Lawmakers may tackle a controversial school funding issue in next week’s special session

Utah Capitol 04

Nearly two dozen bills could make the cut for inclusion on next week’s special session agenda. That may seem like a lot, but the initial list of items under consideration is more than twice that number according to a list of potential bills shared with

The list has been circulating among legislative Republicans for more than a week. The Senate Republican caucus discussed possible bills last week. House Republicans will caucus about the list of proposed legislation this week ahead of the planned August 20 session.

The most controversial proposal on the list centers on education funding. Public schools are set to open in Utah this fall, but many students will still be learning remotely online. Lawmakers are exploring creating some sort of mechanism that would provide a tax credit to parents to make up for the time children are not physically in school.

That could be a tricky subject for lawmakers to navigate. Constitutionally, all income taxes in Utah go toward public education. During the 2020 general session, lawmakers placed a proposed constitutional change on the ballot to add services for children and the disabled to that earmarking of funds for public schools, arguing it would give them more budget flexibility. Voters must approve the constitutional amendment in November. 

After lawmakers put some safeguards in place for education funding, along with a boost in money for schools during the session, the Utah Education Association said they would not publicly oppose the amendment ahead of the election. That was crucial for legislators seeking to build public support for the change, as opposition from the UEA would likely doom the proposal at the ballot box. Offering a tax credit to parents would reduce available funding for schools, causing some heartburn for teachers and education stakeholders, who may no longer feel the need to remain neutral on the constitutional change issue.

Legislative sources tell that there have also been discussions to possibly raise the caps on charter school enrollment as parents may be looking for an alternative to public schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Other topics lawmakers are likely to consider in the special session include:

  • Lawmakers will likely be taking another look at the governor’s emergency declarations. In the April special session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring that the governor notify the legislature 24 hours before invoking an emergency power. Legislative sources indicate that lawmakers may be considering extending some of the governor’s emergency declarations, but not all of them.
  • Lawmakers made several changes to the June primary election because of Covid-19, including allowing some drive-up voting and moving the deadline for the postmark on mail-in ballots from the day before the election to the day of. Those changes were for the June primary only.

    There will be a bill on the special session agenda addressing some of the hurdles from the pandemic. Lawmakers will probably move the postmark date again. That postmark date is a challenge in some rural counties as mail is shipped to Provo and not postmarked until the following day. There have been discussions about whether to allow early in-person voting and extend the vote canvass from 14 to 21 days.

  • Right now, the state prison can release prisoners early during an emergency health situation. Lawmakers may look at allowing local and county jails to use the same standards.
  • Giving restaurants the ability to serve alcohol outdoors. This issue has popped up during the current coronavirus pandemic as eateries are forced to find ways to serve patrons and allow social distancing.
  • A change to the requirements for hiring a new executive director of the Utah Department of Health. In late July, Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Rich Saunders as the department’s interim executive director, taking over the day-to-day operations from Retired General Jefferson Burton. Some of the candidates being considered to fill the permanent slot do not meet requirements to hold the job. The change will give more flexibility as to who is ultimately chosen for the job.
  • There will be several clean up bills. One will delete all of the bills that lost funding when lawmakers cut the budget in the June special session. Another will fix some inconsistencies in the distances vaping shops must be from schools.
  • Another technical bill will clarify coronavirus relief funds distributed under the PPP loan program or the CARES Act are exempt from Utah income taxes. Lawmakers will also extend the time for spending Community Reinvestment Act funds. is told that many of the bills on the list of potential legislation were not discussed in the Senate Republican Caucus because it was clear they would not make the final list.