials for developer costs and clarify that public infrastructure does not encompass expenses related to developer building costs. This safeguard helps maintain fiscal responsibility and prevent any potential diversion of public funds. Learn more about what the bill does here. 


Protecting Utah’s Precious Metals 

Utah has valuable natural resources such as gold, lead, silver and zinc. H.B. 348 Precious Metals Amendments implements measures to protect these assets. The bill appoints a precious metals expert to research and recommend the best way to protect Utahns from the devaluation or demonetization of precious metals. It also gives the state treasurer the option to invest a portion of the state's rainy-day funds in precious metals, with limitations on the percentage of investment. Additionally, the state treasurer must conduct a study on the role of precious metals in the state's economic security and prosperity, the results of which will be presented in an upcoming Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. 


Addressing the Surge of Undocumented Immigrants 

Failures by the federal government have led to a crisis at our nation’s border, leaving southern states unable to manage the influx of undocumented immigrants entering the country. Solving this issue requires cooperation and coordination at every level, which is why the Legislature passed H.B. 165 Law Enforcement Amendments 


We are a state and a nation of immigrants, but laws must be followed to ensure the safety and well-being of those who choose to call our country and state home. H.B. 165 requires a federal officer to provide written notice three days before releasing an undocumented immigrant to Utah’s attorney general or the county sheriff of the relevant county. The notice should include specific details, such as the release location, date and time, along with information about any outstanding criminal warrants. This information will help our local officials maintain public safety and order when working with federal officers on immigration-related issues. 


Bolstering State Security 

As our world grows increasingly interconnected, we need to continuously strengthen our national security. H.B. 404 Public Entity Restrictions addresses security concerns in three critical ways. First, it prohibits state agencies from purchasing technology manufactured by restricted foreign entities. Second, it prohibits a city from entering into a sister-city relationship with provinces or cities worldwide that are housing slave labor camps. Finally, it prevents the state from purchasing products made entirely by slave labor. These measures will help mitigate potential security risks and protect Utahns’ privacy and data. 


Providing Flexibility for Utah’s Farmers 

While conserving our water resources is critical to our state, we must balance these efforts with the needs of Utah’s agricultural communities. H.B. 520 Fallow Land Amendments allows temporary fallowing if it is part of an agricultural plan or water conservation effort. This bill gives farmers and landowners the flexibility to manage their farms and optimally use natural resources while still ensuring that fallow land meets the criteria for an agricultural or urban farming assessment.  


Fostering Safety in School Zones 

Nothing is more important to Utah than protecting our families, which is why we must ensure children are safe and secure from traffic while walking in school zones. H.B. 345 Driving Penalty Amendments increase fines for speeding in school zones and failure to obey school bus signals from $50 to $260. This section of the code, which had not been updated since 1997, provides better incentives for driving safely and aims to protect kids and teens from harm. 


Inmate Housing 

Correctional facilities have asked for guidance on the assignment of inmates to certain housing units.  H.B. 316 Inmate Assignment Amendments clarifies inmates will be assigned housing based on their biological sex at birth. This bill also creates a process for an inmate to request assignment to opposite-sex housing if certain factors, such as the security of other inmates and staff, are determined to be low risk. If an inmate meets the guidelines for housing reassignment, a correctional facility will conduct a regular security analysis to determine if the inmate's security risk remains low. You can learn more about the bill here 


Expediting the Expungement Process 

In recent years, Utah has been amending the process for expunging a criminal record. Depending on the crime committed, some items qualify to be automatically expunged from an individual's criminal record after a certain period. However, the automatic expungement process is experiencing a significant backlog with more than 300,000 records waiting for automatic expungement, resulting in years-long waits for many individuals to receive expungement. This delay makes it difficult for some individuals to find a job or housing.  


To help individuals who would benefit from a timely expungement,  H.B. 352 Amendments to Expungement creates a process for an individual to fill out a form requesting to be moved to the front of the auto-expungement waiting list. Many individuals in line for expungement are deceased or in holding facilities for other more extreme crimes. This refined expungement process creates an avenue for individuals to receive a timely expungement. 


Protecting Utah from Harmful Administrative Overreach 

For more than 40 years, the courts have enabled federal overreach by deferring to federal agencies' interpretation of laws passed by the U.S. Congress, creating a lack of accountability. Instead of being clear on intent, Congress has granted agencies the authority to implement and carry out various regulatory rules. Because the scope of their jurisdiction is often left vague, agencies have free rein to determine how far their control and interpretation of laws extend, leading to many cases of administrative overreach. Additionally, the interpretation of action is subject to drastic shifts when changes in administration occur, creating even more confusion and instability. 


The Founding Fathers were clear when they formed the Constitution. The Legislative Branch is responsible for making laws and is accountable to the people who elected them. The Executive Branch is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the law. In Utah, we, as lawmakers, strive to ensure the laws we pass are specific and direct to minimize confusion and government overreach. Unfortunately, Congress has often neglected its duty by passing vaguely worded legislation without clear intent. 


Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that courts use to rely on agency interpretation of vague laws Congress passes, is expected to be reconsidered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming months. Anticipating the Chevron deference is overturned, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 470 Federal Agency Regulator Review Amendments. This bill requires state agencies to identify and report to the Attorney General's Office all state government functions impacted by the Chevron deference. This information will allow the state to challenge overreaching federal regulations, protect Utah from inaccurate interpretations from federal agencies and preserve our state sovereignty. 


Legislature Expresses Friendship and Support for Taiwan 

Utah has had a strong relationship with Taiwan since 1956, and it continues to grow stronger year after year. During this session, the Senate unanimously passed a joint resolution expressing our friendship and support for Taiwan. The Legislature also formed a bi-partisan Taiwan Friendship Caucus to discuss opportunities to strengthen economic and cultural ties between Taiwan and Utah. Additionally, Utah recently strengthened its relationship with Taiwan by participating in a driver's license reciprocity agreement, which allows Utah driver's licenses to be recognized in Taiwan and vice versa. 



Ron Winterton 

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