Utah's Legislature Gets To Work


(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks before the Utah Legislature Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Herbert is using his annual State of the State speech to focus less on specific policies he'd like to see lawmakers tackle this year and instead giving them broad directives to take on big challenges.

The Utah state legislature went back to work this week, tackling a slew of issues ranging from drugs to taxes.

What can we expect from lawmakers in Salt Lake City this session?

Michelle Price covers the Utah Legislature for the Associated Press.

She said some of the main things lawmakers will be working on include tax reform, education and the state's surprisingly high teen suicide rate.

One thing Gov. Gary Herbert did not do during his State of the State address this week is outline a bullet list of items he wants lawmakers to tackle.

"Governor Herbert took a different tack in his speech Wednesday night," she said. "Instead of laying specific policies he wants Utah legislators to address this year, he kept it very broad and gave them a directive to look down the road decades from now -- 100 years from now -- and think about what they’re doing today and how it will affect Utah in the decades to come."

Utah may inch toward some kind of legalized marijuana this year if lawmakers pass a comprehensive medical marijuana bill. Price said there is a ballot measure addressing the issue, but some lawmakers would like to pass a bill allowing the drug's use for terminally ill patients as a way to "take the wind out of the sails" of the ballot measure, she said.

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Lawmakers are also looking for a solution to the clogged canyon roads that lead from the Salt Lake Valley into the ski resorts in the mountains. Price said some lawmakers are thinking about toll roads on those roads as a way to raise money and cut down on congestion.

Unlike Nevada, Utah has an income tax. It is a flat 5 percent, but lawmakers had considered changing it until the federal tax reform package was passed.

"Utah legislators are trying to figure out how the federal tax reform will affect Utah, and now there is a hesitation to make too many big moves at this point," Price said.

On top of that, Price said some lawmakers realize that if the state lowers the income tax rate, increasing it again could be difficult.

She said as a general philosophy, lawmakers and governors in Utah like to keep taxes low but make those taxes as broad as possible. She said lawmakers might try to eliminate exemptions and loopholes to gather more taxes, rather than raising the rate.



Michelle Price, Associated Press

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