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2017 Utah Legislature roundup: Food tax stays the same, schools and roads get more money

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The Utah State Legislature on Thursday night.

Some years, Utah lawmakers pass major tax changes or make sweeping changes that get national attention. Remember when Utah considered opting out of No Child Left Behind? Some years are more quiet. But either way, every legislative session ends with new laws that will impact Utahns.

So with less than 24 hours until the final gavel on the 2017 legislative session, here’s some of the big news about what happened — or didn’t pass — this year.

More money for education

Late in the session, after getting word that the state had $100 million more in revenue than had been projected, lawmakers added to public education funding.

What this means:
• 4 percent increase in the weighted-pupil unit. The WPU funds teachers’ salaries. Most of this increase will go to retirement and healthcare cost increases. And districts will decide how the money is used.
• $68 million for enrollment growth

“Our schools and teachers must have the funding and resources they need to provide students with a first-rate education,” Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune. “My budget proposal included a 4 percent increase in the WPU [weighted pupil unit], and I appreciate that the Legislature has adopted our recommendation.”

I-15 funding

The 4.5-mile stretch on Interstate 15 through Lehi is a mess. Everyone who’s ever driven through that area during heavy traffic knows it’s a problem. And the state has already approved funding to start reconstruction of the area in 2020.

But a bill passed this week could mean that project starts sooner. Senate Bill 277, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, will allow the state to bond for up to $1 billion for transportation projects.

But the bill doesn’t list specific projects, only that money should be used for construction prioritized by the Transportation Commission. The state has prioritized the Lehi I-15 stretch, so the $450 million Technology Corridor project could start sooner.

Herbert still needs to sign this bill.

No new food tax

All session long, lawmakers anticipated a bill to increase the food tax. Finally, on Monday, March 6, Senate leaders publicly talked details.

It would:
• increase the tax on unprepared food (think groceries, not prepared food from a deli or restaurant) from 1.75 percent to 4.4 percent.
• the current sales tax rate of 4.7 percent would go down to 4.4 percent.

Lawmakers said there would be a hearing on the issue on Tuesday, March 7, and they’d make the bill public. Then, hours later, the proposal was dead.

Concealed weapons/domestic violence

Like most years, lawmakers had a few bills dealing with carrying concealed weapons in Utah.

One, House Bill 237, Firearms and Domestic Violence Modifications, sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, made it through the House before dying in the Senate.

It would have:
• allowed a person 21 years and older, who can lawfully possess a gun, to do so without a concealed weapon permit.
• required judges to impose protective orders on anyone convicted of domestic violence, with the condition that the person can’t possess a firearm.

House Bill 112, Firearms Amendments, also sponsored by Perry, would have:
• allowed a person over age 21, who can lawfully possess a gun, to do so without a concealed weapon permit.

Lawmakers never voted on HB 112.

Equal pay

After the women’s marches in January around Utah, Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he was inspired to sponsor an equal pay bill.

The legislation, Senate Bill 210, never got a vote but it was heard by a committee and held.

It would have:
• required employers to have uniform criteria for determining whether to change employee compensation and benefits, based on performance.
• directed the state Department of Workforce Services to do a study on whether there is a pay difference between men and women in Utah.

DUI changes

Utah representatives voted 48-26 to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving from .08 to .05.

The bill passed on Thursday night.

Marijuana

Marijuana, medical or otherwise, still isn’t legal in Utah. But House Bill 130, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, will allow researchers to study the medical uses for cannabis.

Herbert still needs to sign this bill.

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