After 45 days, we're excited to share that Utah's 2017 General Legislative session is in the books. This session has been tremendous for Utah's business community. While there is still work to be done, we cannot help but applaud the Legislature.
We also sincerely appreciate all of your efforts this session as business leaders. Without your engagement, our accomplishments would not have been possible. The Chamber had more than a dozen priorities, supported 76 bills, opposed 10 bills and had more than 250 bills on our watch lists. This means we have a lot of information to share about the impact of this session on your business and our community.
As such, we are planning two Legislative Recaps on:
In the meantime, here are some brief highlights of the session:
Legislators were unable to close the gap on tax reform this session. However, the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House have each committed to working on this effort during the interim with plans to address the issue of tax reform in the 2018 General Legislative Session. We look forward to working with them in this undertaking.
While there are still significant needs, we are encouraged that the Legislature committed more than 80 percent of new revenue to education. Utah lawmakers approved nearly $240 million in new money for public education, including $68 million for growth and a 4 percent increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit. This provides a solid foundation for the year ahead and a discussion on how we continue to enhance our funding effort in education for Utah's children.
- Expanding optional all-day kindergarten;
- A new computing pathways program to train talent for Utah's Silicon Slopes;
- Performance funding for higher education tied to job creation, and;
- A $5,000 bonus to top-performing teachers working in high-poverty schools.
This bodes well for Utah's future and the employers demanding a highly-qualified workforce.
After the great leadership of Rep. Wilson and Sen. Hemmert, the Legislature has now partnered with Governor Herbert for the most extensive overhaul of regulatory policy in state history. Specifically,
helps legislators make better-informed decisions, produce smarter regulation and enhance transparency.
The Legislature took significant steps to keep Utah moving with a $1 billion bond, modifications to the gas-tax to match the intent of 2015 and keep pace with inflation, and a new policy task force to study the future of transportation in our state.
Alleviating the concerns of many, the Legislature decided to both defeat non-compete legislation and withhold further legislative action this session. This came on the heels of the comprehensive non-compete research results to inform decision making on the issue during the interim period.
Thanks to an immense effort, Rep. Wilson, and Sen. Stevenson found a reasonable compromise to modernize Utah's alcohol laws. As the business community, we support the regulation of alcohol that satisfies public demand, ensures public safety, discourages underage drinking, and cultivates a welcoming and hospitable climate for tourism and business recruitment efforts.
This review of existing alcohol regulation made changes to retail licensing, an increase in markup on alcoholic beverages, electronic age verification requirements and provisions for removal of a bar structure. It also made significant strides to improve education for minors and enhancements for public safety. The bill sponsors have also agreed to a continued dialogue on this issue to address any unintended consequences if they arise.
Defended Small Business:
The Chamber represents small businesses at every turn, fighting against over regulation, promoting good government while also preventing intrusive government involvement in business operations. The majority of bills we opposed this session would have made it more difficult for small businesses to remain the lifeblood of our economic success and be the provider of hundreds of thousands of jobs for Utah families. This included:
- Stopping an expansion of FMLA requirements to smaller employers with a commitment to consider alternative options in the interim.
- Defeating a proposal to hike the minimum wage incrementally to $15 an hour. In fact, legislative analysts estimated this would cost our economy 93,558 jobs and $11.9 billion in Gross-State-Product.
Breath of Fresh Air:
Significantly improving Utah's air quality realistically comes down to thousands of personal decisions by Utah residents and businesses. This does not preclude legislative action, but it does make their impact often limited or draconian. Nonetheless, two air quality bills advanced that have the potential to significantly improve Utah's air quality.
A new air quality policy board, championed by Rep. Hawkes, will include members of the private sector and seek to use real scientific data on the cost and benefit of specific policy choices to drive consensus. Additionally, Sen. Adams advanced a new clean fuels incentive for Utah's refineries that has the potential to reduce emissions by 7-11 percent immediately, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality.
Taking Care of the Poorest Amongst Us: The Legislature fully embraced addressing homelessness and affordable housing as a state issue. Legislators advanced a bill that addresses the state's $20 million contribution toward new homeless resource centers, specifically for two in Salt Lake City and a third in a yet-to-be-decided location in Salt Lake County. The bill also included a firm date that the Salt Lake Road Home shelter will close by June 30, 2019.
The Legislature also approved Rep. Edwards' H.B. 36, which will allocate nearly $7 million in tax credits over 10 years to affordable housing projects, in addition to $2 million for a new investment fund to convert existing projects into affordable housing. We applaud these efforts and appreciate the collaboration of all those involved.
Again, there are dozens of business issues to discuss and we hope you will join us for our two Legislative Recaps on:
Thanks for your support,
Salt Lake Chamber Policy Team