Summit County Manager Jana Young said every year the county focuses on building relationships with lawmakers to help them understand the needs of the area and its residents.
“The last couple of sessions, it’s felt like we’ve had a big target on our back,” she said. “So, we’ve spent a lot of time during the interim session to reach out to legislators, bring them to the county, show them the things that we’re working on.”
Young said Summit County is under the microscope because it’s a popular spot for developers and residents may differ from the rest of the state, politically. But she said conversations with lawmakers have been productive.
One thing the county wants to work on is child care. Young said Summit County spoke with legislators about potential scholarships, grants or tax incentives to help families afford child care. She hopes there will be legislation that helps facilitate a partnership between employers and providers to expand services.
Short term rentals are also being discussed. Young said Democratic Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion has sponsored a short-term rental amendments bill she said is “pretty all-encompassing.”
Young said the Summit County Council is waiting to see what happens with the bill so it can react appropriately. The county is interested in studying the housing, safety and infrastructure impacts of short-term nightly rentals.
“It’s been difficult, because of some statutory prohibitions in the state, for us to even identify where these units are located, how many we have in the county, and so we’d really like the state to give us more flexibility in that area,” Young said.
Summit County is also looking for new revenue streams after a costly Emergency Medical Services expansion. One new source of funding could be a new bill allowing more flexibility with the transient room tax, which is for emergency medical services or other tourism impacts.
Some hot-button bills also have already made progress in the legislature. KUER Politics Reporter Saige Miller said the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion bill passed the House on Friday. The focus of the bill is to ensure job applicants aren’t required to submit diversity statements during the application process. Miller said the bill also prevents trainings that force people to assimilate to a certain political ideology.
She said only Democrats voted against the bill.
“They were concerned that this might jeopardize some federal funding,” Miller said. “They also said that a lot of them were products of DEI in one way or another.”
Miller said the floor debate in the Senate should happen sometime this week.
Another bill in the spotlight that moved through the House is Summit County Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland’s transgender bathroom bill. The bill would require people to use a bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth in publicly funded spaces. Transgender people can only use the facility that matches their gender identity if they have had gender-affirming surgery and changed their birth certificate.
Miller said there are some accommodations as the bill requires more unisex and single-occupancy bathrooms to be constructed. However, there are still concerns about transgender kids. Miller said transgender children in public schools would have to create a plan with the school to have access to single-occupancy restrooms or faculty restrooms.
“There’s been some concerns specifically within that community that that will result to outing, which is the practice or the act of disclosing someone’s sexual or gender identity without their consent,” she said. “Some kids in a very tearful and kind of very heavy committee room discussed how they believe that could increase violence against them.”
Transgender people already experience a disproportionate amount of violence and increased rates of suicide.
There are also concerns this bill will make it harder to get federal funding and discourage large events like the Olympics. The National Basketball Association pulled the 2016 All-Star Game from North Carolina to protest a similar law.
Miller said Republican Rep. Tyler Clancy put forth a different bill to address International Olympic Committee requests. To host the Olympics, Miller said the IOC is requiring Utah to move to 100% renewable energy, decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 50% and fully embrace public transportation by 2030.
Clancy’s bill addresses these requirements and has some bipartisan support, but Miller said there’s no enforcement mechanism in the bill.
Water law is also a hot topic that is being addressed again during this legislative session. Miller said two years ago, the legislature gave the Great Salt Lake and other sovereign bodies water rights. They also made it so people can donate water rights to those bodies of water. However, Miller said there was no mechanism to make sure donated water actually made it to the Great Salt Lake.
Now there’s a bill in the House that would create a system to measure if water is going where it’s supposed to.
Another bill addresses lawsuits filed against Utah by environmental groups for a lack of action on the Great Salt Lake. Miller said the bill would essentially prevent those groups from suing based on that argument.
Miller said the Utah legislature is also considering adding more liquor licenses. Instead of having one license per 10,000 people, they might reduce the limit to 7,000 or 8,000 people.
The 2024 Legislative session ends on March 1.