(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Tesla service center and car charging station at 2312 S. State Street is shown under construction in 2015.
The 2018 Utah legislative session ends at midnight. Here are some of the more interesting happenings as the lawmaking comes to a close:
The Senate voted 26-1 to approve HB369, a bill that would allow Tesla to own and operate car dealerships in Utah.
Tesla has been prevented from operating dealerships under the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act, a law that doesn’t allow car manufacturers to have direct ownership interest in any new dealerships in Utah.
Tesla has been butting up against the law since 2015, with its attempts to open a dealership shot down continually by the Attorney General’s Office. Tesla tried to appeal its case to the Utah Supreme Court last year, but the Court upheld the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act.
Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, the bill’s Senate sponsor, joked on the Senate floor that Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, is the reason this bill settles differences between car dealers and the state. Coleman has been working for two years to allow Tesla to operate in Utah.
Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, voted against the bill. The bill will now return to the House to allow the representatives to concur with minor amendments.
After debating for almost an hour, the Utah House voted overwhelmingly to submit the question of a gas tax increase to voters on the November ballot.
If approved by the Senate, Utahns will be asked weigh in on whether they approve or disapprove of the following question:
“To provide additional funding for public education and local roads, should the state increase the state motor and special fuel tax rates by an equivalent of 10 cents per gallon?”
The resolution, HJR20, is part of a broader compromise with the Our Schools Now ballot initiative to replace what could be a binding public vote to increase both income and sales taxes to generate more than $700 million in annual education funding.
Instead, with a 10 cent gas tax hike and a five-year property tax freeze, lawmakers are looking at generating roughly $376 million in new school funding.
But the property tax freeze is included in a separate bill, HB293. If only one passes, then Our Schools Now is not bound by their agreement to cease their initiative, in which case “all bets are off,” as stated by Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber.
Despite the 55-17 vote, representatives spent a considerable amount of time debating unsuccessful amendments to add context to the ballot question, such as the percentage increase of the 10 cent hike — 33 percent — or the current level of the state’s gas tax — 29.4 cents.
“If we’re truly concerned with transparency, we’ll tell the voters what the percentage and the monetary increase will be,” said Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden. “Otherwise I feel like we’re simply masking the question that’s on the ballot and manipulating the public intentionally.”
Critics of the amendments argued that instead of adding context, they would complicate the issue. Utahns will be voting to raise the per-gallon price of gas by 10 cents, they argued, independent of relative and percentage increases.
The gas tax question is nonbinding, meaning that lawmakers would be compelled to enact the changes if they’re approved by voters in November. That will include diverting money that currently funds transportation to instead fund schools as the new gas tax revenue is collected.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, stopped just short of calling his colleagues hypocrites for approving the gas tax question, but opposing his similar push to place a repeal of daylight saving time on the ballot.
“That bill failed last year and many of you spoke up and argued passionately that if we’re going to do something we should do something,” he said.
Utah wants out of the Antiquities Act. Or, more accurately, the Republicans who dominate the Legislature want out.
Carried exclusively by Republican votes, the Senate agreed Thursday with a House resolution that calls on Utah’s congressional delegation to sponsor bills that would opt the state out of the federal law that has led to millions of acres being protected through the designation of national monuments.
The law has been a political flashpoint in Utah in recent years. State lawmakers lobbied against the two sprawling monuments in southern Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — that President Donald Trump shrunk in December.
The House and Senate voted unanimously to dedicate the month of April to kindness and remembrance for the 17 victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month. The resolution encourages Utah residents to report acts of kindness in the SafeUT app, which allows students to report school safety threats anonymously.
Ryan Petty, the father of 14-year-old Alaina Petty, who was killed in the shooting, was present with other family members as the Legislature passed the resolution. He is supporting the resolution to honor his daughter’s legacy, according to a press release.
Rep. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who is sponsoring the resolution, said Petty has been working tirelessly since the Parkland tragedy to ensure nothing like it happens again.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, the resolution’s Senate sponsor, told his fellow senators that Ryan Petty wants people to be aware of his daughter’s “incredible kindness and her desire to be friends with everyone.”
Thatcher also said Ernie Geigenmiller, a friend and former LDS mission companion to Ryan Petty, came up with the idea for the resolution. Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, whose son lived near the Petty family in Florida, commended the Petty family for how they are dealing with the loss of their daughter before voting for the bill.
Thatcher said he hopes that this month of kindness will help Utahns turn down “the noise of the world” and work on connecting with others.
“We can start being the kind of people that we would want to be. And we can start by honoring people like Alaina Petty,” he said.
The resolution also states that Utah would like to encourage other states to pick a remaining month in 2018 to dedicate to kindness.
The unlikely alliance of two of Utah’s most ideologically opposed political figures caught many in the education community by surprise, as did the speed with which the resolution advanced through the Legislature.
“It maybe needs extra time for everybody to get their heads together,” Ruzicka said. “It shouldn’t be last minute. It’s too important.”
Ruzicka said she has not yet seen the specifics of the House changes, and that it’s difficult to have an opinion on a resolution she hasn’t read. She said she would prefer a state superintendent over public education — appointed or elected — because it creates a clear line of authority and accountability for the public education system.
On the last day of the Legislative session, members who decide not to seek re-election often announce it — but usually after work is done for the day.
• Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. He has not announced his future plans, but is seen as a likely candidate for governor in 2020.
• Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, resigned mid-session just before a tabloid reported that he paid a call girl for sex in hotel rooms paid for by taxpayers.
• Rep. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, resigned before the session to move to Denver to become regional administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Sen. Jim Dabakis sipped a hot cup of coffee while he walked onto the Senate floor on Thursday. An upcoming slew of voting will likely be his last as member of the body before he retires from the Legislature.
The Salt Lake City Democrat is the most outspoken member of the Senate and announced last month he’d step down at the end of his term after six years.
Dabakis said he plans to spend time at his ranch outside Mexico City, though he hasn’t outright said he won’t make a run for any other office in the future. He has promised to stay involved in the 2018 election to try to unseat Republicans.
He has lamented being the Legislature’s only openly gay member, worrying his retirement would leave the state house without a voice for LGBT Utahns.
Another revision of the state’s alcohol laws breezed through the Senate early Thursday morning, with changes to liquor licenses for sports arenas with over 6,500 seats, a slight increase in the number of bar licenses and several more licenses for the Salt Lake City airport.
Notably, lawmakers included changes to a 2017 law that required restaurants to put up signs that read: “This is a restaurant, not a bar.”
Bars will still have to put up signs that make sure people people know the establishment’s focus is on booze, not food.
The Utah House convened at 9:35 — 35 minutes late. So it’s not exactly off to a flying start on the Legislature’s last day, which will end at midnight tonight.