SALT LAKE CITY — Guns once again were a contentious issue on Capitol Hill during the Legislature’s 45-day session that ended March 5, and after several tries through the years, lawmakers succeeded in ending the permit requirement for carrying a concealed weapon in Utah.

HB60 lets any Utah resident who is 21 years or older and can legally possess a firearm to carry their weapon concealed without needing a permit. It received final legislative approval in early February, and Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill Feb. 15.

During debate on the issue, bill sponsor Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, was skeptical there could be reconciliation between the two sides.

“You know, guns are like beets, you either love them or you hate them. There’s no in-between,” Brooks said.

The concealed carry permit education program will remain available and will still be needed for those who wish to carry concealed firearms when they travel to other states that accept Utah’s permit.

Floor sponsor Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, addressed concerns from other legislators about safety if the state removed the education course that came with the permit requirements.

“We really want to express that they keep (the permit) because it actually is reciprocated in other states. In fact, half of our permits that are issued are to residents of other states. ... The safety training will still be there. That’s still available,” Hinkins told the Senate chamber last month.

The training includes instruction on suicide prevention, and part of the fees for permits help fund the state’s suicide prevention efforts. The bill was amended making sure money is still set aside for those efforts.

While it may be moot with the dropping of a permit requirement, HB216, sponsored by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Syracuse, was also passed. It allows for a provisional permit to be sought by people within 90 days of their 21st birthday to show they’d received concealed-carry training required for a full permit.

Utah lawmaker wants to assert state authority on gun rules over state, federal efforts
Utah Senate poised to pass bill to drop concealed carry gun permits

The Legislature also tried to assert its rights over all gun laws again this year.

The House approved HB76, which would have created the Firearms Preemption Enforcement Act and effectively give the Legislature the final say on all gun laws in the state, prohibiting cities or counties from creating their own rules. It also states that Utah will not enforce certain federal firearm regulations.

Despite support from representatives, it never reached a hearing in the Senate.

But opponents did not agree with the need for the bills.

In a press release, Mary Ann Thompson, a volunteer leader with the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action and a gun violence survivor, said that since nearly 400 people are killed by guns each year in Utah die, “gun safety should be the priority. ... These bills are proven to make us less safe.“

Lawmakers did take a couple measures to keep guns away from people who may be a danger to themselves or others.

Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, sponsored HB200, which set up a procedure that if a firearm owner or someone living with them could voluntarily surrender their weapon to law enforcement until the owner comes and requests its return. The bill defines law enforcement’s possession of the submitted weapon as “safekeeping.”

In a similar fashion, HB267 allows a person to request to be added to the restricted persons list that would bar them from purchasing a firearm. The bill allows the same person to request the removal of their name from that list 30 days after it’s added. Their name will automatically be removed after 180 days; but they can request a renewal for another 180 days.

Both bills are on the governor’s desk for action.

Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, left, congratulates Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, after members of the House Judiciary Standing Committee OK’d Brooks’ bill, HB60, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The bill which was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on Feb. 15, ends the permit requirement for carrying a concealed weapon in Utah. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Looking at elections

Legislators approved a bill that attempts to stop what has been dubbed “party raiding” during primary elections. HB197 would have originally blocked Utah voters from changing their party affiliation from Jan. 1 of a primary election year all the way up until the primary. But the bill was modified to instead stop people from March 31 through the primary vote.

It does not prevent new or unaffiliated voters from registering with a party.

“You can easily imagine a scenario where members of the opposite party jump in to register in the other party in order to nominate the weakest candidate, so their preferred candidate in the general election has an edge,” bill sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said during the House debate.

Legislators also passed bills to boost confidence in the voting process after unfounded allegations over last year’s presidential election results were raised nationally.

HB12 seeks to prevent the sending of ballots to voters who had died. It requires more communication between the registrars’ offices that provides death certificates and the lieutenant governor’s office and county clerks who maintain voter rolls and would be required to purge those who had died from the lists.

