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In 45 days, there is a lot of ground to cover at the Utah State Capitol.  133 miles to be more precise.  With some simple step-tracking, we figure our ULCT legislative team each took about 244,000 total steps over those 45 days.  And, just like a marathon with an occasional water station to take a break, we’re lacing up our shoes and gearing up for another segment of the run.  

The Utah League of Cities and Towns is preparing for a packed interim. While the Legislature took critical steps forward on issues ranging from housing to water conservation to tax policy, there is much work ahead and Team ULCT will be on the Hill every step of the way to bring the perspective of local government to the deliberations.

Before we focus on the near future, let’s look at the not-so-distant past. We are pleased that the state legislature and the Governor respected the role of local government, collaborated with us and other stakeholders, and focused on good outcomes We thank Governor Gary Herbert, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson, Senate President Stuart Adams, and all legislators for their partnership with mayors and council members on behalf of our shared constituents.

Over this past session, we discussed with legislators bills that would preempt local authority and we were pleased with their general responsiveness. All those bills were either improved to reflect consensus or were shelved.

For example, when HB 288 (Critical Infrastructure Materials) was first made public, ULCT was in staunch opposition to its complete usurpation of local land use authority over gravel pits. After we worked with Rep. Logan Wilde and other stakeholders, the final version of the bill preserves both vested property rights of gravel pit operators and a local government’s ability to exercise land use authority over potential expansions. Most critically, it places the authority to offer additional protections to gravel pits solely in the legislative bodies of cities and counties.

HB 119 (Initiatives, Referenda, and Other Political Activities) also reflects an approach of working through key issues in collaboration. This bill was the result of a nearly two-year effort spearheaded by Rep. Brad Daw and encompassing local government, citizen organizers, and property rights advocates in order to modernize and improve the process for local referenda.

At times there are proposed bills that don’t really get off the ground -- like HB 320, the “ban the bag ban bill,” which would have prohibited cities from enacting any regulations on disposable bags and containers. When the sponsor of this effort attempted to uncircle the bill, he was met by laughs and boos and the bill died. For us, it was not about the plastic, it was about the potential preemption of city responsibility.

Now, we’re excited for an in-depth discussion in about tax policy with the objective of improving the financial sustainability of the state and local governments and respecting the taxpayer. Similarly, water conservation efforts will be studied over the interim, with an emphasis on potentially metering pressurized secondary water, and we will continue to gather research on what is making a difference for conservation in Utah’s cities and towns. Also in the vein of preparing for population growth is the continuing discussion on housing.  ULCT was active on the Commission on Housing Affordability last year because local government plays a vital role in planning for population growth. When the Commission reconvenes this summer, we will be there to explain how cities are planning for housing, transportation, and other future needs, and how we can continue to work with other stakeholders toward closing the true affordable housing gap. And finally, every city and town in Utah takes very seriously its commitment to public safety. Cities are struggling to recruit and retain police officers, and retirement benefits are a component of what we can offer these essential employees. We’ve committed to the Legislature, through SB 129, that we will do a deep-dive analysis into public safety retirement compensation this interim.

While it’s nice to take a proverbial water break, we’re ready for our step-trackers to resume the count. We welcome the work we have to do with the state legislature, the Governor, and other stakeholders this interim. Our 1,380 mayors and council members across the state appreciate the partnership as we tackle the issues that impact quality of life for all of Utah’s residents.