Feb 27, 2023 - News

5 Utah bills we're watching from tax cuts to defunding DEI

Illustration of the Utah State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Utah's 2023 legislative session ends Friday.

Here are some of the most consequential bills we're tracking that would make a splash if passed:

1. SB 283 — Eliminates DEI officers and departments

SB 283 seeks to prohibit the funding of diversity, equity and inclusion departments and officers across Utah's public colleges and universities.

Why it matters: Nearly all public higher-ed institutions statewide have existing diversity, equity and inclusion offices and staff.

What they're saying: In a statement, the bill's sponsor, state Sen. John Johnson (R-North Ogden), told Axios that stakeholders have shared concerns that "current DEI bureaucracies within public universities may prioritize promoting particular political or social ideologies over academic rigor and intellectual diversity."

  • Noting it's "a complex topic," he said the intent behind the bill is to keep universities "free from any ideological coercion."

The latest: Senate President Stuart Adams indicated at a news conference on Friday the bill would be heavily amended, but didn't provide further details.

  • A Utah System of Higher Education spokesperson told Axios its governing board had no stance on the measure as it's likely to change.

Be smart: It'll be an uphill battle for this to pass before the end of the session.

2. HB 464 — Creates a rating system for books

The proposed measure would require the State Board of Education to establish an age-appropriateness rating system for books and instructional materials.

  • It would also require schools engage in a review process of instructional materials if a parent alleges the content is prohibited under state law.
  • After the evaluation process, schools would have to publicly vote on whether to reinstate the challenged material.

Flashback: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill last year banning materials in schools considered pornographic or indecent.

Why it matters: Now, this bill could further restrict student access to books deemed inappropriate by parents.

  • The latest: HB 464 being considered in the House.

3. HB 101 — Removes food sales tax

As Utahns weather inflation, Republicans are proposing to eliminate the 1.75% state sales tax on food.

Why it matters: Republicans are tying this tax cut proposal in an effort to remove the constitutional education earmark for income tax revenue. The Utah Constitution requires state income tax to pay for education and other social services.

  • For the sales tax on food to be eliminated, voters would have to approve the amendment in 2024.

What they're saying: "Under the current budget structure, sales tax on food helps to fund all state needs, including Medicaid, homeless programs, public safety, courts, parks, etc." Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner (R-Ogden) said in a statement earlier this month. "To continue funding these needed programs without the sales tax on food, we will need to restructure the budget."

The other side: While some Democrats advocated for this last year, many are critical of conservatives for linking the tax cut to possible education spending reductions.

By the numbers: If passed, the bill would decrease state sales tax revenue in FY 2025 by nearly $84 million.

The latest: The bill has been sent to the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee for consideration.

4. SB 117 — Requiring lethality assessments for domestic violence victims

The measure, co-sponsored by state Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross), would require law enforcement conduct an 11-question lethality assessment when responding to domestic violence-related calls.

  • Questions range from whether a victim has been strangled by their partner or if they own a gun.

Why it matters: Identifying risk factors early can help police and victim service providers support victims, per the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

The latest: The bill has been assigned to the House Rules Committee for debate.

5. HB 102 — In-state tuition for refugees, humanitarian paroles

Backed by both Republicans and Democrats, the bill would require public universities and colleges to grant residency to students who aren't U.S. citizens but have been granted or applied for refugee or humanitarian parole status.

Why it matters: The measure would help these students pay in-state tuition regardless of their citizenship.

What to watch: The bill will be sent to the governor's desk for his signature.

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