Utah’s 2022 legislative session begins Jan. 18, and for 45 days lawmakers will swarm Capital Hill and buzz, debating important issues and, inevitably, a few issues that don’t. While there is no script for the session, once you’ve seen enough of it patterns start to emerge. There are big bills that keep coming back, in one form or another, year after year, but never seem to see the polish of the governor’s office. There are emission-free bills that we hope to never see or hear again, but they insist on coming back from the dead. There are bills emerging that have more to do with national discourse than anything actually happening in the Hive State. But, at the end of the day, where lawmakers decide to invest money during the budget approval process shows what their priorities really are.
Maybe this year will be different
At the top of the “for real, we really mean it this year” list is an issue that many Utahns say they care about more than any other: air quality.
“Sometimes it takes a few years for good legislation to pass,” says Steve Erickson, lobbyist and policy maker for a range of nonprofit organizations that deal with housing and homelessness, poverty, environment and water conservation. “We would really like to see significant efforts in improving air quality in the legislature. It just did not happen.
But 2022 could be the year! Senator Kirk Cullimore (R-Sandy) has already announced legislation that could cut emissions in Utah by 50% by 2030. What they call Prosperity 2030 would create a program to help low-income Utahns get on with it. make it possible to buy cleaner vehicles and make them more expensive to register highly polluting cars. The legislation would also require companies to do their part to clean the air by implementing a cap-and-trade system that would set a limit on emissions, but allow companies to buy the capacity to pollute more from companies that pollute less than the state limit. It might be a tough sell to some lawmakers, but it likely won’t be the only clean air law on the Hill this year.
Follow the money
You may have noticed that like bad air, Utah affordable housing crisis did not resolve either. Every year, affordable housing advocates call on the legislature to invest more money in new housing. And in previous years, the legislature has ignored these demands or invested less than advocates say is actually needed. This year (or maybe next year), advocates hope to get some of the unused federal COVID funds earmarked for affordable housing projects.
In fact, there is a lot of unclaimed money around this session. On top of the unspent federal relief money, Utah has plenty of additional revenue to spend ahead of the 2022 legislative session, and everyone wants a slice of it. One idea that has floated out there is an old favorite—tax cuts. But some want to put a twist on the old idea. “On the low income side, rather than a flat tax cut that benefits the rich more than the middle class, we would like to see the end of the food sales tax,” Erickson said.
Another place some of that money could go? Education. Advocates are still calling on the legislature to increase the weighted student unit (how they calculate public funding for education), which Utah has some of the lowest per student spending of any state in the United States. Union.
Another lingering problem for the state is this goddamn drought. We have already seen a deluge of proposals and presentations on water use leading up to the general session, and we expect this to continue as well. There is more than one way to deal with a drought, but Erickson has reservations about how some of the money allocated for water could be used. “There is $ 100 million set aside for water use that has not been designated,” he says. “There are concerns that the money will be used to support the Lake Powell pipeline or the development of Bear River, rather than water conservation efforts. ”
Back from the dead
Last year, we saw a wave of anti-transgender laws that specifically targeted gender dysphoria treatment for underage and student trans athletes. The discussion resurfaced during the committee hearings before the general session, and the corresponding bills were seen emerging from their graves. On the other side of the transgender discussion, an attempt to standardize the process to change the gender marker on legal identification could also make a comeback.
This legislative session, expect Critical breed theory (something not taught in the Utah public school curriculum) to lead to discussions of curriculum transparency legislation. Meanwhile, educators in Utah will continue to fight for a living wage for teachers. As election security is a hot topic nationwide right now, we’re sure to see attempts to change the way we vote, including postal voting, although that’s something Utah is doing. very good, compared to most states.
Even though legislative sessions start to mix after a while, there are topics that are discussed that could change the quality and the way we live our lives.
What could make the difference this year are ordinary citizens showing up on the Hill and making their voices heard at public hearings, even if only to say, “Here we go again.”