Utah’s 2024 legislative session, which starts Tuesday, will tackle several sensitive issues, including how principles of diversity, equity and inclusion are implemented on public college campuses.

Another bill would determine who can go into a single-gender restroom or locker room. Lawmakers are also looking at whether to give Utahns another tax cut.

These bills and others will likely lead to some heated debate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City starting Tuesday, but with Republican supermajorities in both chambers, GOP leaders will set much of the agenda for the next 45 days.

Here is some of what the Deseret News has reported so far in the lead-up to the legislative session.

House, Senate leadership priorities

House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, laid out their caucus’ priorities in the lead-up to the session.

The House majority published a 45-page guide entitled, “For Utah A Bold Vision, A Bright Future,” to showcase their intention to “pass policies that address today’s problems and create generational benefits” for Utahns.

Their policies fall under four broad categories — family, resources, accountable government and the state’s future — and include $160 million in tax cuts, water management, “reliable, affordable and dispatchable” energy, and changes to DEI on public college campuses.

The Senate majority caucus put together a priority list, too, “Utahns First: Sustainability At Every Level,” that promises the state can prepare for any challenges by “building on the achievements of the past and prioritizing family and business-friendly policies.”

Senate Republican priorities also include looking at the state’s energy resources to “keep our energy prices reasonable in Utah even though a lot of it is out of our control,” said Adams. He also said affordable housing is a priority for his caucus, because he’s “been panicked we’re losing our middle class. Home ownership is really the American dream.”

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State lawmakers trying to find middle ground on DEI

The bill addressing DEI programs on public college campuses, HB 261, titled “Equal Opportunity Initiatives,” was released last week by Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, and Sen. Keith Grover, R-Provo.

The bill authors say it would prohibit “discriminatory” DEI practices, including diversity statements in university job applications, would reaffirm institutional neutrality on college campuses and would fund student success centers that avoid differential treatment among students.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox spoke out against DEI initiatives at a press conference last month, arguing they had failed to achieve their stated goals of helping students, instead fostering “identitarianism” and stifling intellectual diversity.

Cox’s comments were followed shortly after by declarations from the Utah Board of Higher Education and University of Utah President Taylor Randall that diversity statements would be discontinued in hiring processes.

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5 issues to watch

Holly Richardson from Utah Policy put together a list of five issues to watch this legislative session, including whether lawmakers will ban smartphones in classrooms, social media use among young people, DEI practices, water conservation and usage, and affordable housing.

Richardson writes, “If recent history holds, there will be more than 1,000 bill files opened, more than 900 introduced and close to 600 passed into law.”

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Clean energy advocates eyeing reforms

The organization Utah Clean Energy wants lawmakers to do more to supplement investment in the EV charging grid, making it more accessible to users. In addition, the group is pushing lawmakers to take steps to fund a bill that passed two years ago to update the state’s business and home energy codes.

The group is also working with Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, to streamline and make more equitable the export credit for net metering customers with rooftop solar.

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Bathroom privacy

Bridger Beal-Cvetko of KSL wrote about how Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, has introduced a bill that would limit who can go into a gender-designated public restroom or locker room. The bill includes definitions of “male” and “female,” and requires taxpayer-funded buildings to provide more unisex or single-occupant restrooms or other facilities in an effort to increase privacy.

Birkeland was also the architect of a bill passed late in the 2022 session that bars transgender girls from participating in high school sports — portions of which are on hold pending the outcome of a court challenge.

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Gov. Cox released budget, prioritizing affordable housing

Cox revealed his plan to address housing affordability and build healthy families when he unveiled his annual budget recommendations in December. 

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He presented a proposal for the state to build 35,000 starter homes by 2028, catalyzed by what Cox calls the Utah First Homes program, an initiative that forms the core of Cox’s budget recommendation for fiscal year 2025, which is titled “Utah Home.”

The $29.5 billion budget was without the surplus of past years. Its contents focus on three areas — people, growth and good governance, the governor said, and hits familiar topics in education, water use related to growth, and infrastructure. 

While an exact copy of Cox’s budget is unlikely to become law, he said he hopes it will provide direction and motivation for the state lawmakers who ultimately have the power to decide how the government uses its funds.

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Contributing: Bridger Beal-Cvetko, Amy Joi O’Donoghue, Holly Richardson

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