Navigating Utah’s Legislative Session
Your HEAL Utah Guide to Capitol Hill
Your HEAL Utah Guide to Capitol Hill
Welcome to the 2024 Utah Legislative General Session! In this blog post, we will break down the legislative process and explore its significance in shaping Utah’s environmental landscape. HEAL Utah, an environmental policy organization plays a crucial role in pushing for policies that promote clean energy, improve air quality, protect our communities from toxic & radioactive exposure, and ensure transparency in decision-making. Let’s dive into how it all works!
The General Session of the Utah Legislature is a period of 45 days that takes place from January to March. During this time, lawmakers from all areas of Utah come together to pass a state budget, create new laws, or update existing ones. It is important to note that during legislative sessions, lawmakers are primarily focused on passing laws, and not on creating or developing them. This work happens throughout the year during the interim session.
Who’s Involved: The Utah Legislature is comprised of 75 representatives in the House and 29 senators from different districts across the state. Each Utahn has a representative from the house and a Senator from the senate who represents them. These lawmakers are elected by the people of their respective districts. Learn who represents you here.
It’s important to note that Republicans hold a supermajority in the Legislature, which gives them significant influence in passing bills. With such margins, they can even overturn a governor’s veto. This emphasizes the importance of collaboration and advocacy among all parties involved.
The Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Mike Schultz are the top officeholders in the Legislature and play a crucial role in setting the session’s agenda. Their decisions can greatly impact environmental issues and other important matters.
Now, let’s simplify this legislative process, Schoolhouse Rock style. It’s essential to grasp how a bill becomes law, as it directly shapes environmental policy. Below, we’ll break down the path legislation follows to become a law.
Bill Idea: Legislation can be proposed year-round, often stemming from constituents’ concerns or ideas. Once identified, legislators study these issues, and if deemed important, they may bring them to the legislative session for consideration. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your lawmaker with your suggestions; your idea could become law.
Assigning Bills: Once an idea officially becomes a bill and is written then the Rules Committee assigns it to a standing committee based on its relevance and expertise. For instance, a bill addressing Utah’s energy grid would likely be sent to the Public Utilities Committee.
Committees: Committees from both the House and Senate have a considerable amount of power. During this phase, legislators who are assigned to committees discuss bills and decide which bills will be advanced to the rest of the Legislature. If a bill fails to pass this stage, it is unlikely to be heard until the next year. During this stage individuals (thats YOU) can give public comment to help lawmakers make a decision.
Floor voting: When a bill is passed by the committee, it moves on to the full House or Senate for debate and voting. This is the stage where every lawmaker gets to vote, and it’s where you have the opportunity to reach out to your lawmakers and urge them to vote a certain way.
It’s important to note that lawmakers are just ordinary people and are not experts in every topic. In many cases, they vote depending on their surrounding districts or colleagues. This is why reaching out to lawmakers at this stage is crucial, as it could be the determining factor of their vote.
Governor’s Decision: Once a bill clears both chambers, it heads to the governor’s desk. The governor can sign it into law, veto it, or let it become law without a signature.
Not Always Smooth Sailing: While the legislative process may appear relatively straightforward, it often takes a more complex turn. Debates and amendments are common, adding layers of complexity. Whenever changes are proposed, bills can go back and forth between chambers until a final decision is reached. This back-and-forth can be both frustrating, but in many cases necessary to ensure thoughtful and comprehensive legislation.
Now that you have a better understanding of how legislation works, we’d like to share HEAL Utah’s priorities. As an environmental organization, we primarily focus on legislation that impacts our air quality, energy sources, waste management, climate resilience, and health equity. Our top priorities for this year encompass a range of initiatives:
Air Quality: Improving Utah’s air quality is a key focus, including efforts to reduce emissions from vehicles, industry, and sources like the Great Salt Lake.
Clean Energy: HEAL Utah supports policies that promote renewable energy sources, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and combat climate change.
Toxic and Radioactive Waste: HEAL Utah works diligently to prevent the disposal of toxic and radioactive materials in our state, safeguarding our communities and environment.
Transparency and Accountability: We advocate for transparency, accountability, and public participation in environmental decision-making processes, ensuring the voices of Utahns are heard.
Promoting Renewable Energy Sources: HEAL Utah is dedicated to policies that promote the use of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal power. This includes supporting initiatives that incentivize utility-scale renewable energy production.
Encouraging Rooftop Solar: In addition to large-scale renewable energy, HEAL Utah supports policies that make it easier for individuals and businesses to install rooftop solar panels. This can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels at the local level.
Expanding Electric Vehicle Infrastructure: HEAL Utah advocates for the expansion of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, including charging stations. This encourages the adoption of electric vehicles, which produce fewer emissions than traditional gasoline-powered cars.
Promoting Public Transportation: HEAL Utah believes in increasing access to and the reliability of public transportation. This can help reduce the number of vehicles on the road, decreasing air pollution and congestion.
Equitable Building Decarbonization: HEAL Utah supports policies that promote equitable building decarbonization, which involves making buildings more energy-efficient and transitioning away from fossil fuels for heating and cooling.
Supporting Communities Transitioning from Fossil Fuels: Recognizing the importance of communities historically dependent on the fossil fuel industry, HEAL Utah advocates for policies that facilitate the development of employment and training opportunities in the renewable energy sector.
As we navigate the 2024 general session of the Utah Legislature, it’s essential to remember that real change begins with informed and engaged citizens like you. The legislative process may seem complex, but with knowledge and determination, we can shape the future of our state’s environment.
If you’re inspired to take action and make a difference, we invite you to visit our “Get Involved” page. There, you’ll find various opportunities and resources to participate in environmental advocacy. Whether you’re passionate about clean energy, air quality, or transparency in decision-making, your voice matters.
For a detailed breakdown of ways to get involved during the legislative session, be sure to read our “TAKE ACTION DURING THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION” guide. It provides step-by-step guidance on how you can influence policies and support our mission.