Conversion therapy, tax reform bills fail to pass

The 2019 Utah Legislative Session saw state lawmakers pass hundreds of bills, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law roughly 500 of them by an April 3 deadline.

Herbert has made one veto so far, which was on S.B. 123, a bill that would have amended the process by which state legislators appoint Utah representatives to vacancies in the U.S. House and Senate.

Here is an overview of some of the other top items to come out of this session:

Tax reform

After high-profile mentions of changes to tax structure, including in Herbert’s 2019 State of the State address, Rep. Tim Quinn (R-Heber City) introduced H.B. 441 late into the legislative session on Feb. 27.

The proposed reform was a response to changes in the economy that have decreased sales tax receipts around the state and thus the size of the state general fund. Quinn’s bill would have accounted for the changes by extending taxes to include the sale of professional services, a category that includes advertising, engineering, attorneys, and more.

Many Moab and Grand County representatives, including Mayor Emily Niehaus, expressed concern with the talk of reducing sales tax in the reform bill, as a majority of Moab and Grand County’s tax revenue comes from various forms of sales tax. A reduction in how much sales tax the county and city are allowed to charge, they feared, would pinch the respective budgets.

The bill passed the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation but was not brought to a vote on the House floor. Lawmakers sent the bill to study, and according to the government relations law firm Foxley & Pignanelli, based in Salt Lake City, it may be brought back during a special session this summer.

To signal their sense of urgency to find a tax solution, state legislators converted all ongoing state appropriations to one-time funding, according to Foxley & Pignanelli. The move represents a self-imposed, one-year deadline to come up with a fix.

“At this point, there does not seem to be a precise course of action,” said a statement from the firm.

Conversion therapy

One of the top items from the session included a bill that had initially been designed to ban conversion therapy in Utah.

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identification using psychological and spiritual methods. The practice has been sharply criticized by human rights groups, LGBT advocates and others, while some groups defend it.

Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley City) introduced H.B. 399, which would have banned the practice from being done to minors. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly declined to oppose the bill, putting it into the spotlight.

Foxley & Pignanelli said in their statement that Hall’s bill was later substituted by the House Judiciary Committee with one that would have banned only the most severe forms of conversion therapy and would not have protected transgender minors.

The substitute bill was tabled due to a lack of consensus among legislators on how to define conversion therapy. According to Foxley & Pignanelli, indicators suggest “the conversation will carry to future legislative sessions.”

Hate crimes

According to Foxley & Pignanelli, Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-Tooele) “worked tirelessly” to pass Senate Bill 103, a bill that increases the penalty for criminals who target victims based on personal attributes, such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, homelessness, and others.

The bill passed 18-11 in the Senate and 64-9-2 in the House with all votes against the bill in those counts from Republican legislators. Herbert signed the bill into law April 2.

Non-liquor store beers

Sen. Jerry Stevenson. (R-Clearfield), introduced S.B. 132, a bill to raise the allowed alcohol content of beers purchased outside a state liquor store. Before his bill was passed, the cap was 3.2 percent. Stevenson’s original proposal was to raise the cap to 4.8 percent, but after debate, that limit was changed to 4 percent, subsequently passed and finally signed into law by Herbert.

According to Foxley & Pignanelli, the bill was a response to alcohol merchants seeking an increase to the limit as beer manufacturers have begun ceasing production on beers with low alcohol content.