The Utah State Legislature is two weeks into their 2021 General Session, and local elected officials are making an effort to keep track of the bills likely to affect Grand County and to make local concerns heard at the state capitol.
At the regular Feb. 2 meeting of the Grand County Commission, County Attorney Christina Sloan spoke about six state bills, with recommendations that the commission take a formal stance in support or opposition for each.
While Grand County contracts with the lobbying firm Red Hill Strategic to help advance Grand County’s interests with legislators, commissioners agreed that active involvement from elected officials will help ensure state legislators are familiar with Grand County’s needs and willing to listen to its representatives. Below are the bills Sloan presented to the commission, with her recommendations:
House Bill 82: Single-family housing modifications
This bill, introduced by Rep. Raymond Ward (R-Dist. 19), would impose specific requirements on county and municipal land use codes regarding accessory dwelling units, including establishing certain ADUs as a permitted use and limiting what stipulations a county or city may attach to the construction of ADUs.
“Everyone in this commission can appreciate that ADUs are an integral component to an affordable housing program,” Sloan said.
However, Sloan recommended the commission oppose HB 82 because it would limit local control of land use code and would prohibit Grand County from creating limitations such as establishing parking requirements or imposing size parameters for ADUs.
House Bill 247: Transient room tax amendments
Rep. Carl Albrecht (R-Dist. 70), who represents parts of Moab and Grand County, introduced this bill to alter the requirements for how rural counties may spend Transient Room Tax money—long a goal for local officials. If passed, the bill would allow local entities more flexibility to, for example, use TRT funds earmarked as “promotional” for economic development projects.
Grand County has been lobbying for similar reform for years, trying to gain the authority to use money collected from tourists for a wider range of projects. Last year, county officials were disappointed when a TRT reform measure that appeared to be gaining traction failed to enact substantive change for Grand County. Sloan noted that this issue has been the focus of efforts from the county’s lobbyist from Red Hill Strategic.
House Bill 98: Local government building regulation
Introduced by Rep. Paul Ray (R-Dist. 13), HB 98 allows developers to opt out of certain local building inspections and instead hire their own independent building inspector. It would also prohibit local authorities from regulating certain building design elements, such as exterior color and cladding, a minimum number of rooms or types of rooms, or minimum square footage.
Sloan called the bill “broad and sweeping,” and noted that the bill is opposed by Grand County’s building inspector, planning director, fire district and fire chief, as well as by Utah Association of Counties and the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
“Yet, what I'm learning is even UAC and ULCT - as powerful as those lobbies are, they can't defeat bad bills by themselves,” said Sloan. She encouraged commissioners to contact their representatives to oppose HB 98.
House Bill 195: Vehicle, boat, and trailer registration
House Bill 195, proposed by Rep. Adam Robertson (R.-Dist. 63), would repeal the requirement to display registration decals on the license plates of certain vehicles, including street-legal ATVs and UTVs.
The removal of registration decals would mean law enforcement would have to run an electronic check on any license plate to find out if the registration is valid, rather than a simple visual check.
“As state law is currently written, ATV licensing is one of the only things we have to concretely regulate street legal ATVs in Moab,” said Sloan, who recommended the commission oppose the legislation.
“This is the only bill so far that we have specific to ATVs that concerns me,” said Sloan, though she noted other ATV-related bills will arise later in the session.
Senate Bill 44: Payment In Lieu of Taxes funds for counties
Payment In Lieu of Taxes funds, often referred to as PILT, are fees paid by the federal government to local authorities where federal lands lie within those local jurisdictions. They replace the income that would otherwise be drawn from local property taxes, but the rates are not set to match what property taxes would be. “Some people describe that acronym as meaning ‘pennies in lieu of taxes,’ because that's how low the tax payment is from the federal government.” SB 44, introduced by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R.-Dist.10), would create a state PILT account to collect those monies and redistribute them with a cap on the amount each county could receive. The bill would particularly affect rural counties like Grand, which have a high percentage of federal land.
said Sloan. Sloan recommended the county oppose the legislation.
Senate Bill 61: Outdoor Advertising Amendments
SB 61, introduced by Sen. Scott Sandall (R-Dist. 17) would allow businesses to create electronic or neon signs, overriding local ordinances.
Both Moab and Grand County are working toward achieving Dark Sky Community status as determined by the International Dark Sky Association. This legislation would impact specific city and county lighting ordinances.
“It's chipping away at local control, it expressly violates our Dark Skies ordinance, but they don't care,” said Sloan.
House Bill 257: Utahraptor State Park
Commission Chair Mary McGann added HB 257 to the list of bills for Grand County to support. For several years, local and state officials have discussed the idea of making a state park in the Dalton Wells area north of Moab. The area is the historic site of an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was later used as a Japanese internment camp during World War II; it is also one of the richest paleontological sites in Utah, where fossils from many previously unknown dinosaur species have been found. A 2020 bill to designate the site failed because legislators were hesitant to foot the $10 million bill; this session, Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Dist. 45) introduced House Bill 257 to create Utahraptor State Park without appropriating any funds.
McGann noted that a change of heart from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration officials might become an obstacle to the project. Previously, SITLA had indicated they would be willing to do a land swap with another state agency to facilitate the creation of the park; now, it appears SITLA intends to sell their land instead. McGann said she has spoken with SITLA officials and is hopeful that an arrangement can be reached.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the recommended stances on each bill.
“I’m very appreciative of everyone’s work on this,” said Commissioner Evan Clapper, noting that past efforts to track state legislation have not been so clear and organized.
Legislative committee sessions are being held by Zoom to mitigate coronavirus concerns, and Sloan reported that the electronic platform actually helps rural counties to participate more fully in the process.
As the General Session continues, Sloan promised the commission she would bring more state bills for their consideration.
The Grand County Commission meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Government Youtube channel. Agendas and instructions on public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net/134/County-Council.