A bill to repeal a tax reform package passed in December that would reduce taxes by about $160 million was among those introduced in the Utah House of Representatives on Monday during the first day of the 2020 legislative session.
Aspects of the tax reform, including increasing the sales tax on unprepared food from 1.75% to 4.85%, have been widely criticized.
In a joint statement with Gov. Gary Herbert and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, Wilson announced last Thursday that the Legislature would repeal the tax reform this session after tens of thousands of Utahns signed a referendum that would let citizens vote on the reform in November.
Nearly 116,000 signatures would be needed for the issue to be put on a ballot. 111,188 signatures had been verified as of Monday at 2 p.m., according to the Utah Lt. Governor’s Office.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, spoke about the referendum and tax reform on Monday as he addressed the House.
“Legislation by referendum, while part of the political process, can be divisive, and, at many times, be short of facts,” Wilson said. “It has proven ruinous for many states that have turned down that path and turned away from the basic principles of a democratic republic. Our neighbors elected us to immerse ourselves in the details of each policy, weigh the various interests, drawbacks and benefits. This is a significant amount of trust that’s been placed in us.”
The House Speaker added that constituents “are an essential part” of the political process “on many complex issues.”
“They play an important role in shaping the policy decisions that we make, and their voice is important,” he said.
The bill to repeal tax reform, House Bill 185, which is sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, is expected to skip committee and go straight to the House floor and then the Senate on Tuesday, according to Utah Senate spokeswoman Aundrea Peterson.
Wilson said suicide prevention and mental health awareness would both be a big focus of the Legislature this session.
“Suicide is a serious issue that impacts far too many Utahns,” he said. “During this session, we’re going to have the opportunity to consider several bills to address mental health and prevent suicide.”
Among these bills are H.B. 32, which would increase funding for crisis service centers, and H.B. 35, which would require the state’s Forensic Mental Health Coordinating Council to study the long-term need for adult beds at the Utah State Hospital and report its findings to the Legislature. Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution that gave women throughout the country the right to vote, as well as the 150th anniversary of Utah’s Seraph Young becoming the first American woman to vote.
Wilson celebrated these anniversaries and encouraged women in the state to “be an active part of the important process of public policy.”
Speaking to the majority Republican House, Wilson said all lawmakers, regardless of their political affiliation, should look beyond partisanship and “foster political dialogue that is civil, issue-focused and defined by common ground rather than by our differences.”
“We are not foes on a political battlefield,” he said. “We are all Utahns committed to getting public policy right.”