HB70 requires elections offices to set up a system to provide notification via text or email to Utahns who request that their ballot was received by the county clerk.

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, sponsored a bill that would require elections officials to not only report how many ballots were counted when updating vote counts, but also approximately how many votes are left to be counted, to be more transparent to the public during an election. HB173 passed the House and Senate unanimously, and Cox signed the bill into law Thursday.

An effort to expand ranked-choice voting to more cities brought mixed results when the bill was amended. Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, through HB75, sought to require county clerks to tabulate ranked-choice ballots for cities within the county, rather than giving them an option. The Senate amended the bill to allow cities that wish to participate in ranked-choice voting to contract with other counties in the state that are willing to count the ballots if their county isn’t.

One issue that lawmakers did not seem to want to tackle was reworking the option for candidates to make their party’s primary ballot by gathering signatures and bypassing party conventions where delegates select the nominees.

SB205, sponsored by Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, would have split political parties into four classes, depending on if they nominated their candidates through convention, signature-gathering, both or through some other form. While it passed an initial vote in the Senate, it was never brought up again for a final vote there and died with the end of the session.

Others issues that gave lawmakers something to talk about

• Salon licenses: SB87, by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, to relax licensing requirements at salons was originally opposed by licensed cosmetologists and cosmetology schools in the state. Bramble, to calm public fears of proper sanitation, chemical handling of dyes and other public health concerns, changed the bill to require a “hair safety permit” be obtained by those who dry, style, arrange, dress, curl, hot iron, shampoo or condition hair, but nothing else. The hair technician would need to display that they aren’t a licensed cosmetologist. The bill passed both the Senate and the House and awaits action by the governor.

Protecting ethnic hairstyles: Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, presented SB80 to add protections in Utah law for ethnic hair and hairstyles, making it illegal to discriminate against others for how they wear their hair due to their genetics. The bill failed to pass out of committee and never made it to a vote.

• DMV renewal reminders: Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, sponsored HB170 which directs the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles to return to the practice of mailing reminders to people about the upcoming expiration of their vehicle registration. It was learned during debate that House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, had himself forgotten about registering one of his vehicles. The agency stopped sending the reminders last fall as part of pandemic-related budget cuts. The bill was signed by the governor Thursday.

• State flag redesign: SB48 was sponsored by McCay, who wanted to create a new design for the Utah state flag. The bill creates a task force that will provide a written report and recommendations for the design of a new or revised state flag to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee. The bill passed both chambers and awaits action from the governor.

Checks on a president: SJR15 states that the Utah attorney general will litigate any executive orders that come from the president of the United States that “exceeds presidential power, violates the Constitution, or unlawfully infringes on the rights and powers of the state of Utah.” It passed both chambers and awaits action from the governor.

• Minimum wage hike: Rep. Clare Collard, R-Magna, tried to pass HB284 that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour starting in July. Her bill would have gradually increased the base pay to $15 per hour by 2025. It was tabled by the House Business and Labor Committee at the end of February and never reached the House floor for a vote before the session ended.

• Offensive place names: Senate Minority Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, pushed SB10 to allow renaming of places using American Indian words that may be offensive and would include the Utah Division of Indian Affairs as part of the state and federal process that does so. Iwamoto’s bill passed the Senate and the House but was altered to remove language that forbade the term “squaw” from being used in place names. Despite public and Native Americans’ protests of the use of that particular word, the Legislature removed that provision. The bill awaits action from the governor.

• Animal shelter euthanasia: Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangville, offered SB237, which would have ended the use of gas chambers to euthanize domestic and wild animals at shelters. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on March 2 but never received a vote by the House.

• Puppy mills: House Minority Leader Brian King’s HB420, proposed limiting any retail pet store to only host dogs and cats from rescues or shelters. It was an effort to curb demand from pet stores for dogs allegedly bred by out-of-state puppy mills, The bill never left the House Business and Labor Committee or received a vote when it was heard on March 5.